What are the career expectations of graduates and which employer attributes do they think are most significant? It’s important in shaping an employer brand strong enough to resonate with your future graduate hires. Universum have just released their Annual Talent Research 2021 report, after surveying over 40,000 students across the UK. It’s the biggest poll of graduate’s employment priorities since the pandemic and it adds to what we already know about the aspirations of early talent.

Having created campaigns to attract graduates for our own clients, we’ve seen first hand what goes into engaging with this discerning audience. They rightly take great care in researching who they want to work for, increasingly driven by values that fit with their own. So, how do you develop your employer branding message and communicate it to graduates? Before you tell them about the finer details of your actual roles, you need to start with your values.

Lead with your values, and live by them

As the Universum findings show, students are increasingly prioritising company values before future earning potential. A positive impression of what an organisation is doing to make a difference really matters. Not surprisingly, employers that students felt had fulfilled their priorities successfully throughout the pandemic made the greatest gains in the Universum rankings.

Names like Pfizer and Astra Zeneca, leading the way on vaccine rollout, rose in the graduate employer rankings. This adds to the ‘pandemic bounce’ experienced by the NHS and public sector employers who, due to the respect for the important work they do, are increasingly seen as employers of choice, and not only by the graduate market.

While communicating your values and purpose in your graduate employer branding messaging is clearly important, this must be based on actual reality. While graduates may well be seeking more evidence of purpose, corporate social responsibility and a wellbeing culture, employers that use these messages to inspire and engage with applicants must then deliver on them.

Tell real stories, from real people

We believe that every employer has a story to tell. We also know that graduates, in particular, want to hear them from people they can relate to. They want the real story, not the corporate story. The best way to help them start to imagine themselves working for you, and engaging in your work is to look for your own storytellers. You already have them in your organisation and they’ll almost certainly be in your recent graduate recruitment intake.

Each graduate would have had their own reason for wanting to join you and do the work they are doing. These often make powerful stories that help others make an emotional connection with your work, especially when they hear from others who hold the same ethics and beliefs. Video is a highly effective way of telling these stories, as is a blog.

Our client, law firm Pinsent Masons, does this very well with their ‘Our Stories’ page featuring interns and trainee solicitors sharing their personal insights. These are exactly the stories that will resonate best with potential graduate recruits. People who were in their shoes only a couple of years ago but are now established in their early careers. Telling their stories, in their words.

Build a specific graduate campaign and careers site

A graduate specific campaign, as we developed for Pinsent Masons, enables a targeted approach to an identified audience. In this case it was the law undergraduates you’d expect – but also those that influence their opinion. This took the form of an awareness campaign for lecturers and law societies that covered the pathways to qualifying in law. It carried the same branding as the graduate campaign and we also produced an explainer video to go with the printed materials.

The campaign was also rolled out to an extensive tour of university law and careers fairs with the branded material making an impact and leaving a positive, long-lasting first impression. The concept was developed around a very strong call to action that invited graduates and undergraduates to take control of their future career. Read the full case study here as they encourage graduates to take the law into their own hands.

Use social media effectively, be authentic and consistent

Social media offers significant reach and an opportunity to influence the graduate audience, giving your insight on the issues that matter to them about working for you. Research by High Fliers – The Graduate Market in 2021, found that, as a result of the pandemic, 91% of employers reported that that they had made use of social media over the past year to keep graduates informed about any available vacancies. If it wasn’t a part of your strategy before, it really has to be now.

Social media works best as a two way process. Build relationships and be a part of the conversation by using your own people, sharing your own content. It’s important to be consistent in message across different social networks. Any mismatched messages will sow seeds of doubt. It’s often a good idea to identify the Twitter, Facebook or Instagram hashtags that your graduates follow and use them in posts. You can also sponsor content to get it in front of a more targeted audience.

Social media engagement certainly worked for Pinsent Masons. Their use of social media enabled them to grow their dedicated early careers accounts to over 11,350 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. What’s more, 11% of graduate careers website traffic came from these social media sources.

Create a great application process – it doesn’t need to be complex

The Universum research found that, on average, UK graduates consider 27 employers when looking for a job. It’s evidence of how much work needs to be done to build a graduate employer brand that will attract and keep their attention. It also acts as a warning that, with so many avenues to be explored, any application process that comes across as overly complex may risk being abandoned. After going to the effort of attracting and then engaging with graduates, you don’t want to lose them just before the point they apply.

So, how can you achieve a great application process? Not only does shortening the application process make it easier to apply, it also shows that you recognise that, along with their studies, final year dissertations and exam prep – they have a lot of demands on their time. A really simple way to do this is to remove a painful and lengthy application form, ask for the just the essential data, and allow a CV to be uploaded. That alone can save several hours.


To quote the Universam Annual Talent Research 2021, “Graduates have even more opportunity to gather information on a prospective role than ever before. Ensuring you’re showing up in the right place with a message that’s in line with their priorities will help cut through the competition, increase talent retention and yield better business success.”

For our part, building a strong and engaging graduate employer brand requires the same approach as any other employer brand. You need to put yourselves in the shoes of your graduate intake and ask yourself why they’d want to work for you instead of any of your competitors. Those best placed to tell you are your current graduates so get them involved as they are who your future talent will want to hear from and trust most.

For further information

If you feel that you’d like some help, support or even a little chat around your employer brand, just drop me a line. After all, much of our best work has started with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a Zoom call.