Are the Big Four still the workplace of choice for new graduates? Penny Pryor talks to Kelly Pfeffer from Suncorp Group and Sarah Fletcher from The University of Sydney Business School about the laws of attraction, for both graduates and the companies wanting to recruit them...
The financial services industry is still a popular destination for graduates, particularly those with accounting and finance qualifications, and it appears that the companies that they want to work for, haven’t changed that much over the last decade.
“They come in and the investment banks are front of mind and I think a lot of that is because they know these organisations,” Sarah Fletcher (pictured right, above), careers services manager, employer relations careers and employability office (CEO) at The University of Sydney Business School, says.
“They all think investment banking is sexy but they don’t quite understand what that means.”
The big four banks, and some trading companies are also popular. And these organisations also have a heavy presence on campus and at their careers fairs.
“They all think investment banking is sexy but they don’t quite understand what that means." Sarah Fletcher, University of Sydney Business School
Commonwealth Bank comes 24th* in a list of the top 75 graduate employer organisations as voted by graduates , compiled by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers.
The bank recruits around 80 to 100 graduates every year, as well as approximately 60 summer interns across the group.
But the banks receive in excess of 8,000 applications for the two programs.
Suncorp group features even higher up on the top graduate employer list at 16 and it also receives more than 2500 applications for the 70 graduates it employs each year.
So regardless of where graduates want to work, they really have to work hard at making themselves an attractive candidate if they want to be in the 1 to 3 per cent of successful applicants for these programs.
Fletcher says they need to be thinking about where they want to work from their very first year at university, and it definitely shouldn't be something they leave to their last year.
“We look for graduates who are friendly, humble and have great interpersonal and communication skills." Kelly Pfeffer, Suncorp Group
The Sydney University Business School’s CEO office has clubs and societies that students can join that also have strong links to the business and finance community. As well as building networks early on, university students should be looking at getting work experience, which universities now sometimes offer as part of undergraduate courses.
“What’s happening more and more is organisations are recruiting earlier,” Fletcher says. And it’s not uncommon for organisations to hire people direct from their intern program.
Companies like Commonwealth Bank and Suncorp are popular not only because they are well-known companies, but also because of the opportunities they offer graduates.
Commonwealth Bank says they offer a structured development program for graduates, which includes support from “buddies, managers and mentors” as well as formal meetings with the CEO and senior leadership.
Although the big names are all still popular, for many graduates it’s not just about the money anymore. They are also looking for employers that can provide them with world-class training programs and global opportunities, or secondment overseas.
And while they may not understand the differences between organisational cultures, or even what that means, they do talk amongst themselves and listen to the experiences of former graduates.
It’s not just about grades either. If a newbie is going to make it through the final cut in a work experience program, and then the graduate program, most companies say they need to “well-rounded”.
This means a newbie also has to show they are involved in plenty of extracurricular activities, like work experience, sport and perhaps some charity work.
Suncorp Group graduate recruitment advisor Kelly Pfeffer (pictured left, above), says: “We look for graduates who are friendly, humble and have great interpersonal and communication skills.”
And CommBank says: “We look for graduates who can show us that they are proactive, curious, willing to learn, and passionate about doing things differently.”
Because of the difficulty getting into the popular companies, it’s important for undergraduates to think outside the box when it comes to how they might be able to apply their degree. This could be in the finance department of a fast moving consumer goods company for example. And more and more Fletcher says they are also seeing graduates with an entrepreneurial streak, who want to be part of their own business.
So the big ‘sexy’ companies might still be popular but other financial services companies wishing to attract new graduates would be well placed to create bigger presences on campuses.