Posted on: 22 May 2015

The good news for graduates is that 2015 is expected to be the best year in a decade for graduate recruitment1. The bad news for small businesses is that they could lose out on hiring their future leaders because the big corporates have the scale and budgets to beat them to it.

According to the recent High Fliers study, 8% more graduate vacancies are expected this year compared to last year. That ought to be promising news for those small businesses that value hiring graduates to grow their business. But it’s a distorted figure, because High Fliers only surveyed The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.

They found that more than 80% of the biggest employers now offer paid work-experience programmes for students and recent graduates, with a third of jobs going to graduates who have done a work placement at the firm in the past.

Cary Curtis is Managing Director at Give A Grad A Go, a leading graduate recruitment company dedicated to helping businesses source high-calibre graduate hires. We asked Cary to share his thoughts on why small businesses should compete for the most talented graduates and how they should attract them.

Why graduate recruitment is a good option for expanding your entrepreneurial start-up

Start-ups are, by their very nature, innovative and ambitious. So too are graduates. In many cases, the match is a perfect one.

“Start-ups may find graduates to be just the ticket to fuelling successful expansion,” says Cary. “Fresh out of university, graduates possess great enthusiasm and are keen to prove their capabilities.”

This eagerness to succeed can be the catalyst for real growth in your start-up. But you will need to keep your graduates motivated if they are going to stay with you. Ways of doing this include:

  • explain to them where and how they fit into the bigger picture of the company now and in the future
  • delegate interesting work to them rather than the boring admin
  • don’t micro-manage them, but don’t ignore them either. Be available to guide them if needed
  • tutor them if things go wrong, rather than taking over the task yourself.

Entrepreneurial start-ups can also maximise the opportunities that come with the relative open-mindedness of graduates. They are full of new ideas. “They usually come with fewer preconceptions and bad habits,” says Cary. “SMEs are therefore able to mould young graduates into future leaders more easily and more quickly.”

Grow your graduates with your business

“When you are starting a business, the more you put in, the more you tend to get out,” says Cary. “The same goes for graduate hires, and it comes in the form of training, development and support.”

The big corporations have big budgets to go with their big graduate recruitment programmes. But money isn’t everything. Small businesses can offer opportunities for graduates that are more targeted than the broader graduate scheme, and are just as exciting and rewarding.

One of the most important things graduates look for in a small business is how organised they are when it comes to their development. “SMEs need to give graduates structure in the workplace,” says Cary. “Let them create a niche for themselves within the business and then give them the backing they need to succeed.”

This could be on the job training, work shadowing or involvement in local sector-specific networking groups. All of which are free. Or you may decide to assign your graduates a mentor – someone in your business who will take an interest in their career and offer ideas and advice on how to develop.

“Not only will this equip them with the tools they need to do their job, it will allow SMEs to reap the benefits as their employees quickly progress,” says Cary.

Once your graduates are skilled up, it is important to give them a chance to use their news skills to develop. Relinquishing control over things may be difficult, but it is only then that you will really start seeing the benefit of your graduates to your business. “SME owners need to delegate responsibility once their graduates have proved they can handle the extra workload,” says Cary.

Where to look for graduates for your small business

Many university careers services, such as at the University of Manchester, offer recruitment support for small businesses looking to employ graduates. This, and its equivalents at other universities and colleges, is putting SMEs firmly on the graduate recruitment map.

“SMEs are much more accessible to graduates now,” says Cary. “They can expand much quicker and offer a lot more than they used to in terms of international opportunities, career development and responsibility.”

That’s great news. But the bigger players are still attractive options.

“Multinationals and larger corporates still offer (in general) higher starting salaries, a more rigid structure and have deeper pockets for personal development which some graduates prefer,” he says.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't put small businesses off. Cary believes that small business owners needn't pitch themselves directly against the multinationals when it comes to graduate recruitment.

“It’s not a question of choosing one over the other,” he says. “Both have unique advantages and candidates quite often like to meet both sorts of companies before identifying which avenue suits them best. It’s more down to personal attributes and personal career goals.”

Resources like Give A Grad A Go help match graduates to businesses, and they appreciate the vital importance of fit.

“If a graduate came to us saying they were looking for quick career progression, with a strong focus on learning and taking on more responsibility and less of a focus on high paid salaries,” says Cary, “then we would recommend opportunities within an SME as an option they should look into.”

Having a positive mentality

In 2014 there were over 5.2 million small and medium sized businesses in the UK. That compares to just 7,000 large businesses. Added to the fact that over 60% of all employees work in businesses with less than 250 staff2, entrepreneurial start-ups mustn't be defeatist about attracting high quality graduates.

Instead entrepreneurs should champion the excitement of growing a smaller business and stand up to the big kids in the playground when the graduates are looking for their big break.

[1] http://www.highfliers.co.uk/download/2015/graduate_market/GMReport15.pdf

[2] www.ons.gov.uk

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