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If your organisation doesn’t know what it’s looking for, then how can you deliver the right hires?

I’m fortunate enough in my career to have worked with dozens of employers, and have spoken in detail with every one of them about not only what they do to source and retain their future talent, but why they recruit for their future talent programmes in the first place. At first, the answers surprised me. It didn’t seem in keeping with the often high profile of these organisations that, in fact, they didn’t really know why they were recruiting for these roles, and in many cases spending hundreds of thousands of pounds – and a hell of a lot of time and effort – on them.

I’ve just completed a project for a major client, which has involved me and my team speaking with multiple organisations to quite specifically understand why they do what they do. And yes, you’ve guessed it, not one of them could provide an answer that related specifically to any over-arching talent strategy. Not one.

A need for strategic alignment

That is not to say that these businesses weren’t alive to the fact that there was no real strategy – quite the contrary, and every person we met with was actively trying to raise the profile of this need for strategic alignment within their organisations. But so often in future talent recruitment, the emotional commitment to it is seen as sufficient to justify the programmes. In what is now a pretty hard-hearted, commercially driven world, this is – frankly – bizarre.

If there is no clear strategy for your graduate recruitment, your apprenticeship recruitment or your school leavers, how can you even do the basics? You cannot hope to deliver the right hires to your organisation, when the organisation isn’t even sure what it is looking for. So how can you say with any degree of accuracy that your attraction strategy targets and resonates with the people you need? How can you say that your assessment process is the right one to select – from the thousands of applications that you have – the perfect candidates to be successful in your roles? And, most fundamentally of all, how can you be sure that the roles themselves, and the careers that you are selling, bear any relation to the reality of life as a member of your future talent cohort?

Well, you can’t. Ever had that slightly bland feedback from hiring managers that, yes, the graduates seem pretty good this year? Or that the apprentices are (surprise!) really giving the graduates a run for their money? Ever been told that you need to improve the quality of your hires (for less money, natch!), without really being told in what ways they need to be better?

You are not alone. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The fact is that in most cases, organisations haven’t a clue why they are running these programmes, and aren’t taking a strategic approach.

John Lewis is one of those organisations that is different. Having taken a more strategic view of why it was recruiting for graduates and school leavers, its resourcing team has implemented a new process designed to ensure that the future talent it hires is perfectly aligned to the business now, and in the future. Where many organisations are concerned about rising application volumes, John Lewis decided that it needed to broaden its talent pool to ensure the most diverse selection of hires into its programmes, but with a clearer and more strategically aligned assessment process, it successfully spread the net wider to achieve greater diversity.

The alignment of future talent recruitment to a wider talent strategy is simply essential in today’s world. And although it takes time and some hard work, it is not fundamentally that difficult: intelligent thinking, carefully applied. If you want to hear more about how John Lewis adopted a more strategic approach to its graduate and school leaver recruitment, Carole Donaldson, Resourcing Manager for John Lewis, will be able to share plenty of detail at the Symposium Graduate Recruitment and Development Forum in London on February 26. And you never know – it might just give you the ammunition you need to get your organisation thinking strategically about why it recruits future talent.


Talent expert Ben Jackson began his career as a consultant at Hays in 2000 and worked his way up to running the company's in-house recruitment team, which is responsible for sourcing around 700 graduate hires every year. He then joined a European field marketing group as Head of Recruitment, before joining Motorola as Head of Recruitment for Northern Europe.

More recently, Ben became a Client Director at global RPO business Alexander Mann Solutions, managing recruitment operations and client delivery at Prudential, Cable&Wireless and Ericsson. In 2008 he joined GradWeb, a UK graduate / future talent recruitment outsourcing and technology business. Within this role, Ben consulted with many of the UK’s largest graduate and apprentice employers, including almost half of the Times Top 100 employers.

In 2014, Ben set up as a consultant, helping recruitment teams – both in-house and outsourced – to become better at talent acquisition and management.

Ben has a Bachelor’s degree in Latin and Ancient History, and is a qualified Prince 2 Practitioner. He speaks regularly on the subject of millennials / Generation Z at events run by the likes of the CIPD, the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the Forum for In-house Recruitment Managers (the FIRM) and Symposium Events. He has published numerous articles in HR Grapevine, OnRec and Graduate Recruiter magazines.

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