MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Spot the best graduates

Low employment rates among university leavers mean grad schemes are inundated. Donna Miller explains how to weed out the best candidates.

by Donna Miller
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
It’s the time of year when thousands of graduates are entering the job market. And this year, there are more than ever: High Fliers Research recently revealed that there were 343,000 graduate job applications in 2010-11, up by a third from the previous year.

With so much competition, businesses need to spot the most employable graduates – the talent that stands out from the crowd. We asked Donna Miller from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, one of the UK’s top 10 graduate recruiters, for her tips on hiring the right person:

1. Experience matters
Work experience and internships will often make a candidate stand out. A taste of the commercial world means they better understand the demands of business and will sharply reduce the learning curve when they join the workforce full-time.

2. Volunteering
Unpaid volunteering highlights graduates with a social conscience and proactive work ethic – both of which are invaluable commodities in the modern business world.

3. On-campus activities
Look for graduates who were involved in clubs, sports teams and social groups while studying, particularly if they involved positions of responsibility, which will help you identify those with teamwork and leadership skills.

4. Don’t refine too much on the academics
Too many employers still focus on grads with a 2:1 or better or a specific degree. Unless you need explicit technical skills, it’s often better to look for more well-rounded individuals.

5. Confidence shows
Some people are great at writing CVs, but lack interpersonal skills, which is why you also need proper interviews or assessment centres. How well does this person communicate what’s on their CV? How well do they sell themselves? Do they say "I’m afraid I’ve only done this…" or do they say "Actually, I’ve achieved this…"?

6. Have they done their research?
Look for evidence that the graduate knows at least something about your business. A question from an interviewee that begins "I was looking at your website and wondered…" is a good sign. Also, did they call you up before the interview to ask for more details about the job on offer?

7. Professionalism
It’s amazing how many new graduates don’t turn up on time for their interview or dress appropriately. Not every company expects a suit, but potential employees should at least make the effort to find out about your dress code.

8. Using their initiative
The most promising recruits are usually those who really made an effort. That can mean everything from entering undergraduate awards and competitions while at university, to making the best use of their contacts afterwards.

9. Look for networking skills
It’s often worth putting potential recruits into a more social setting, perhaps over lunch with some current employees. Look at how good they are at listening, making small talk and putting other people at their ease.

10. Motivation
If you ask graduates "Why do you want to work here?" they should have a real answer and not just a pat response. They might not yet be thinking in terms of a lifelong career, but they should at least know why they’ve chosen your company.

- Donna Miller is European HR director at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

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