Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How graduate recruitment is changing in the technology age

Comment by Andrew Lavelle, co-founder at TalentTech start-up TalentPool

The internet has transformed what it means to consume content. Newspapers and magazines were, not so long ago, the only way to access articles, as were TV channels for programmes, and, to a lesser extent, the album and the radio station for music. All such channels were inevitably curated due to capacity constraint. A TV channel's daily output is obviously capped at 24 hours, and a CD, strangely, can hold a maximum of 74 minutes of music. The internet removed all such constraints, and for a while it was assumed that the best online service for any type of content would be the one that provided the greatest choice. Amazon's initial marketing as the 'Everything Store' typified this.

But the supposed advantage of having access to entire libraries of content created a new issue, that of discovery and of overwhelming choice. As anyone who's ever tried to sit down with friends or a significant other to watch a film from an online library can testify, finding and deciding on what to watch is maddeningly hard. Why? Because there's so much choice it's impossible to make an optimal decision, and because of the volume of content it's also hard to find anything specific.

This situation pretty much describes the graduate job market today. The roughly half a million graduate jobs available in the UK each year, that span a hugely diverse range of industries and roles, are readily available through jobs boards and career websites. Yet graduates, rather than feeling empowered by this information, feel frustrated by the impossibility of finding the right job for them in this virtual haystack. Jobs boards are, in effect, lists. Typing the phrase 'graduate job' into any major jobs board returns tens of thousands of results. And for a graduate who isn't sure what career path they want to take - that is, the vast majority of graduates, they have no way of shortening that list. Search engines offer a similarly ineffective means of discovery. Again, type in 'graduate jobs' into Google and you get over 450 million results; not especially helpful.

The problem of job discoverability affects employers of different sizes in different ways. Employers with relatively well-known brands amongst students, typically large corporates, are inundated with applications as students, unsurprisingly, apply to jobs that they're aware of. Smaller employers in contrast can struggle to attract graduates, because although the internet has lowered the cost of marketing, graduates are difficult to target and posting on a jobs board can be like raising your voice at a noisy party - you might be shouting, but so is everyone else. Paradoxically therefore, the graduate jobs market is operating in a world where both sides want to find each other, but neither side can. In other words, to discuss the supply and demand for graduates is beside the point, there simply isn't a functioning market.

Certain organisations have adapted to this market failure, so to speak, by treating a job like any other product, and simply marketing it in a way that gets people talking. A simple, but strange looking Facebook advert began appearing a few months ago. This advert displayed a small rectangular purple and blue striped image with the words 'Fancy a career change?' below it. For most people this advert remained a mystery, but for a few, their inquisitiveness led them to download the image, view it as a series of hexadecimal values (for an explanation, watch Ridley Scott's The Martian), and eventually discovering a message, from MI5, inviting them to apply for a job. Such creativity is rare in the graduate recruitment space, but when companies are addressing the challenge of recruiting STEM graduates, for whom there is chronic global under-supply, utilising social media, and being technically fun and exciting is a powerful way to attract such candidates.

And while recruitment has been slow to respond to the issue of discovery, this does not mean that the problem hasn't been addressed elsewhere. The dating industry is almost perfectly analogous to recruitment - an attempt to bring two parties together for whom a ‘match’ is dependent on a largely unknown set of factors. Companies such as OkCupid and eHarmony have pioneered the use of data and machine learning to understand patterns in attraction - and there are, quirky, but fascinating, patterns. Netflix has done the same thing for television. It analyses the underlying 'DNA' of what you watch, to suggest what you should watch next. Similarly, in music, Spotify, Apple Music and others are no longer competing on the basis of having the largest library but the best personalised and curated playlists, based on a combination of human input and algorithmic insight.

Recruitment is clearly in need of these kind of innovations, and change will inevitably come. The tools that technology now offers will create a better functioning market in which jobs and job-seekers can finally meet effectively. This will, of course, fundamentally change the way the industry operates, and it poses a challenge both for traditional recruiters as well as large employers. In a world where jobs are easy to find and talent is easy to source, what role will a recruiter play? And if all jobs are easy to find then will large graduate schemes be able to rely on their brand alone to attract the best candidates? Graduate recruitment is entering into the unknown, and there are many more unanswered questions. But what is clear is that the graduate job market, just as in countless other fields, can benefit tremendously from the insights that data can bring, and that ultimately, it will be to everyone’s benefit.