Sinking our teeth into student engagement: Early talent breakfast download

27 April 2023

Last Thursday we sat down for breakfast with the heads of careers and talent from some of the leading companies in the financial, legal, retail, recruitment and technology industries to share insights and experience. We were also joined by Cambridge student Stephen, and future 106 intern Koy, who brought a much-needed Gen Z voice to the discussion.

Jayne Cullen, 106’s early talent specialist, kicked things off with a presentation sharing the findings of graduate focus groups conducted by 106 in the last month. It sparked a brilliant discussion on the complexities of the application process.

A main, and by no means surprising, point of discussion was that of virtual vs face-to-face interviews and careers fairs. Employers pointed out that inadvertent absences are far more common with virtual meetings, as well as technical issues resulting in losing people mid-meeting. Individuals also have a habit of disengaging if they don’t think they are being focussed on, as one of our students said:

“In person I’m more engaged, virtually I’m more distracted”

Subsequently, the discussion turned to measures that can be taken to encourage engagement during virtual meetings. One suggestion was restricting the ability to turn the camera off, as “you feel like you have to concentrate if the camera is on your face”. Another was employing tools such as Webex which can calculate virtual attentiveness as it happens so that you can be aware of those who are disengaging and pull them back into the conversation by directing questions their way or asking for opinions.

When asked their preferred meeting style, the students agreed on preferring in-person because “it is more interactive, and you can tell a lot from body language and get a better sense of personality and company culture” but saw the positives of virtual events; especially when considering travel time and costs. A point to consider is that having to physically be at an event meant that our students were more selective when choosing which to attend.

Recruitment teams are finding themselves in a never-ending, Catch-22 situation when it comes to the mindset of Gen Z. Our discussion highlighted that whilst many graduates will know which industry they want to be in, they will often take the first job that they are offered in that industry with the intention of fitting the job around them once they have secured it; “once in the door it is easier to transition within the company”.

This is especially prevalent given the cost of living crisis, leaving graduates desperate for a source of income. This means that employers are now facing a constant change of roles and talent, and contending with the perceived issue that…

“people with such a mindset don’t like being told where to start and which projects”

The cost of living crisis is also affecting the initial application that individuals are willing to go through, with students equating time spent on applications with lost earnings.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a 2023 discussion about Gen Z without talking about AI. Is the use of ChatGPT during the application process a cause for concern, or simply a resource to be utilised?

We heard some surprisingly contrasting opinions on this trending subject. Whilst many at the table fretted about the honesty of applicants, one of our technology representatives pointed out that it is hard for them to disfavour the use of the tool because the company uses it daily. In fact, in this case, discreet use of ChatGPT may be considered an asset in an applicant.

Leaving the breakfast, it is safe to say our brains were buzzing (and stomachs satisfied!). The opportunity to bring together industry professionals across sector, to share thoughts and experience is invaluable, and we intend to keep it up!

Contact if you are interested in future events!

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