Employers of accounting students have been making some big changes to their recruitment and selection recently. What can we learn from this and what tips can we pass on to our students?
At the ICAEW’s recent HEI conference, there was a session for employers to talk about the changes they had made to their recruitment, selection and induction over the last 12 months, and what we can expect over the next year or two.
A range of employers were represented – Cathy Baxter from PwC, David Adams from Equitix Management Services, Edward John from Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, Emma Adderley and Natascia Fileppi from L&G, and Vincenzo Leporiere from Hays.
It was ‘business as usual’ to a large extent in terms of employers still wanting to recruit good graduates into their organisations. And not much had changed about the skills being needed – commerciality, teamwork and communication still feature heavily.
Naturally, it’s the ‘how’ that’s changed dramatically over the last twelve months, both in terms of how employers are selecting and how the new recruits are working.
All had migrated to online recruitment and selection platforms for running interviews, ability tests and group exercises. Interestingly there was some divergence over how permanent these changes would be. A couple were planning to retain online interviews going forwards, others were keen to return to an in-person ‘physical’ format in due course.
I think it is an interesting debate around the extent to which you can assess people better face to face than screen to screen. We undoubtedly pick up a lot of non-verbal cues from people in the flesh. But it may well be these that can sometimes cloud our objectivity.
Also interesting, but hardly unexpected, was that employers are still experimenting with the blend of their future talent intake – finding a balance between ‘traditional’ graduates and the resurgent school leaver and apprentice cohorts. Although all the employers on this panel remained sure of the benefit that graduates can offer their organisations, university students shouldn’t get complacent.
So, what 5 tips did we pick up that we can pass on to students?
- You need to get used to remote working technology. Not only is remote working likely to feature in the short- and medium-term plans of many organisations, but because of this, it may well open up opportunities for employment or work experience with companies outside of your geographic target areas. So cast your nets widely – perhaps even outside the UK.
- Do your research – especially into employers with smaller intakes. It was great hearing about opportunities to train and work as accountants with EMS and NHS Frimley Park. What some employers may lack in terms of intake quantity, they may well make up for in terms of work experience quality. And there are plenty of organisations looking for staff who simply don’t see themselves as ‘graduate’ recruiters, so they will fall under the radar of careers services and the big graduate jobs websites.
- Take advantage of opportunities to build those all-important transferable ‘soft’ skills. Just because you’re logging in to university courses remotely shouldn’t stop you making the most of any campus activities that can develop your teamwork, presentation, or financial management skills. And there will be some fantastic volunteering opportunities closer to home as well.
- Research the selection methods employers are now using. You may be comfortable with the prospect of an in-person interview, but how about an online one? What about an online asynchronous interview? I was running an employability skills workshop last month and one student was saying they logged in for their online interview, assuming it was going to be a cosy one-to-one and was taken aback at seeing five interviewers on her screen!
- Practise, practise, practise! Once you know what you’re going to be up against, make sure you’re prepared. Even if you’ve spent some of lockdown drilling online ability and personality tests, you may not have practised an online group exercise before. Students on the ones I have run recently usually make the comment that they have to really concentrate on ‘turning up the volume’ of their interactions so they have the impact they want to. See what’s available at your careers and employability service.
So, there are still jobs out there, even if current circumstances have thrown up a few additional considerations.
But I think all this does present opportunities to very good students and to very well-prepared students – not necessarily the same people in my experience!
Good luck.*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.