With only 35% of graduates entering the job market straight after university*, record low levels of unemployment in the UK and ever-increasing expectations from students as to what they want from employers, the war to attract top graduate talent has never been so intense.
Gone are the days when employers had the pick of final-year students through a one-off flurry of milk-round activity. Today, top students frequently have job offers before they complete their studies. Companies fight tooth-and-nail to get an early slot on campus to present to potential recruits. Indeed, some management consultancies and accounting firms even target schools.
So how can recruiters differentiate their companies in the minds of an increasingly discerning graduate pool?
At L’Oréal we’ve developed a strategy that is increasingly paying dividends. In 2003, L’Oréal UK received 4,700 graduate applications for just 25 places. The June results of the independent Universum Graduate Survey 2004 show that L’Oréal deposed McKinsey as the number one favoured employer of European business graduates. In another recent survey, the Trendence Barometer, conducted among more than 12,000 students in five European countries, almost 21% of business students chose L’Oréal ahead of any other market leading, blue-chip employer.
In the UK, we strive to apply as much creativity to our recruitment strategy as we do to developing and launching new products. Our interaction with universities is sustained throughout the academic year, allowing us to encourage the best students to apply for one of three recruitment initiatives: our business games, our internship programme and our graduate training scheme.
L’Oréal organises two innovative international business games that enable students to gain insights into working in the cosmetics industry, while at the same time acting as recruitment tools. Finalists get exposure to senior L’Oréal management and we are able to identify the rising business stars of the future.
This year, 3,270 students across 130 business schools in 26 countries were selected to participate in the L’Oréal Marketing Award, which has them take on the role of brand manager for four months. Our judging panel, including L’Oréal CEO Lindsay Owen-Jones, had to select a winner using commercially-driven criteria: creativity; capacity of analysis; coherence with brand; team spirit and presentation. In the past two years in the UK five participants have joined L’Oréal.
In April, six Singaporean INSEAD and US Kellogg MBA students won our e-Strat Challenge, beating competition from 30,000 MBA and undergraduate students from around the world. E-strat is an online business strategy game that tests students with real-time cosmetics business situations: pricing; production; distribution; finance; consumer behaviour; marketing; advertising and brand positioning.
The challenge is a battle of strategy, tactics and wits that would test any global CEO. These stimulating, creative and fun programmes provide tremendous opportunities for two-way learning. In the four years since the game’s launch we’ve taken on 100 of the top-performing students around the world and in the UK in 2003 we received the highest number of applications in Europe.
We offer internships to promising students while they are still at university. They work on live projects which have a direct impact on the business. Many go on to gain places on our graduate scheme. In 2003, 80% of our graduate trainees were former L’Oréal interns.
When graduates join our training scheme, we continue the detailed process of understanding how their skills and aptitudes can be honed and stretched. We don’t pigeon-hole trainees, but instead give them four three-month rotations in different functions, sometimes overseas, giving them space to grow. A mix of on-the-job training and classroom-based learning helps them make the transition from university to working life. Retention is essential: recruiting and developing trainees is a significant investment and we want them to stay with us.
I’m continually amazed at the dynamism of today’s top grads. Their CVs are incredibly full and they’re still at university! Editing student newspapers, holding down part-time jobs to pay for studies, setting up societies and running sporting and social activities - it’s all a far cry from the clichéd view of student life as a non-stop party interspersed with the occasional lecture.
We want L’Oréal to inspire potential applicants, as much as they want to inspire us that they are a future general manager. Every time we sense the thrill of recognition that a new recruit is going to thrive, there’s a buzz because it’s all been worth it.
*according to The Times High Fliers 2004 Survey