Take a moment to consider the class of 2020. After years of hard work from secondary school right through to the final year of third level, they will graduate into a world of uncertainty. Over the past few months, they have faced down immense challenges and changes, and have risen to the occasion. The next step in their career is an important one, and employers have a significant role to play in nurturing their talent.
As the co-partner (alongside Ronan Lyons) responsible for A&L Goodbody’s trainee solicitor and intern programmes, I’ve overseen the recruitment of some of the best young minds in Europe. We’ve learned that if you want to attract the best graduates, you must commit to foster their talent and ensure that they become the best they can be. We regularly assess our programmes to ensure that we get the best from our graduates while in turn giving them the best graduate experience they can get. So what are they looking for from their employers?
A relentless commitment to training and development is a given for any employer that wants to attract top graduates. For us, the best mix has been to provide structured education with on-the-job training, where our trainees observe and shadow senior leaders within the business.
We have noticed an increased emphasis on the importance of feedback. Regular formal and informal feedback sessions that encourage two-way dialogue and advice for development are a must when it comes to upskilling graduates.
This generation of digital natives can add immense value to any firm or company if they are placed in the right learning environment. We’ve seen benefits from being the first firm in Ireland to offer a rotation with our client technology team. Trainees see first-hand how we collaborate with our clients using technology to improve the services we offer.
Some of the key changes we have seen emerge in graduates reflect the wider societal shift we have all gone through in recent years.
Graduates want to work for organisations that are genuinely committed to diversity and inclusion. Like many firms, we have programmes to increase our diversity across gender, sexual orientation, nationality, social background and disability. But as the saying goes, diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. We want all our employees to be able to bring their best, most authentic selves to work.
It’s important for young people to have role models in the organisation they work for. You have to see it to be it, and that’s why diversity and inclusion are guiding principles for us at all levels.
Having the opportunity to work in more diverse areas, perhaps in some instances even outside of their academic qualification, is something graduates will look for in their employer, as it is rare that a graduate will know exactly in what area they would ultimately like to specialise.
Graduates want to be part of an organisation that is doing cutting-edge work that will allow them to be challenged and stretched. The era of graduates’ days being filled with administrative work is, thankfully, over.
The opportunity to work on global projects is also a very popular attraction for graduates. This was something that attracted me to A&L Goodbody when I applied for a traineeship almost 20 years ago. It is still a huge draw for trainees.
In a post-COVID-19 world, the opportunity to go on long-term international secondments during your career is a very attractive prospect, whether that is to company offices and headquarters in London or the US or to a client in countries such as Germany or China.
Graduates also want to work for companies who give back and make a difference. Corporate culture will be a decisive factor for anyone considering graduate programmes.
Candidates frequently say the opportunity to participate in our pro-bono rotation, again a first in Ireland, has significantly influenced their decision to train with us. Who we are as a company sometimes means as much to graduates as what we do, and that’s a great thing to see.
Even at the best of times, however, graduates will favour an employer who aims to retain their trainees on qualification. When choosing jobs, a high number of graduates focus on job security, and I think this will be increasingly important to all in the current market.
So what advice would I give to the class of 2020? It might sound clichéd, but in one word I think it comes down to resilience. Be flexible and adaptable, but also be very clear on what values you are not willing to negotiate on. Find an employer who will challenge you, but who will also value and respect you, and then take every opportunity you get to learn, grow and add value.
Keavy Ryan is a partner at A&L Goodbody’s Dublin office, specialising in mergers and acquisitions. She is also responsible for the law firm’s trainee solicitor programme
This article first appreared in the Sunday Business Post on 23 August 2020