Smart Moves: How employers can gain net benefits

Alongside traditional recruitment methods, firms can now question graduates on the Internet before calling them in for interview. By Rachelle Thackray
AS undergraduates flood out of examination halls in relief, ready to lap up some overdue sunlight and to recover from the long haul of study, recruiters are doing just the opposite.

For them, the work has only just begun. While many potential trainees are still attracted to firms through the traditional university milk round, thousands of other students who are not quite so well prepared will flock to summer recruitment fairs, such as that at Liverpool University on Wednesday 17 June.

The question which the canniest employers are asking is not "How do we lure the best graduates?" but "How do we keep the best graduates?" One of the ways in which employers are beginning to combine recruitment with retainment is to weed out unsuitable applicants by using a series of tests accessible through computers, even up to interview stage.

With the growth in Internet use and in the standard of IT-literacy, this method of recruitment is an inevitable and growing trend, says Graeme Wright, director of media and research at Park Human Resources, which publishes an annual survey on how graduates are seen by employers. "People are already beginning to question if there is any need for a CV when a machine can interview the best candidates."

In the States, one large department store - Macy's - takes on hundreds of extra staff at peak season and already routinely selects the best candidates via computer testing. "You sit there in front of your screen, and it asks you 'Why did you leave your last job?' then will respond to your answer. They need to know how you will react in a given situation. Then it's marked by the software, and if you've been successful, your computer gets in touch with the right person to arrange an interview," explains Mr Wright.

He admits there are drawbacks, but argues that these can be outweighed. "If I was applying for a job and had no personal skills whatsoever, I could get my friend to do the test. But as it's just leading to a final interview anyway, if you lie you are just wasting your own time." Tests range from basic through to sophisticated; Coopers and Lybrand in the States, for example, no longer prints a graduate brochure, although British graduates can still send off for one.

Meanwhile, today's students will need other skills apart from that of CV-embellishment. "It's getting quite unusual for employers to ask for a CV, because they are difficult to assess: they're a student's PR tool," says Mr Wright. "Companies are now asking how you've demonstrated your leadership skills, for example. If you're good enough to con your way into the job, chances are you're good enough anyhow." He points out that companies would be wise to combine different methods of recruitment advertising. "One of the Web's strengths is to convey detailed information, and the most successful recruiters will find ways of using different media in tandem, for instance by attracting people's attention to corporate web sites through newspaper publicity."

But while this year's graduates - most of whom have Web access on campus - are happy to request recruitment literature via the Internet it seems the computer is not necessarily their only port of call: there's still plenty of frantic newspaper page turning and dashing round recruitment fair stalls.

Says one student: "The Internet does enable you to see lots of different options without having to send off for all the application forms, which can take days. But you need to know what you're letting yourself in for, and it's good to meet people who've been and done it already."

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