The early career talent market has changed exponentially over the past few years, with as many as 1000 graduate and school leaver vacancies left unfilled at the start of 2022, according to data from Universities UK. Whilst the number of job vacancies in the UK between June and August 2022 decreased slightly, competition to find and attract the right talent remains high and employers have had to swiftly transform their attraction and recruitment strategies, to appeal to the drivers of this cohort.

Research suggests that part of the problem lies with the recruitment process itself and that many employers fall short of the expectations of young job seekers. In 2021, our own research found that amongst the frustrations of candidates, was the length of the interviewing and hiring process, a lack of respect for candidates’ time and schedule and poor responsiveness following initial screening. Early talent has more options than ever and the balance of power has almost certainly shifted from that of the employer to the candidate. Therefore, they are less willing to wait out a lengthy recruitment process and are more likely to seek other opportunities, particularly if they deem them a better cultural and value-driven fit. The recruitment process should not only assess candidates quicker, whilst maintaining the same levels of quality, but also provide them with insight into the organisation. Many future-thinking employers have pushed for digital approaches to recruitment that include the use of video and virtual reality, to give candidates an opportunity to hear from current graduate recruits and complete realistic in-tray exercises to give a flavour of the work the company does. This helps to create an immersive experience for the candidate to place themselves in the position of a current employee, to experience the culture of the organisation and see values in action.

Providing real-world opportunities to experience culture and fit prior to accepting an offer can reduce attrition rates, because early career talent will have genuine insight into the organisation before they join and a far better understanding of what is expected of them in their role, reducing the risk of unpleasant surprises. Bringing in realworld experiences via technology also helps to plug the work experience gap, with graduates and school leavers having fewer chances, or in some cases, no chance to engage in work experience whilst studying. For cohorts just leaving school, there is still time for employers to create opportunities for work experience, but this is trickier for graduates about to enter the workforce. Therefore, recruitment processes that provide an opportunity for graduates to experience and understand more about, not just the role they are applying for, but the organisation’s culture, will create a deeper sense of engagement for early career talent from the start.

The parameters by which talent is assessed also need to change, with less faith placed in grades and institutions, following two years of educational turmoil for exams and teaching. Employers are therefore seeking accurate predictors of potential based on strengths. Strengths are the things that an individual is naturally good at and enjoys. Strengths-based approaches to hiring are a real win for the employer and the employee because the employee is doing work they love to do, whilst the employer benefits from a job well done. A 2022 survey* of employers ranked more than 60 strengths and behaviours as key attributes they hire early talent for. The good news is that under 25s have oodles of the strengths employers want, including greater levels of competitiveness, unconditionality, humour, adherence, listening and drive than that of the general population. T herefore, employers who can showcase opportunities to use these strengths in role will have a key advantage in the competition for early talent, showing appreciation of individuality and the value younger talent brings to the workforce. Strengths-based approaches to recruitment enable employers to be authentic, be clear in their expectations, be experimental in how they deliver recruitment and be sustainable. For early talent, value authenticity, culture and social purpose are essential too attract and recruit them. Organisations must invest in opportunities to see social purpose in action. Talking about aspirations to better social purpose at interview is not enough. Early talent can research an organisation years in advance of making an application, so the candidate journey begins early. For an organisation to be authentic they will need to ensure that evidence of values in action are visible at every touch point.

Be clear about the recruitment process by communicating timelines, what’s expected of candidates and what candidates can expect of the organisation. Deloitte report that 87 percent of candidates say that a great recruitment experience can change their mind about a company they once doubted, so being clear has the potential to provide a positive impact for early careers recruitment. Review the clarity of current processes by writing down any unwritten expectations of candidates, create examples of these expectations and clarify the ‘why’ of elements in the assessment and interview process. Be experimental to attract early talent by thinking about new opportunities to create engagement. This doesn’t have to be reserved for only the assessment, but other touchpoints too, such as virtual work experience, micro-internships and careers fairs to strengthen the employer brand amongst graduates and school leavers. The use of newer social media platforms, like TikTok, that are popular with graduates and school leavers will ensure you are reaching this group. Rather than taking a corporate account approach, try encouraging existing early career talent to share their experience of the organisation for authentic insight.

Perhaps most importantly, be sustainable, this is key for staff retention to ensure early talent are happy in their roles. Think long-term about the recruitment process by considering the talent pipeline today and how this may need to evolve in the future. More and more organisations are investing in tech, yet tech-talent is scarce. When employers look to fill tech-roles, they are generally more interested in a candidate’s potential to learn to code or consult. For tech roles, building block strengths and behaviours might include curiosity, critical thinking, learning agility and collaboration, so ensure assessments are looking for these behaviours to build the future talent pipeline. Today’s graduates and school leavers are also more entrepreneurial than previous generations, seeking flexibility to build their skills outside of the typical nine-to-five. Additional employment was once taboo, however enabling talent to build their own business outside of their day job, presents another opportunity to develop behaviours and showcase strengths. Allowing early talent this f lexibility is also a win for encouraging positive mental health, because when talent feels supported to use their strengths and pursue their dreams without fear of reprisal from their employer, they are happier. A focus on mental health is crucial for meeting the expectations of graduates and school leavers. A 2020/21 report from Cibyl, the largest provider of market research for student and graduate career thinking, found that 35 percent of students are experiencing a mental health challenge. Consequently, for employers to win early career talent, they will need to present a strong focus on the importance of mental health. Meeting the changing expectations of school leavers and graduates is clearly a multi-layered experience and responding to the drivers of early talent is a long-term commitment. Employers who want to win this talent must see it as an ongoing commitment, where every touch point is considered in detail and where opportunities to share culture in new and exciting ways are grabbed with both hands. Early talent is not looking for anything that cannot be delivered, they value authenticity, clear communication and the chance to be recognised for the individuality and value they can bring to any organisation.

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About Cappfinity
Cappfinity is the global leader in strengths-based talent acquisition and talent management solutions and services.

About Education Growth Partners
Education Growth Partners (“EGP”) is an investment firm dedicated to providing growth capital to proven education, workplace, and human development companies offering compelling solutions to unmet needs. EGP’s extensive operating experience and investment expertise ensures that companies receive an infusion of highly strategic capital and insight that can accelerate reach, scale, and impact to create long-term value.