Doesn’t the early bird catch the worm?

The majority of employers operate firmly by the traditional ‘milkround’ season when it comes to their annual graduate recruitment effort.  This means that there are certain weeks of the year when they invite, and expect to receive, applications for the graduate scheme, certain weeks of the year when they expect to be conducting the various rounds of interviews, and a date by which they hope to be done and dusted, with all vacancies gone to candidates of even greater excellence even than were hired last year.  (If only the real world were like that…).

It is a phenomenon which, in part, leads to the mad autumn rush to market at universities and encourage applications.  It also leads, naturally enough, to the effective fixing – whether expressly or merely by the employer’s conduct – of a date from which applications are understood to be welcome.  Generally this falls at the end of the summer, shortly before students return back from their summer vacation, and, particularly in the case of financial institutions, after full-time hiring numbers off the back of the summer internship programme – and hence residual full-time hiring requirements – are known.  It is, in many respects, a matter of convention, but it’s not a convention that is inviolable, and being officially open to earlier applications can have benefits.

The rationale for opening up for full-time applications earlier in the year – i.e. in May/June/July – is primarily to recruit better candidates, and to steal a march on the competition.  Logically, it makes sense: if there are candidates who are ready, willing, and able to apply to you earlier, why not actively invite them to do so?  If the worst were to happen, and they were not suitable, you would still have the autumn period all your competitors use to seek out and hire the candidates you need.  But, on the other hand, you may get the best candidates in your sights, and offers to them accepted, before those candidates even look at your slower competitive rivals!  There is also a simple elegance to having a strategy which is geared towards identifying the candidate who plans ahead and does not simply follow the crowd, which is probably more likely to characterise the candidate who is willing to defy convention and get started with their applications before she or he ‘has’ to.

However, there are good reasons why everyone isn’t already doing this.  One is the ‘where will it end?’ question – if everyone goes earlier and earlier, it arguably serves no one: good corporate citizens should stick to the convention, the argument goes.  Indeed, the (slightly) negative effects of not taking this view was arguably seen in the exciting world of Scandinavian business school hiring over the past decade or so, particularly amongst investment banks; it remains the case that investment bank company presentations in Scandinavia tend to take place in September, weeks before university visits are made in any other European country (and to the eternal scourge of their advertising agencies needing to meet such early deadlines…).

Another reason ‘why not’ is the simple one of resource.  If the period during which applications are received is extended, so too must the period of work of processing those applications, interviewing and hiring be extended; and for many stretched recruitment teams, that’s not particularly feasible.

And yet another reason ‘why not’ is that businesses have a tough enough time already predicting their graduate hiring needs up to one year ahead, as is normally the case.  Trying as a business to bring that predictive requirement even earlier can be worrisome for all but the most stable of graduate employment practices.

We feel that, in the end, the message on this is that opening up your application process earlier is not for every employer, but the convention of leaving it til the beginning of the Autumn isn’t either.  For some, the benefits of going out to market, way ahead of – well – the market, can be enormous, particularly in relation to candidate demographics where the competition is particularly fierce, and so can massively out-weigh the costs.

Blackbird (male)

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