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September 28, 2008

SEARCH AND SELECT:Using events to recruit the best

There’s as much competition for skilled personnel these days as there is for business in the marketplace. Ian Whiteling finds out how events can help.

Companies have long since recognised the importance of their workforce, but perhaps never quite so much as today. As the global barriers to trade have come crashing down over the last few years, competition in business is at an all-time high.

Consequently, gaining an edge in the marketplace is more important, yet more difficult, than ever, and it’s being increasingly recognised that employees play a key role in delivering this. The more skilled your people are and the more appropriate their talents to producing and delivering your products or services then the bigger the impact you’ll make and the more efficiently you will operate.

The problem is that finding the right people with the right skills is no easy task. In fact, in many countries, where unemployment is lower that it has been for years, this is more difficult than ever. What’s more, once companies have found the ideal candidate, they do everything they can to keep hold of them.

This means that it makes perfect sense to attract them as early as possible – ideally straight from university. Enter the graduate recruitment event – a technique that’s becoming not only increasingly popular, but also more sophisticated, as it becomes increasingly crucial not only to convince graduates that your company is the best place to work, but also stringently assess their suitability.

People and profile

"Graduate recruitment events are massively important. While there is not a shortage of students there is a shortage of the right kind of students, and recruiters are fighting over this limited pot of candidates,” says Jonathan Emmins of experiential agency Amplify, which has helped companies like KPMG recruit the right kind of graduates.

Meanwhile, Saam Nakravi, event manager at the British Computer Society (BCS), says the benefits of recruitment events goes beyond simply attracting staff.

“They can really help raise the profile of a certain company or industry, particularly during a downturn, because their presence shows that companies are still interested in taking people on,” he explains.

“We have run a number of recruitment fairs supported by leading blue chip IT/Communications companies and universities, which have given students an insight into the different kinds of organisations and the range of jobs out there. It’s also a really good opportunity to explain to students the enormous impact IT has on people’s businesses and social activities.”

Broader appeal

Once the preserve solely of the blue chips, Nakravi points on that this is no longer the case.

“These events are becoming more affordable to smaller and medium-sized businesses and potentially provide a better return on investment than they ever have,” he says.

Historically, the focus was on the companies battling for the best candidates and anyone attending would just be in competition with their peers.

“Nowadays”, says Nakravi, “the main difference is that they have become much more of a two-way process. A greater emphasis is placed on the experience the attendee has and non-tangible benefits they can take away. It’s about creating an event/opportunity that money can’t buy and that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Different styles
Recruitment events tend to take two main forms. There are those that feature a number of organisations looking for graduate recruits, each with a form of ‘stand’ that candidates can tour at their leisure collecting any relevant information and getting access to a wide variety of potential employers.

These kind of events are referred to as graduate recruitment fairs and are often held by industry associations to showcase their members, or even universities themselves.

Then there are those events that are held by individual companies to wow graduates into joining them. Here, candidates are given less choice, but get a much greater impression of the company as a whole.

These events have become increasingly about letting graduates really live the vision and values of a company, in order to give them a natural affinity with the business. They often also involve a way of assessing the suitability of candidates.

Rules of attraction

Whether your taking a stand at an event featuring other companies all on the graduate pull, or producing your own solo show, the basic rules of attraction apply.

“You need to think about your key messages, your business needs and the profiles of the students you want to recruit, both from an academic and a personality perspective," advises Amplify’s Emmins.

In the former case, it’s also vital that you stand out from other employers at the same event, especially those in direct competition with you. Think of your presence in the same way as you would an exhibition stand at a key industry event.

With respect to the solo event, think more along the lines of a brand experience or product launch. Originality is key here, too, to differentiate your company from others who hold similar solo recruitment events. And the best way to do this is to think carefully how your brand, visions and values can be delivered in a live setting.

In both cases, rather than qualifying leads, you’ll be qualifying potential new recruits, so it helps if you have mechanisms in place to achieve this effectively.

Fair factors
When looking for the right graduate fair to take part in, look for techniques that are going to attract students, something that will differentiate it from other similar kinds of events. This is key to BCS’s success in this field, according to Nakavri, and helped secure the organisation the Graduate Recruiters’ Innovation award for 2007.

“Our events had day-in-the-life and technology demonstrations, and also recent graduates talking about the reality of their working lives in their first jobs,” he explains.

For Maggie Berry, director of womenintechnology.co.uk, which organises the W-Tech fairs, having lots going on keeps people engaged is key. “At our events we have networking sessions, guest speakers and seminars, so there are lots of things that people will find interesting, informative and useful,” she says.

Heavy promotion
When organising a graduate event revolving around your company alone, you can use similar techniques to inform graduates about life at work generally, as well as with your company. You also have to work hard to attract candidates.

“With KPMG last October, we built a 2007-2008 graduate recruitment campaign based around one big idea at its core,” explains Emmins. “This was: ‘We don’t offer our graduates the world…just Europe’, and it was promoted on posters, flyers and magnets on bikes. We also ran competitions to win a weekend in a foreign city where KPMG has key offices." The key was to highlight the opportunities of working in Europe, something KPMG offers over many of its rivals.

So if you’re really serious about bringing the best people into your organisation, you can be far more creative than simply signing up for the university milk round or advertising in the national press. Although the cost of promoting your company at a recruitment fair or running a dedicated event yourself may be a little higher, you’ll make a bigger impact and therefore get the pick of the top candidates over your rivals. New recruits will also appreciate the effort you’ve put in and show their gratitude through loyalty, hopefully cutting down the cost of future recruitment advertising.

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