How Do You Want to Portray your Brand to Graduates?

Three Graduates with Diplomas

Graduate development schemes are widely used by businesses across the globe to snap up the best young talent and oversee their professional growth. It’s a strategy that has resulted in a great deal of success, both for the organisations and the graduates themselves.

However, with the job market recovering and the professional motivations of graduates greatly changed in recent years, you can’t simply run a graduate development scheme and assume that candidates will flock to it as they might previously have done. Today’s candidates have a lot more choice and they’re looking for a company that meets their desires and requirements, both in practical and ideological terms. In the current market, your brand is of paramount importance in terms of attracting the right candidates for your business.

It’s perhaps something that businesses don’t tend to think about too much as far as the graduates they’re aiming to recruit are concerned. They might be extremely aware of how potential customers perceive their brand because it would influence whether they buy from them or not, but they should remember that graduates are in the same position. Why should they opt for your development scheme over your industry’s rivals?

Essentially, if you’re not a nationally or internationally-known brand (and perhaps even if you are), you need to assume that graduates have never heard of you and you’re starting from scratch in terms of their impressions of you.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that this is about what you are able to offer within the scheme – although that’s important, your brand perception is all about how you come across in your activities, brand image and general reputation on a daily basis. It’s more focussed on the emotional response candidates have towards your brand. For instance, a cosmetics corporation with an impeccable ethics record is much more likely to attract talented graduates than a rival cosmetics corporation which is being investigated for testing on animals, even if they have a weaker development scheme than said rival. When assessing your graduate recruitment brand, there are several areas to consider.

Brand image

The brand image is the overall perception candidates will have of your business and often relates to the expected benefits for graduates who opt for your company – why should they choose you? What can you offer them that others can’t? What does their pattern of progression look like? Can they advance and earn more money easily? If you are a small or lesser known business potential recruits are less likely to have any clear ideas about your brand image so it’s important to promote this is your recruitment campaigns. 

Corporate identity

This is where the company expresses what it stands for – its mission, corporate culture and identity. These tie into the values and beliefs that govern its work and the reasons it operates in the way that it does. The corporate identity should have been established when the company was founded and it is an extremely important part of the way employees, potential or existing, will engage with the business. A company that actively promotes and embodies their corporate identity will find it much easier to recruit and retain key staff as there will be no misconceptions about what is expected in terms of values and ethos. 

Find out what motivates candidates

You also need to consider what graduates might be looking for in your scheme and what is motivating them to join a programme like yours. As has been extensively explored elsewhere, the priorities of the millennial generation, which now comprises the majority of the UK’s workforce, are very different to the priorities of their predecessors. They prize development opportunities so would be naturally drawn to a scheme like this anyway, but they will also want flexibility and meaning in their work.

Find out what motivated your current graduates to apply – what did they see in your programme that made it stand out? Is there anything else they would have liked to see? Graduate development schemes are extremely competitive, and figuring out what your company is doing well and what it could improve upon can enable it to stand out even more in this crowded field.

For instance, a recent study of 10,000 Danish graduates showed they were more interested in the prospects of professional development than either workplace conditions or the corporate communication of leadership and performance. It would therefore make sense for Danish graduate schemes to highlight the potential for progression and development in order to secure as many talented people as possible.

However, it’s worth noting that a potential pitfall is the creation of unrealistic expectations of organisational life. It’s entirely possible that you may unwittingly create an impression of your company, brand and scheme that doesn’t match up with the reality. This could be detrimental to the success of the scheme in the future as word-of-mouth and endorsements become negative and spread. Another study of engineering students found that these types of reviews were particularly important as far as their decision were concerned. Companies should take care not to misrepresent what they’re offering or what a graduate’s overall experience will look like on for the duration of the scheme.

The importance of brand perception and portrayal cannot be overstated as far as the attracting of graduates is concerned – how can they know what your business stands for if you don’t know yourself? You need to understand what graduates want to get out of a development scheme and define what it is you can offer them to ensure they pick your scheme rather than the hundreds of other options available. The most important thing is that organisations don’t pretend to be something that they are not; there is no need to misrepresent the organisation in order to attract bright graduates.

There are literally thousands of graduates leaving university each year looking for a job, and while skills and grades are important, what will benefit businesses most is being able to employ graduates who respect and embody the values of the company. Skills can be developed, but the attitude and enthusiasm a highly engaged employee brings is less easy to manufacture. Finding the right graduates is therefore about being clear on what you represent, what you are working to achieve and the type of people you want on your team.