When I started recruiting graduates in 2007 it was very rare for an employer to be recruiting anytime outside the months of March to May (i.e., Australian market).

However, it wasn’t long before a few large employers starting opening applications in February.  I was perplexed at the time as students weren’t even back on campus until early March, but it was mainly due to the perception that you would beat the competition.

In those days, recruitment was very much a manual process where candidates were locals (who you usually met face-to-face on campus), and while companies hired graduates, there weren’t many who had dedicated graduate development programs.

Fast forward to 2021, and some things have changed.  There are a lot more graduate programs out there and a lot more companies who hire graduates (either for a program or entry level roles).  Recruitment teams are specialised and have embraced technology, candidates can apply from anywhere at any time, there’s more focus on candidate experience, and we are collecting more data throughout the entire recruitment process.

However, the one thing that has been slow to change is the timing of when employers recruit.  Most still seem to be concentrating their efforts in the early months of the year. 

When you look at the data and talk to graduate recruiters, you know candidate behavior has changed, but surprisingly (and mostly) we haven’t really changed our strategy.  I do acknowledge that there are some employers who have, but I still think a majority believe you must hire early to attract ‘quality’ candidates.   Or it could be that recruiters want to make the change, but they face resistance from the business.

According to the Australian Association of Graduate Employers* 2020 survey data, of the 3,600+ candidates surveyed, 42% applied for 10 or more positions.   Probably not surprising really given COVID etc., but when you then look at renege rates and reasons for reneging offers, it becomes clearer why recruiting anytime of the year really makes no difference to the outcome.

Of those same surveyed candidates, 15% accepted and then declined an offer.  This is quite significant when you consider in 2007, we didn’t even capture data on this.  Of those who reneged, 46% wanted to work for another employer, and 41% said the role they accepted initially was only a safety net.   Another interesting stat is that 22% said they accepted an offer and continued to apply for other roles.  So really, the argument of ‘getting in early’ really doesn’t exist in today’s market.

GradConnection site traffic also shows that grads are actively job searching all year round (source: Blog post 9 July 2021).

In addition, Prosple also reported that fewer students are searching for graduate programs in February and March, with more interest being shown throughout the year and in July particularly (source: Blog post June 2021).

So, candidate behavior has changed, but we haven’t necessarily changed our thinking around the timing of our campaigns.

With this in mind, here are some things you should think about:

  • Attraction is something you need to do all year, not just when applications are open.  Think about how you communicate to your audience, what channels you use, and incorporate simple things you can do to engage your audience more regularly.
  • Consider smaller targeted campaigns throughout the year rather than one big campaign.  For example, you could segment your campaigns and build talent pools.  To do this, you also need to review your recruitment process and streamline it as much as possible to reduce any unnecessary and/or duplicated admin.
  • Possibly recruiting later in the year, particularly if you don’t have the same brand profile as other more prominent employers.
  • If you have a good ATS or recruitment platform, you could also consider opening a Talent Portal for an extended period (e.g., March to September) to help you capture interested applicants at the time they are looking.  The only caveat on this one is please ensure you are resourced to continuously monitor and communicate with candidates while you are accepting applications.  You don’t want your interested talent to feel ignored or to be left waiting for an outcome.
  • Consider an Intern Program (or boosting your number of interns) for penultimate year students.  We know a high percentage of students start their job search in their penultimate year, so why not offer them an opportunity to engage with your organisation early. 
  • Whenever you hire, can you offer your new recruits some casual or part-time work to get them into your organisation as soon as possible?

At the end of all this, the purpose of writing this blog was to challenge the perception that hiring early gets the best results.  In 2021, I think it’s safe to say that this is no longer the case. 

Anyway, hopefully I’ve explained my point of view and given you some information you can use to influence your stakeholders, so that whenever and however you hire, it is the best option for your organisation.

*If you recruit or develop early career talent in Australia, I recommend you consider becoming a member so that you can get access to helpful resources including data like the stats I quoted here.