Business Essentials: 'Graduates can't fathom us out'

The communications consultancy Octopus is struggling for a profile among those it wants to employ. Kate Hilpern reports

Octopus, a communications consul- tancy based in Windsor, wants to set up a graduate recruitment scheme but doesn't know how to go about it. "Our main problem is attracting graduates in the first place," explains director Jon Lonsdale.

Octopus, a communications consul- tancy based in Windsor, wants to set up a graduate recruitment scheme but doesn't know how to go about it. "Our main problem is attracting graduates in the first place," explains director Jon Lonsdale.

The company is three years old, has 14 employees and is growing nicely with clients such as Burger King. Recently, Octopus took on its first graduate trainee and has been highly impressed with the impact she's made - far more so, in fact, than with some of the more experienced people it has recruited in the past. "We have therefore decided to focus on getting in really good graduates and fast-tracking them up to consultants within six months," says Mr Lonsdale.

Communications consultancies are a relatively new concept. They aim to combine traditional brand marketing with the work of a management consultancy.

"So what we're not after are people who want to work purely in creative roles like PR, the media or advertising. Nor do we want management consultant types who are completely analytical. Rather, we want something in the middle: a creative brain and an awareness of business issues, coupled with excellent communication skills."

This, says Mr Lonsdale, probably poses the biggest recruitment challenge. "It's a career that doesn't appear in graduate listings or fit into a clear category."

Mr Lonsdale has tried three approaches to setting up a graduate scheme, and all have failed. "First, the route of recruitment agencies hasn't worked. For one thing, we've found they tend to be better at finding senior people, and for another, we pay fairly high salaries, so their fees [a percentage of salary if the candidate is taken on] are high for a small company like ours."

His second attempt involved advertising in some of the big universities. "I was very surprised that this yielded no decent applications at all.

"Finally, we tried contacting a few course directors at universities around the country that specialise in management. But again, this proved less fruitful than expected."

What Octopus cannot afford to do is attend the big graduate trade shows. "We are well aware that we are competing with the Accentures of this world in trying to find bright people, so this may be a problem. Put this together with the fact that we are not listed in careers libraries, and we face an even bigger challenge," admits Mr Lonsdale. "Being located outside London may also be a barrier."

But on his side, he says, are important selling points. Octopus can offer graduates a consultancy role within six months and the work is stimulating and varied. "Also, our starting band for a trainee consultant is around £18,000 to £20,000, which is a good starting salary for a first job."

In addition, the firm is willing to introduce a more appropriate benefits package. "I have a hunch that graduates don't want the obvious things like healthcare and pensions, but I'm not sure what they do want - a car, perhaps, or extra training?"

Essentially, Octopus wants to know what it has to do to draw in, and hang on to, some of today's top university leavers. "Marketing always seems to feature top of the list for graduates' favourite careers, so where are these graduates?"

www.octopuscomms.net

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Carl Gilleard, chief executive, the Association of Graduate Recruiters

"Be clear what you are looking for. Fine-tune the specification: what are the 'must have' and desirable competencies?

"Flesh out the fast-track programme: what does it involve and how will it work? Switched-on graduates will want to know.

"The starting salary is reasonable - the median average is £20,700. A car would be a bonus.

"Turning to recruitment, don't rule out agencies and jobs boards; some specialise in graduate jobs. See the business directory at www.agr.org.uk for examples. Remember, payment is by results. Negotiate on fees.

"Big may not be best when it comes to universities. Start in your own region. Approach university careers services, explaining your needs. Can they help you reach the right students? Having identified appropriate institutions, cultivate them. Campus-based careers fairs are inexpensive and can help build your brand.

"Use your successful graduate in your search. She'd make a great ambassador."

Terry Jones, communications co-ordinator, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services

"The small employer has always had a problem in gaining the attention of students. Here are some strategies that other 'minnows' have found successful.

"Build a relationship with someone at the careers service of two or three nearby universities. Refuse to confine yourself to email or fax. Invite them to your office or visit theirs. Enthuse them about the role. Seek their expertise.

"Look at the low-cost and no-cost options of publicising a job in the university. Do they have a website, electronic job list, paper bulletin? See if you can get an entry in the marketing/ PR and business/consulting sections - that way you contact the 'creative' consultants and the analytical creatives.

"Study the possibilities of a campus visit - a talk to students at lunchtime, some 'first interviews'. Consulting and marketing are among the most popular options for students and 'fast-track' is a phrase familiar to them. Make your smallness a virtue. Be personal."

Jessica Jarvis, adviser, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Graduates look for a good salary, training, a challenging job and career opportunities. Octopus appears to offer all of these, so it should concentrate on raising awareness.

"Think how best to target graduates. Use your website to give information on the jobs; this can be very cost-effective and is also the most common search tool used by students. You can then advertise on other relevant websites to direct people to your own.

"Another option is offering work experience to students at local universities who are studying relevant subjects. This allows you to meet and give trials to individuals who you could recruit on graduation."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
News
i100
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace