What employers and graduates want from each other

How can graduates make sure they’re appreciated and what do their bosses expect in return?

Millennials entering today’s workplaces want to work for diverse firms with a mix of ethnicities, social backgrounds, gender and sexuality. Photograph: iStock

Millennials entering today’s workplaces want to work for diverse firms with a mix of ethnicities, social backgrounds, gender and sexuality. Photograph: iStock


The days of grateful serfs thanking the all-powerful boss for a lump of coal at Christmas are long gone. With the economy continuing to grow, graduates can – for now, at least – choose a workplace that not only treats them well but also reflects their values. And, with employers caught up in a war for the best talent, they’re keen to offer all sorts of perks in return for the best candidates.

So, what exactly do employers and employees expect from each other? How can graduates make sure they’re treated well and what do their bosses expect in return? We took a look at both sides.

What graduates expect from their employer

Well-being: Sheila O’Malley is an expert on well-being and provides training, coaching and seminars about stress and resilience at work. She says companies are increasingly offering well-being programmes at work and that employees increasingly expect this.

“There is a lot of stress out there and workplaces are looking to counteract it. Well-being budgets incorporate talks on smoking cessation, parenting, resilience and mental health. There are classes on yoga or Pilates, or there are on-site gyms or pools. This started in the larger companies but we now see more such programmes in small to medium-sized enterprises too. If a graduate is looking at two different workplaces and one of them has little to no facilities in a shabby office, whereas another has top-class facilities in a clean and pleasant working environment, it’s clear which one will be more attractive to the potential employee.”

Pay and conditions: Paul Dillon, an organiser with the Financial Services Union, suggests all workers, regardless of their workplace, should consider joining a trade union to improve their terms and conditions, and he argues that non-unionised workplaces may be less attractive to graduates.

“Unions work to protect hard-won terms and conditions,” he says. “Some studies (such as one carried out by Dr Frank Walsh of UCD’s School of Economics) suggest a pay premium of up to 10 per cent for unionised workers. Pay is not keeping pace with productivity and the cost of a house is now several times higher than it was in the early 1990s, but there are plenty of examples in our sector of where workers have come together to get a fair pay increase, most recently in Bank of Ireland. ”

Dillon says anyone going for a job should ask questions about pay, especially bonuses and performance-related pay (although it’s not advised to do this at the early stages of a job application).

Workplace culture: Mike McDonagh is managing director of Hays Ireland, one of the country’s largest recruitment firms. Hays recently released Search Apply Decide Join?, its second annual report on what workers want, which examines the priorities of prospective employees and what really matters to them in the workplace. The report is based on more than 1,800 responses from employees and prospective employees.

One of the big issues that arose was “workplace culture”. But what does this mean? “It’s what happens when the boss is not looking,” says McDonagh. “It’s about the style of an organisation. What is the atmosphere like? What do people say about it when not being watched or quoted for a report. It includes simple things like a career plan and examples of how they can progress. Websites like GlassDoor.com can be a great resource for employees to find out more about a company they are considering working in.”

A recent survey of more than 14,000 students conducted by gradireland.com showed that companies offering chances to work and travel abroad are attractive to graduates, are as graduate recruitment programmes that offer rotational placements (which allows candidates to get a taste of different divisions within the firm).

International evidence shows that millennials entering today’s workplaces want to work for diverse firms with a mix of ethnicities, social backgrounds, gender and sexuality. The Hays report also reflects they want their company to have at least some sense of corporate social responsibility.

Applying and onboarding: “Two thirds of applicants have been deterred by a poor application experience but 70 per cent of employers think they offer a good or excellent experience,” says McDonagh. “Candidates are turned off if they can’t find enough information about the firm online. They are turned off when interviewers are underprepared, or if it is very difficult to manage an online application – particularly if they can’t save their application and fill out the form at their own leisure. If the company selects the right candidate but delays in getting the offer to them, their ideal employee may be gone.”

Web applications may seem ideal for tech-savvy millennials, but the research from Hays shows that, actually, they prefer to speak to a human being and ask whatever questions they need to ask.

Firms are becoming more aware that they can’t afford to have complex and difficult application process. EY is one firm that has changed its procedures, Deloitte is another, and more firms are expected to follow suit (see panel).

If a candidate is selected, they want to be properly introduced to and integrated into the company. “There are some firms that are great with engaging new hires, but onboarding can sometimes be sloppy; employees increasingly expect that they’ll be made welcome from the outset.”

What employers expect from graduates

Happy and healthy staff: Much as workers want employers who don’t work them to the bone, employers benefit from this too.

“Fit, healthy and happier workers are also more productive for the company,” says workplace well-being specialist Sheila O’Malley. “If an employee is fitter, happier and feeling supported, they will do better. If they’re struggling to get three kids to school before the office, or having trouble with their weight, it will impact on their performance, so child-friendly policies and canteens with good, healthy options can make a difference.”

This extends to the workload, too. “If the volume of work is such that you can’t do it within the available hours, it creates stress and impact on productivity,” says O’Malley. “That said, most graduates are not tied by long-term partners or children and might be more willing to put in the extra hours, at least for some time, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term. It’s so much easier for people to find out about workplaces these days, so firms engaged in the war for talent see that a good structure around well-being is a badge of honour.”

“It’s clear that, from the employer’s point of view, a workplace with happy and motivated staff will do a better job,” says Paul Dillon, organiser with the Financial Services Union.

Talent: Any graduate worth their salt understands that today’s workplaces place an increased emphasis on the so-called “soft skills” of communication, analytical and critical thinking, teamwork and leadership. These are the same skills that are allowing today’s graduates jump outside their degree discipline and work across a variety of firms in a variety of roles.

“Graduates know that their employability rises when they have completed an internship or work placement, or if they have a position of leadership in a college club or society,” says Mark Mitchell, director of gradireland.com. “If they’ve got involved in student competitions, or volunteered their time and energy, it is attractive to employers. This is all because they want work-ready graduates who have the basic people and work skills needed to do well.”

Gerard Brady, senior economist at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), urges graduates to show employers clear examples of how they have used these soft skills, whether that was leading a project in college or taking on a challenge in the workplace. He adds that there are certain sectors, including tech, financial services, construction, science manufacturing and engineering, that are raising wages to attract the right staff. While STEM and business graduates might be seen to have an edge, these firms are hiring across the board.

Longevity and adaptability: There’s now a growing mobility in the workforce, according to Brady. He points out that the number of people who changed job within a year was as low as 13 per cent in 2010, but it’s now risen to about 20 per cent. As a result, firms are not only competing for the best graduates; they’re also fighting to retain them: they want staff who will stick around and they know that they need to work to retain them.

“Any graduate coming out of college will now be working into at least their late 60s, if not their 70s,” says Brady. “We know that a huge amount will change in this time and that today’s graduate will not finish their education in their early or mid-20s: they will need to upskill throughout their career. Graduates going for a job today should be able to show that they are keen to develop themselves and adapt to what is needed.”

What makes a candidate stand out?

They work well with others

They display leadership and problem-solving skills

They are self-starters, demonstrating an ability to take initiative and not need constant direction

They are positive and motivate their co-workers

They have researched the company and can show why they want to work there

They look after their own health and wellbeing

Findings from Hay’s ‘Search Decide Apply Join?’ report

47% of applicants said their starter expectations, including on-the-job training, were not met or were misleading

40% said the job ad had been incorrect or misleading

28% said the organisation which employed them was not the right cultural fit

82% said they had a negative experience at interview stage, with 39 per cent stating the interviewers were unprepared and 34 per cent saying the process was too long and cumbersome

Case study: How Deloitte is making job applications better

It’s one of the biggest frustrations for any job applicant: prospective employers who seem to think you’ve nothing better to do than spend an entire day filling out copious forms and jumping through psychometric testing hoops. And, frankly, they’ve had enough of this time-wasting; elsewhere in this supplement, we talk to recruiters about how job applicants increasingly expect a more streamlined process.

Deloitte, one of the big four accountancy firms, was gradireland.com’s employer of the year 2018, and it also won an award for best innovation after it overhauled its job application process.

Finola Gallagher-Taaffe, graduate recruitment manager at Deloitte, explains how they’ve reinvented the graduate recruitment wheel: “We were seeing a drop in the rate of graduate applications and it was because they were taking nearly a full day to reply to just one employer, so we wanted something faster and more streamlined which would work better for both parties. Our new system starts by asking for their name and email address, which sends a link to a simulation with questions allowing them to get a feel of what the role would be like, and giving us a chance to see if they are a good fit for our organisation.”

The questionnaire takes between 10 and 15 minutes, and suitable applicants are sent an email with a choice of dates and times to attend for interview. Deloitte still seeks an applicant’s CV and requires that all prospective employees have a minimum of 400 Leaving Cert points and no less than a 2.1 honours degree. There’s also the usual expectation that applicants called to interview will have done research on Deloitte as a company, but they’re not expected to answer tax or audit questions.

“The online questionnaire is broad and general, and aimed at encouraging people from all academic backgrounds – not just tech, business or accounting – to work with us,” says Gallagher-Taaffe. “We understand this is the first time that applicants will engage with us as an employer, and we want to make sure we are putting our best foot forward. I think that systems like this will become more common as employers seek to get a fully rounded view of a person, which can’t be provided by a CV. And applicants will expect it: they want more engagement with an employer prior to interview.”