What are graduates looking for in a role?

Graduate Roles – Will They Stay On-board?

Graduate recruitment is one of the most important parts of any business. From foodie start-ups to major financial institutions, everyone needs a pipeline of fresh talent. It is easier, cheaper, and much more rewarding to promote from inside than out, and having an established team that you know and trust allows for more productivity and a better workplace environment in general: no one wants to work somewhere where half of your team has one foot out the door.

It is proving ever more challenging to retain staff in graduate roles. The stigma surrounding job-hopping with aim of finding your true calling is growing less each year, and there is no doubt that this group has a much higher turnover rate than others. It is important for employers to know what attracts a grad to certain jobs or graduate roles, what keeps them in a role, and also why they might start looking for other opportunities.

Over 50% of UK graduates leave university unsure of their future career. Almost 40% are still job-hunting after 6 months, and 25% are still unemployed after a year. Nearly 50% of grads end up working in roles that don’t require a degree. What do these facts tell us? For one, that lots of grads don’t know what to look for, or where to look for it. Also, that many grads favour jobs like bar work or temping rather than committing to a career they’re not even sure they want to pursue. In addition, once grads do finally begin a career-style position, they don’t have to hate their job to leave. They will be tempted by something only marginally better, or something that fits better into what they are looking for in the long term.

There are four main reasons why graduates would stay in graduate roles or leave for a better one. Here are three of them:

  • Opportunities for advancement. Grads apply for roles where they can see a long-term future and the real prospect of development. You wouldn’t hire someone who couldn’t see themselves progressing internally in the future, so why wouldn’t you provide them with that opportunity? Many companies advertise any new roles internally to add another string to this particular bow, allowing people to potentially change the focus of their career whilst remaining in the same company.
  • Organisational culture. Every organisation thinks that it has a great culture. Catch phrases like ‘work hard play hard’ and ‘relaxed and sociable’ are thrown around like candy on job adverts, but if you nail your colours to this particular mast you have to make sure that you deliver. The modern interview process is a two-way street, and grads will be checking everything out when they come in for a meeting. If they begin a new role and the environment is not at all what was advertised, things can go south very quickly.
  • Relationship with direct manager. This is one of the most important factors in people staying or leaving. If an employee has a manager they enjoy working for, and, more importantly, working with, they are much more likely to stay. Data collected by Graduate Career Australia showed that almost 9 out of 10 grads felt that their relationship with their manager was pivotal to their position. If people of a certain team are dropping like flies, but others are going steady, odds are the specific culture of that team that is an issue.

So, as an employer, how do you combat these issues? The most important thing that any company should do is maintain and manage open lines of communication for its workforce. It doesn’t matter whether you are a 3-person start-up or a multinational conglomerate, if you want to retain your staff, you need to show them that you care about what they have to say. Whether it’s an HR department, a weekly roundtable, or the knowledge that they can ask for 5 minutes with their manager, something needs to be in place. But take note: it’s all very well listening, but you’d better be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and act.

However, despite all this, there is a hard truth to face. No matter the effort you put in, grads are still likely to leave their graduate roles. The numbers will be lower and it won’t be every 3 months, but every now and then someone will move on, or a new hire won’t take quite as well as you’d hoped. But rather than hoping vainly for this not to apply to your company, there are things you can do to help minimise the pain:

  • Make sure you ask why they are leaving. If a grad is leaving after more than 18 months, you can assume the culture or their manager wasn’t the primary reason. But if someone is leaving after 3 months, it is even more important to know why. Sometimes the fit just isn’t there, and the fault is no one’s. If the issue is the culture or the manager, and this isn’t the first time it’s come up, that is a red flag for you as an employer to do something about it.
  • Make sure you use a recruiter that works well with you. Unless you have an amazing organic candidate flow, odds are you will be using recruiters. Consider which ones have provided good candidates and have been respectful and responsive, as well as those that have made a real effort to understand your business and its culture. Whittle down your PSL and even consider giving a recruiter exclusivity for your roles. This enables a better ad campaign and a more streamlined HR process as a whole, as well as the possibility of assessment centres, which generally increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. The odds of the candidates sticking increases as well.

There is of course, an elephant in the room, the fourth reason the graduates leave a role: More money. It is arguably the most common reason grads move on from a role. If this is the case, it is important that you handle it correctly. If someone offers a figure you can’t match, there isn’t a huge amount you can do. At the very least, you have provided that employee with a good working environment and enabled them to secure other graduate roles. In today’s increasingly networked age, word will spread of the positive environment you provide. The main thing to do is avoid getting a reputation for being a ‘stepping stone’. Make sure that you make every effort to help good grads make the decision to stay. Whether that is a small pay rise every now and then or tracking them for a promotion and an increase in responsibility, give them a reason to not want to go.

In the case of what graduates want in a job, it is the same as with most issues: the simplest answers are the most effective. If you as an employer make a real effort to listen to your employees, help them develop, and manage them well, people will want to come and work for you and, more importantly, will want to keep it that way.


Find the ideal graduate roles today or discover the right talent here with Brightsparks.