Watching the news last night, I was interested to see a feature on the fact that a number of smaller, local cinemas are having to keep their doors closed.  Why? A lack of customers.  Why no footfall?  Well, apparently a contributing factor is the lack of blockbuster movies being released to entice people into their COVID-safe, socially-distanced theatres.  Contrast that with the Prince of Wales Cinema in London which, while it's not claiming that business is booming, is managing to keep its doors open because of a focus on showing the classics we all want to see time and again.  It got me thinking about research I’ve done recently on behalf of clients wanting more diverse talent to walk through their doors, particularly at the early careers level.

When putting together attraction communications, organisations often tend to go down the epic route, in an attempt to position the employee experience they offer as the equivalent of a blockbuster compared to the more lacklustre affairs offered by the competition.  But feedback I’ve had from recent discussions with early careers talent, including those from BAME and lower socio-economic backgrounds, suggests this might not necessarily be the right approach.

For example, not too long ago, I tested a client’s early careers messaging with a group of final year students. This employer is large and high-profile and, through its graduate programmes, wants to build a more diverse workforce in order to benefit from different perspectives.  The students were specifically chosen because they aren’t studying at Oxbridge or Russell Group universities, which is where many of their current candidates come from. Their messaging focused on the hugely senior people graduates would meet and brief, the high-profile projects they’d work on, the meetings they would chair. Below is some of the feedback I got from the students:

“I’m not sure I would be ready for that type of responsibility after just graduating”

“I’d bypassed that, thinking that in order to work [there]…you’d require a lot more experience… a sort of later career path.”

"It sounds so professional…elite, I don’t think that I’d want to put myself in that situation."

To sum up what I heard, they found the communications daunting and thought they wouldn’t stand a chance without a number of years’ prior work experience.  They were also unclear from what they’d seen, exactly what the roles being offered involved day to day.  What they wanted to hear from a potential employer, was what they’d be doing on a practical level, how they would grow and develop, and what they should be competent in at the end of the graduate programme. Clarity around whether or not there would be a permanent job at the end was important to know too.

Another interesting point that’s come up in recent discussions with early careers talent from diverse backgrounds, is what I’ve come to call ‘a mindfulness around social currency’.  This focuses on concerns among this group about whether they will fit in to an organisation’s culture; how the organisation will help them, to quote one student, “make connections”.  This isn’t to say that all talent doesn’t feel nervous about this stuff, but if we think about it logically, diverse talent – especially people from lower socio-economic backgrounds – are less likely to have had exposure to professional workplaces. They’re also less likely to have contacts who can give them an ‘in’ on what it’s like to work for, and navigate your way around, say, a big corporate.

What seems to have emerged from my conversations is this:  organisations wanting to attract diversity have to ensure their attraction communications strike a good balance between the day to day and the epic, particularly when it comes to early careers audiences.  This group is aspirational and talented – but the likelihood is that their life experience to date (including their/ their family’s economics) means they need practical information, ideally delivered by people they can identify with, who can share ‘day in the life’ type experiences of the workplace.  It’s not that they don’t want to hear about the epic stuff, but it needs putting in perspective and accompanied by insight into how a potential employer intends to grow them to be able to manage it. Organisations that don't do this run the risk of coming across as inaccessible.

In short, early careers talent from diverse backgrounds are more likely to engage with employers that provide enough clarity to enable them to see themselves in the organisation, doing the work.

Interestingly when I spoke to current graduates at the employer I mentioned earlier, they said that they too had been daunted by the attraction communications but that, actually, much of the really epic stuff only happens once or twice a year.  They spoke about interesting, engaging work that, when broken down, was actually much like managing multiple assignments while at university. They also said the organisation was a lot younger in profile than one might think.

My feedback to that particular client?  Include this stuff in their attraction communications.  Oh, and also let it be known that ‘yes’, in their case, there are permanent roles for the majority of graduates at the end of the programme.  

In other words, keep it real, not just blockbuster.