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Recruiting Graduates is About Potential, Not About Grades

For an employer, recruiting graduates is one of the most exciting, but challenging parts of the job.

Finding the right graduates to fit the organisation is notoriously difficult, as recruiters seek talented and ambitious individuals who will excel, not only in the specific job in question, but also in larger, more stretching senior positions in future. From a group of largely untested new graduates, we are looking to find bright people who will grow with the business, fit well in terms of culture and behaviours, and be able to drive their own personal development during their transition from newbie to senior professional. It's a tough gig.

And whilst students in many cases are schooled to believe that great grades will land them the best jobs, the truth is that, as recruiters, we do not necessarily worry about the type or class of degree held, or even the subject or university it comes from. A fancy degree does not necessarily translate into the real-life skills that we need as employers, and with new graduates, limited work (and even, life) experience can make it difficult to assess the broader, transferable behavioural skills which lead to superstars in the workplace.

And this is why we must look, not for grades alone, but for something different. The holy grail in graduate recruitment is potential.


What recruiters really want

Surveys of graduate recruiters, such as one recently completed by Kaplan, show the skills that recruiters look at to measure the potential of their new graduates. It is no surprise that soft skills rank highly; for example, 73% of employers surveyed say that effective communication abilities were important in the graduates that they took on. Similarly, 61% of employers look for graduates who show signs of being great team players. Naturally, an ability to communicate well with others and work in team environments is important in many roles - but what is crucial in graduate recruitment is that these are qualities that can not be forced, or even taught effectively at a later stage, and so as employers, we look for these innate behavioural skills as indicators of future potential.

Take John (who's name I have changed to protect the innocent). John had a fantastic class of degree, in a relevant subject, and from a high quality university. His resume demonstrated his academic prowess, but was rather light on details about the other experiences, skills and behaviours he had amassed along his journey.

He attended an assessment centre alongside Carrie, who had a predicted second class degree from an average university - but whose resume told the story of her life education - weaving together skills gained during her internship, voluntary work at a charity she was passionate about, and an active social and sporting life. Set against each other at assessment, Carrie stood head and shoulders above. Her flexibility and agility, in thought and in dealing with others, her knock-out EQ, her ability to simultaneously gel and lead a team, showed us the potential she had. She was exactly what we needed in our new grads; and these skills saw her recruited on a unanimous vote, before setting off on an impressive career trajectory with our business.

John, unfortunately, was not right for us - essentially his assessment feedback suggested he gather some life experience before reapplying.

Harsh reality after graduating University

Because the fact is, we do not expect their graduates to be the finished article. We expect to need to offer training and personal development, to help coach and support our new graduates - and in return we are looking for graduates who show the spark of potential that makes them learn enthusiastically, challenge the status quo, offer a different perspective, and grow into the leaders of the future. Whilst grades offer one measure of self discipline, determination, mental agility and academic prowess, they are certainly not enough alone to show true potential of prospective new hires.


Graduates: discover, develop and display your potential

So, if you're reading this as a student or new grad - here is the important bit.

You have potential - everyone does. What you need is to illustrate that, and allow it to shine through in your job applications, your CV, your interviews, and every networking conversation you have on your road to landing your dream job. Think about the ways you have gone above and beyond the pure academics during your university life. Perhaps you captained a sports team, volunteered at a charity, undertook internships, sought out scholarships to stretch your own experience.

Draw from these activities to come up with the behavioural skills and qualities that are your unique combination, and the essence of your potential. You might conclude you have highly developed emotional intelligence, great problem solving skills, a creative mind, an ability to influence others, or a way of spotting issues and opportunities others don't see. These are the markers of potential that you should develop and highlight on your resume, and when applying for graduate jobs and internships.

If you struggle to come up with your own personal combination - your unique selling points, then look for ways to discover and develop the potential within. Push yourself to new challenges, seek out different opportunities and reach out to inspiring people to help unlock your hidden potential. Doing so will lead to better self awareness which can bring benefits both personally and professionally. 

Of course, it would be irresponsible to suggest that grades are an irrelevance when recruiting graduates. Stick at the classes, and look to achieve the best results you can from your chosen course - but don't overlook the need to discover, develop and display the talents and potential that will make you uniquely attractive to employers when you graduate.


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