We are where we are

May 29, 2018 | Diversity

To celebrate the ISE’s 50th anniversary Non-Executive Director of Gordon Dadds Group and former Sunday Times Jobs columnist, Simon Howard writes on the past and future of graduate recruitment.

“We are where we are” was for years a colleague’s favourite exasperated sigh – the sub text being; “we’re going to have to live with this, even if it wasn’t of our own making”.  And 50 years down the road from the founding of SCOEG, it could well be the exasperated sigh of many a graduate recruiter.

Let me explain.

While my graduate recruitment experience doesn’t go back 50 years, it does for 38, and in 1980 I was sat down by one of the eminences of the field to be told “Simon, if you understand only one thing about graduate recruitment it is that we’re in the business of recruiting the top 10% of the top 10%”.

It was shamelessly – and proudly – elitist, and that at a time when elitist, as in recruiting the very best, had absolutely no negative connotations. Okay, in 1980 it was more like the 15% of 18 year olds going on to university, but nevertheless the principle of selecting the top 10% ran through the veins and sinews of every graduate recruiter.

And this was what the milk round was based on – doing the rounds of campuses recruiting the cream of the crop.  It was a term coined in 1948 by Ewart Escritt, head of the Oxford Appointments Service. In an article praising graduates with pass degrees (they had clearly made the most of everything that undergraduate life had to offer, hence were ‘men of the world’ and therefore eminently suited to employment) he did also state that in every academic year there was always the ‘cream of the cream’.

By the time that SCOEG was formed, the milk round was a formalised arrangement governed by a code of conduct signed by SCOEG and AGCAS.  This allowed employers onto campus for a few weeks every year in the Lent Term and employers who broke the code were quite simply banned from campuses and denied access to careers services.

Looking back through the ISE archives, it seems that even back then, it was generally accepted that there were about ‘30,000 graduate jobs’ (as in formalised schemes) but of course the big difference with today, was that then there were only 50,000 graduates.

However, this year there will be more than 400,000 graduates and the ISE employers between them will probably account for only 25,000 jobs.  Applicant numbers are exponentially higher than they ever were and graduate recruitment is arguably now more about the management of disappointment than it is about finding the most able and appropriate applicants who will succeed.

Today, the challenge for graduate recruiters is that despite the internet, despite year-round presence on campuses, despite better assessment tools, despite more applicants, sadly nothing much has changed.  The legacy of that ‘top 10%’ thinking and behaviour is still with us.

For me, I believe a complete rethink is needed.  Many of the old tools are no longer fit for purpose and to make matters worse, they are often used irresponsibly.  For some brave employers, there might be a bright and innovative new world out there, but for most I suspect they’ll just shrug their shoulders and, as my colleague would have said, “we are where we are”.

Was this article helpful?


Share This