An investment in your future

Now is not the time to cut back on graduate training – but make sure you have a scheme in place to discover the best talent, says Graham Wall

In these testing economic times, I’ve heard many say that they can’t risk hiring unproven talent. And so they’ve put graduate recruitment on hold.

We see things differently. If you take a short-term view and shut the door to graduates, aren’t we forgetting what we have learned in the past – that when the economy recovers, the new talent won’t be there? Moreover, succession management will become more difficult – and much more expensive to implement – because fewer middleweight creatives will exist, meaning those who are there will command bigger salaries.

Graduate recruitment is the lifeblood of any consultancy. Young talent keeps us fresh and in touch, and ensures the creative department is fired up by the passion and hunger of new people trying to break into our industry.

We have always believed in graduate recruitment – indeed, some of the best people here started their careers with us. And we have built on this with the introduction of an annual graduate apprentice programme for creative teams and designers. What about the risk of hiring unproven talent? If you cast your net wide and ensure you see enough portfolios you can be sure that those who make the final interview stage will have the talent you’re looking for. Then, by running a structured training programme over a number of weeks, you can be sure of their attitude and fit within the consultancy.

This is what happened when we trialled our programme. Our first task was to put a search team together. We knew it would help the process if the people in charge were not only class-leading in their discipline, but also had insight into the demands of winning a job at a London integrated consultancy. So we appointed Stuart Feeney and Jonny McKemey, who have both been with us since leaving college, to manage the concept team search.

We then went out and met the graduates at leading universities and exhibitions such as the Shelf Awards and D&AD’s New Blood, where we set a live brief to more than 100 students.

In all, we saw work from more than 250 students. From there, nine creative teams were interviewed and the three best were given a seven-week placement working across our client list. The eventual winners, Katy Sumption and Francesca Mather, have now joined us.

Now we have formalised the scheme, we are putting that learning to use for our 2010 search, looking for concept teams and – for the first time – designers.
After all, young design blood is vital to the creative industry – especially in a world that enjoys a faster pace of change than ever before. The style leaders, the early adopters, the fashionistas are inevitably the young – and tapping into their design subconscious is key to keeping design solutions fresh and contemporary.

Next year we will start earlier, talking to course tutors at the beginning of the year so that we can incorporate our live briefs into their syllabus, which will help the selection process. And we’re going to look further afield – the exhibitions we visited showed that many of the best students came from non-traditional universities.
We will also run the course for at least a month, as this year’s search revealed that the frontrunners after the first couple of weeks didn’t continue to grow, whereas the eventual winning pair just got better and better as time went on.

With the design search, we’re going to give candidates a structured programme where they spend time in different areas of the business, including above-the-line, direct and digital campaigns. That way, we can identify their strengths and passions, and then choose the people we think are the best fit with our business.

Of course, it’s not just the winning graduates who will benefit. Everyone who comes into the consultancy gets the chance to learn and develop skills on live briefs. So even if they don’t finish the scheme with a permanent job, they’ll have made contacts, gained a good understanding of the workings of the consultancy and built a strong portfolio.

Yes, times are tough. But an effective graduate programme is a win-win situation – we get the best of the young talent out there, and graduates are given the chance to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder. And that’s more important now than ever.

Attracting the right graduates

  • Get people who started their careers with you to manage the search and mentor the graduates – their insights will be invaluable
  • Cast the net wide – see as many people as possible, at least three people/teams for each placement position
  • Plan the programme – we have our placements working across all disciplines, spending equal time on each. They also shadow mentors for two weeks, before we let them loose on live briefs
  • Run the scheme for at least a month – you’ll be amazed how some people plateau while others keep growing
  • Before making your decision, get feedback from all departments, because they’ll all have to work with the people you choose

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