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How to be a Winner in The Global War For Talent

The war for talent is getting more intensive, and current students and new graduates are on the front lines, as companies battle to recruit the very best.


Established Battlegrounds

The idea behind the 'war for talent' was first publicised by McKinsey consultants in 1997, and describes the ongoing struggle between companies who are all fighting to secure top talent for their business. The original McKinsey concept proposed that the recruitment landscape was changing as the baby boomer generation retired, creating a skills shortage as generational shift picked up pace. The boomer generation had been so large, the theory ran, that there simply might not be enough new workers to replace those leaving.

And now, although 1997 could be a life time ago (it is so last millennium, after all), the war for talent has not gone away. If anything, it has intensified and developed into a battle fought on a global scale, as technology and globalisation have forced the pace of change to increase.


What's new?

Much has changed in the war for talent - and yet, many of the boardroom conversations of today will have a familiar tone. Skills shortages didn't go away, if anything the prospect of problems increased with the gradual shift of global power to centres outside of the US and Western Europe.

At the same time the 'hollowing out' of many mid-skill jobs, through increased automation, has altered the sorts of skills that are desirable, but tech and improved connectivity have created a global talent marketplace, in which students and grads complete with their peers around the world, not just on their town.

When the idea of a war for talent emerged at the end of the nineties, firms raced to develop a new mindset to cope with the changes in the workforce -  placing talent squarely at the centre of their thinking, and working on nurturing and developing top performers whilst building a pipeline for the future. More and more companies started graduate programmes to recruit the leaders of the future, investing time and money in this population like never before.

And we all reap the benefits of this change now, as grad schemes are common, and entry level positions come with a recognition of the benefits new talent can bring the business for the long term.

The main difference perhaps now, is that whilst businesses used to snap up the best new grads as soon as they had received their certificates and stepped off the graduation stage, great employers now identify their future talent before they graduate from university.


How to win - choices before studying

If you have not yet started your university study, you have several potential options to create or enhance your links with employers, whilst even being able to benefit from support with tuition fees or payment during your study. Employers know that this is a perfect way to snap up talented individuals even before they have set out on their university journey.

You might consider company sponsorship - in which you make an individual arrangement with a business you are connected with already (perhaps through working for them during schooling), to get paid support during your university degree. These arrangements are highly individual and arranged usually ad hoc.

If you don't have a strong existing relationship with a major employer, don't worry - there are several different programmes based around company scholarships or sponsored degrees.

A company scholarship is where employers offer money towards tuition and other fees and costs, for a student attending a regular degree course relevant to their sector. The agreement might require the student to work for the business during holidays, and there may be an option to take up a full time position after graduation. Some scholarships focus more on offering mentorship or career guidance, rather than directly guaranteeing a job upon graduation, leaving both the business and the individual with more flexibility about choices later down the line. For inspiration simply search HeySuccess for the scholarships on offer that suit you.

Sponsored degrees tend to be designed in conjunction with the employer and an educational establishment, in which work and study combine through the course. Companies from global accountancy and consulting firms, like KPMG and Ernst & Young, to government agencies and retail giants like Asda and Morrisons in the UK, offer programmes that mix work and study, and end in a graduate position.


How to win - choices whilst studying

There are also several things that current students can do to ensure that they are well placed in the war for talent - even if you did not already agree a corporate scholarship, sponsorship or similar. Taking up short term scholarship and internship opportunities whilst in college is a clear and consistent strategy that works.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 'Class of 2014' report, over half of those students lucky enough to secure employment before graduation had completed an internship - and those who had held paying internships were likely to command a higher starting salary than other graduates. Over the past five years, NACE have tracked the probability of securing a job before graduation, and found that students, year in year out, who have held an internship, are 12-15% more likely to receive an offer before leaving university.

Getting an internship is a great way to set yourself apart from other students and grow your skills and experience.

Get the most from your internship choices - when you are weighing up internship opportunities, ask prospective companies if they ever hired an intern before; if they have a track record of holding their intern talent, then go for it!

Do what you can to align your internship with your longer term aims - not to restrict your choices, but to ensure that your experience is fully transferrable. For example, taking an internship in a startup, with the intention of applying ultimately to large multinational companies might not help you to get the skills and exposure needed.

There is a wealth of advice on how to position yourself well for success after uni - much of it shared here on Hey Success. Build a great network, gather armfuls of experience outside of pure academics, have an impressive resume, and most of all, remember what unique benefits you bring to a business. Great companies will be looking for new talent exactly like you. After all, the war for talent is not one any company can afford to lose.

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