Young people drinking

Graduates are drawn to the biggest and the ‘best’ when it comes to employment. But what does this mean for the little guy? Those who don’t have the hard-hitting brand name. Google, Goldman Sachs, Rolls-Royce: all feature on the list of top graduate schemes - and they always attract the top talent. Can SMEs compete? Or do they have to settle for mediocre?

Thankfully, you don’t always need a big brand name or a large budget to attract high-calibre candidates. You just need a different approach.

First of all, let’s challenge what ‘best’ really looks like, because it isn’t just about a 2:1 from a top university. Great grads demonstrate inner drive, motivation and tenacity - a need to achieve that runs deep. Chances are you will see these qualities at interview, in the work experience they sought out to get ahead, and in their wider achievements beyond the academic. Prioritise these, plus passion and energy, over details on a degree certificate, and you will almost always get more in return.

So what does this kind of talent look for? The shiny brand name, competitive salary, structured progression and training from the corporates is appealing, for sure. But is this enough for today’s graduate?

Millennials and the emerging Generation Z are a product of the fast-paced, high-entertainment digital age. They have seen new technology brands achieve fame fast. Rightly or wrongly, they seek swift career progression and a rich culture, offering work-life balance.

Surely the SME holds the trump card in this? In smaller organisations, graduates can have an immediate impact - they are not lost in a sea of suits and faces. Strong performance cuts through and is rewarded faster. SME cultures can be less corporate and more charismatic, with empowered decision-making, creating a dynamism that resonates with today’s talent.

Onboarding is also a selling feature for attracting talent. To win here, again you must be competitive. Create your own fast-track immersion, learning and training processes, define clear stages of progression. Make sure your offering is driven by what really appeals. Today’s graduates don’t want to be bought.

The reality is that SMEs certainly don’t have to settle for mediocre. Everyone loves an underdog - even graduates.

Jonathan Fitchew is CEO of Pareto Law