2012’s bumper crop of graduate applicants will compel business to seek smarter recruitment solutions

The implications of recent trends are clear: Britain’s Universities are churning out wads of worthless qualifications which are preventing businesses from distinguishing between suitable and unsuitable applicants, and harming confidence in the graduate market.
Rapid University expansion, devalued exams and “Mickey Mouse degrees” are spawning a glut of disappointed graduates, forcing employers to wade through a surge of unsuitable applications, and hampering business growth.

A High Fliers report, out this month, found that the number of graduate applicants has surged by 19% compared to the previous year. and one in three of those who finished University in 2011, are still out of work today.

There are 50,000 more graduates today than there were four years ago, generating a barrage of 83 graduate applications per post, with a tenth of companies receiving over 150 applications for every vacancy. The British Chamber of Commerce recently warned that, despite graduate unemployment hitting a 15-year high, some 27% of small companies remain unable to find any graduates with the desired qualities and skills.
It is little wonder that surveys show 76% of businesses believe the talent pool is drying up.

The problem

The inability of many companies to find their desired candidate among swelling piles of identikit “qualifications”, is stunting SME growth and sending unemployment spiralling. We now know there are more 16-24-year-olds out of work today, than at any time since records began. With graduate vacancies yet to return to pre-recession levels, the war for talent is heating up as greater numbers jostle for fewer professional jobs.
Even worse, it could permanently harm business confidence in graduates: the British Chamber of Commerce recently warned that many companies are refusing to consider even highly-qualified graduate applicants, unless they can demonstrate relevant “experience”. It is clear that a degree itself is no longer perceived as a useful differentiator, when seeking next-generation talent.

With graduate applications rising 33% this year alone, many smaller businesses lack the time and resources to sift an ever-expanding applicant pool. In 2010, it was estimated that Britain’s top 144 companies received an average of 5000 graduate applicants each, sending recruitment costs soaring.
The gaping mismatch between employers and graduates is only amplified by the fact that the economic downturn has compelled many Uni-leavers to apply outside their skill-set and seek stints in “stop-gap jobs.” A recent survey of graduates found that over 8000 were working in unskilled jobs, and 50,000 of those in skilled employment were forced to take unsuitable roles. This year, over half of those who applied for retail or public-sector jobs were University applicants.

With one in three of those who graduated in 2007 still unable to find full-time work, it is clear that our Universities are at risk of producing a generation of over-qualified bartenders.

With businesses losing confidence in degrees as a mark of quality, it is imperative that they find new differentiators to help mine the graduate market.

A Wrong Turn

Business is moving away from a narrow focus on qualifications as barometers of candidate suitability, to a new focus on “experience”, with over half of all recruitment companies insisting on previous work within a relevant field as a pre-requisite to securing an interview. The latest High Fliers survey found that a record 36% of this year’s graduate roles will be filled by people who have already worked for the organisation during their studies.

Yet experience has been found to be the worst predictor of future success. The founder of leading US retail bank ING Direct recently said he would rather hire “a jazz musician or a captain in the Israeli Army” than someone from within the banking industry.
Inexperienced candidates with a fresh perspective can re-energise a stagnant business and are easier to mould in the corporate image, because they come without pre-conceived ideas or ingrained habits. Companies increasingly realise that it is who you are, not where you may have worked, that best illuminates your potential for future success within a particular role.

A Solution

Individually-tailored assessments which can highlight the synchrony between skills, personal values and company culture, offer a far more reliable measure of candidate suitability than qualifications or “experience”. Sophisticated tools that measure “practical intelligence” and “emotional intelligence” can gauge both a candidate’s aptitude for a specific role and the likelihood that their behavioural styles will match a specific corporate culture.

From situational-judgment tests to attitude-measurement tools, these innovative methods also help job-seekers perceive the level of synergy between their own character profiles and those of their prospective employer, saving time by moving the validation process to the front end.
The latest Strength Based Tests, for example allow employers to sift the top-performers from the mediocre applicant pile, by measuring what potential candidates actually enjoy doing, rather than what they are good at. Candidates who have the passion to match the aptitude, are more likely to excel within the role.

Social media platforms provide a venue for like-minded people to coalesce around ideas, trends and issues which reflect their psychological make-up, offering companies a different way of narrowing down the applicant pool. “Pre-engagement” through popular social-media channels enables organisations to both communicate their brand values and find matching candidates at the pre-interview stage.

As employers increasingly move away from the perception of qualifications as the sole arbiter of talent, the old adage of “hiring for attitude, training for skills” may be more relevant than ever.

Recruitment-software platforms are now providing a useful “middle man” bridging the gulf between employer requirements and remote applicant profiles and helping companies mine the graduate market for well-suited talent.