What I now look for in graduate applicants

Entering the marketing sector as a graduate can be intimidating, particularly in the midst of a recession caused by COVID-19. Sam Wood offers his advice on how new recruits can enhance their employability and find the right opportunities for growth.

We tested our graduate applicants for adaptability last year, but I never envisioned the extent to which that skill would be challenged. Working in an industry that evolves as quickly as digital marketing does, we’re conditioned for change. Yet this year has forced a lot of us to rewrite what it means to be a successful marketing partner.

There’s been a number of lessons we’ve learned, especially as this is the first year that we’ve introduced a formalised graduate program. Reports say that Gen Z value employment training more than any other demographic in the workforce – almost double the levels of Gen X. This is something worth considering when looking at your employee experience.

I wanted to share some thoughts of what we look for at Alpha Digital, which can hopefully be helpful for any budding marketing professionals who are in the process of applying for roles right now.

Persistence

Our application process is intentionally fairly lengthy and arduous. In our industry, the right approach isn’t always the obvious one. It’s not about just finding the easiest solution but displaying a willingness to research, test, iterate and test again to find the best solution. I’ve found continuous optimisation is a mindset, so we try and filter out those without the desire to see it through. The last six months have only hardened this value.

Care and attention

Copying and pasting is great in spreadsheets. It saves time and gets you to the desired outcome quicker. Less so in job applications. It’s pretty easy to spot a ‘CNTRL V’ candidate. All roles we advertise for require something specific, so skim reading and hitting send won’t cut it. Any silly errors in grammar or spelling are immediate warning signs for us. If an applicant can’t be bothered to proofread or use a tool like Hemmingway or Grammarly, then we’ll have problems.

Be coachable

There are countless articles about younger generations being entitled and lacking the aptitude to get stuck in. This is not what I’ve found. Granted my sample size has been relatively small, but I’ve seen our grad cohort take on board feedback incredibly well and grow from the experience.

Particularly for junior hires, one of the biggest things most companies look for is attitude. A willing nature can compensate for a lack of prior knowledge.

A passion for learning is a must. A huge part of our roles involve analysing incomplete information, doing broader research and then combining all of that to solve a problem. It’s why we’re expanding the time we give our team to upskill. Our business model is based on billable hours, but I’m increasing the portion of our week that is non-billable so our people can broaden their knowledge and pick up new talents which will help with a more holistic perspective to tackle client issues. This goes for grads too.

Gaining credibility

While it’s true that grads often won’t have had much hands-on experience when entering the job market, there are ways to improve your chances of standing out. There’s a tonne of free courses out there, including those through Google or Facebook directly. These can be a great way to stand out against a pool of people who may seem fairly similar on paper (same degrees, etc.).

Networking (although currently difficult to do) is still super important. If we see on LinkedIn that you’re connected with people that we respect, it will grab our attention. Don’t be afraid to reach out and engage with those in the industry, by offering to get a Zoom coffee or connect in some other way. Most people are willing to offer advice and help out, as we’ve all been in your position.

Ingenuity

Any hiring manager will read through a lot of applications to find the right people. And there’s a lot of similar advice out there for how to write an application or CV. The result is a school of homogenised responses, where it’s going to be difficult to stand out.

I was recently lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a response from an applicant who absolutely blew me away. Not only did they tick every single box in our brief, she perfectly matched our agency branding as well. Down to the exact right colour codes, fonts, icons, brand images and elements etc., all of which she had sourced from our website. It was incredibly impressive. It’s a great example of thinking about how you can show your drive and ability to research or problem solve to any potential employer.

Our experience

For other employers reading this, we’ve noticed that after just six months, the graduate program course our team put together has made our upcoming talent more rounded than some more senior hires. It’s highlighted a gap we didn’t even know existed and now we’re implementing elements of the course throughout the whole agency. That’s just been one of the unexpected benefits of the scheme. If you’re prepared to spend the time designing and implementing a high quality program, you’ll soon see why I’m such an advocate.

For those entering this difficult employment market – try not to get too downtrodden. There are still exciting opportunities out there if you’re willing to differentiate yourself from your peers and spend the time identifying growing businesses or industries. Universities can be a great resource to find out about who’s hiring graduates at the moment, as can websites such as GradConnect. Best of luck!

Sam Wood is the CEO of Alpha Digital.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.