Hire education: tug-of-war

With competition fierce to snap up top grads, a survey of 30 thousand students shows recruiters what the new crop of employees want.

Introduction | An emerging cohort | Tug-of-war | The results | Where, why, and who? | Star recruiters

The good news for many employers is that, although the majority of students surveyed said they knew which industry they wanted to work in after they graduated, less than a third knew which specific company they wanted to work for.

Donald and Meerkamper say those numbers represent a significant opportunity for employers hoping to be front-of-mind when it comes time for students to make decisions about where they want to work. Those companies that want to win at attracting the cream of the crop need to think seriously about what it is that differentiates them from their competition. “Take the financial-services industry, for example,” says Meerkamper. “Frankly, those who are going to come, are going to come anyway to that industry. So why should they come to RBC versus TD versus CIBC or whatever it might be?”

As Donald puts it, graduating students “are, in a sense, a blank slate.” He advises organizations to take advantage of every opportunity they can to promote their company ? and its unique benefits ? to potential young hires. (See sidebars for examples of how some leading organizations are accomplishing just that.)

Effective ways of getting the message across are by sponsoring industry-related events, offering up the services of existing employees to help students with resumé writing and interviewing skills and by sending engaging guest speakers to classes on campus.

That's precisely how 24-year-old Elaine Callighen, a Queen's commerce graduate like Cho, ended up in a two-year training program to become a trade commissioner with the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Callighen ? who hadn't considered a career with the Canadian government until a lawyer from the department showed up as a guest lecturer at one of her fourth-year classes ? says the opportunity to travel, learn languages and become a career-long diplomat was simply too good to pass up. “To be honest, I didn't think much about working for the government,” she says. “I wanted to work in the private sector. But after learning more about the program, I realized the job provides so many personal-development opportunities that I didn't feel would be accessible to a person of my age coming right out of university.”

Perhaps even more revealing is the fact that Callighen is not alone when it comes to her generation's top picks for places to work. In fact, the Government of Canada ranked second among students polled in Brainstorm-D-Code's online survey when asked in an open-ended question to list five companies or organizations where they'd like to start their careers. Other industries that came out on top include education, health care, academic research, engineering and advertising/marketing.

“We were really surprised that government did so well,” says Meerkamper. “Often, we associate government with stagnation. But there's a positive side to the stability that large organizations and government can provide. Although [the government] might not pay as much as some of the higher-risk areas like financial services, it is fairly consistent.”

Stability. Consistency. Less risk. Can these really be the attributes today's allegedly fast-talking, attention-craving, ladder-climbing young people value most in the workplace? And if so, what gives? “With students graduating with significantly higher debt than they did five or 10 years ago, they are facing realities that didn't exist before,” says Meerkamper. “When you have $30,000 in debt, you have to make certain decisions regarding your career.”

Add to that a greater desire for work-life balance, coupled with the ability to make a difference in the workplace, and it begins to make sense why students are increasingly favouring the slow-but-steady pace of life in the government or social-services sectors rather than the more thrilling ride that goes along with an entrepreneurial startup or smaller business. In fact, Meerkamper says the opportunity to complete “intra-preneurships,” or rotational placements that allow students to jump between different departments within a larger institution, offers the same excitement of a startup without the risk that goes along with it.

It's great news, no doubt, for the public sector, but less encouraging for big and small businesses alike. Could the real war for top young talent become a tug-of-war between the public sector and everyone else?

Well that, of course, is where Brainstorm and D-Code come in. By helping campus recruiters and companies of all sizes to truly understand what their key strengths are and how they can market them to the millennial generation, they're hoping to help facilitate a perfect match between the workers of today and tomorrow. “Really, the trick of recruiting these days is to think about it more like a courtship than a blind date,” says Meerkamper. “It's more about forming a relationship than completing a transaction.”

NEXT: The results