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How to develop a winning Europe-wide early careers attraction strategy

4 March, 2024

Talent is global. A phrase we so often say in the graduate careers industry. Over the past decade, our roles as recruiters and early talent professionals have increasingly taken on a wider focus, not just specifically to the country we are based. With it has come some brilliant opportunities for travel, expanding our remits and career development, but alongside this has also come the challenge of how we best approach European-wide attraction when each market can feel very different. 

Bright Network brought together 20 senior EMEA/Europe early talent leaders to discuss this challenge and help us, as an industry, hire the very best young talent cross-border.  

During the strategy session, we were delighted to have input from a diverse range of sectors, from financial services and consulting to consumer brands and tech. All with the goal of sharing challenges and ideas to enable the best strategies. 

he core questions they and the industry are wrestling with include: 

  • How do we attract the best emerging talent across Europe? 
  • How should we set up our teams and goals to achieve the best results? 
  • To what extend should we align our strategy across the European region? 

In this write up, we’ll cover the last question first and then move onto the main challenges EMEA/European leads are facing and start to map out ideas to develop successful strategy. I hope you find it useful and I’m always around to chat through anything in more depth – simply reach out to  

Is it possible to fully coordinate strategy across Europe? 

The dream would be to take an approach that works in one market, the UK for instance, and drop it into other European markets where it works in the same way. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case. The group at our strategy session generally believed that the nuances of each market are impossible to ignore. Whether it’s data collection on applications, the balance of digital and event-based attraction or timelines for application windows, each individual market in Europe needs to be considered independently. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the region in a joined-up way. The essential part of this is having one or a few clear objectives which bond each market you’re hiring graduates into, but allowing the team within that market the flexibility to adapt their tactics to hit their goals. For example, your European-wide objective could be “increase the proportion of female hires” or “be known as a tech leader on campus”, but how you get there may differ.   

Another important part of this is the way you share knowledge across markets, especially if you have an approach which is working well in one of them. Which platforms are they using, how do they utilise the core messaging effectively and what initiatives are they part of. However, from there it is important that each market is empowered to flex the tactics they use (e.g. what events they attend, the key university targets or how they spend budget) to hit their goals. 

Be clear with your goals and comfortable with your approach but it’s vital you trust key sources of knowledge in each market to ensure you’re hiring the best talent and hitting your goals. 

What are the key challenges in hiring the best talent? 

The consensus at the strategy session was that Germany was the hardest European market to hire into. However, there are challenges felt across Europe. We briefly cover off those that felt the most important for the group. Do you agree? Please do get in touch to let us know.

Timing – when do students want to apply for roles? And should my roles be open year-round to attract the best talent? In the UK, there are cyclical application windows in most sectors but in others, for instance Germany, many brands leave their roles open year-round and graduates apply across the year. Marrying up the timelines and your internal resource can be a challenge, but you also don’t want to miss out on great candidates. 

Data collection – in the UK it’s clear. Due to the national census, we have government standardised questions and answers for ethnicity, gender, sexuality and so on. However, this isn’t the case in many countries and there are legal or cultural challenges too. For example, in France it’s legally problematic to collect much of this data on applications, whereas in Germany, it’s not the done thing and cultural challenges are likely to crop up. When you have goals to increase diversity, tracking is very important – being unable to track progress is a challenge for the industry. 

STEM / female apps having more diverse pipelines was more broadly discussed, but there was a definite focus on how employers can access the best STEM talent. We know that across Europe this is an acute challenge – broadening reach across the region helps but it’s still highly competitive. Furthermore, many in the finance, consulting and tech industries talked about how hitting targets like 50% female hires across Europe was a real challenge. 

Language – typically international businesses will require fluency in English and then the language of the country they are hiring into. Often, the language of the country where the role is placed causes the biggest problems for international firms. European educational institutions typically have a significant number of international students (as much as 25% in some countries), who may not have the complete language skills required, meaning a number of applications immediately get rejected. Using non-country-specific European job boards / platforms to aid attraction efforts was cited as something which added to this challenge for many.  

Building brand – some countries just love their own-founded brands and Germany is big on this. German companies often have strong presence at universities and good relationships with career services, often making it challenging for even the biggest international brands to cut through the noise. It’s not just Germany, but this tends to be the one mentioned most. Also, countries that have a less synchronised, more regional approach can make it harder for new companies from abroad to gain traction on campus. 

Visas – it’s taken a while for the B-word to come up in this article, but yes, Brexit was mentioned, especially if an employer is hiring in one country (usually either for language skills or to broaden their target market) and aiming to start them in the UK. This has become more challenging in the last five years and some companies have been stung by recent changes to the minimum salary required for skilled workers not from the UK. 

This is just a snapshot of the key challenges mentioned. We’ll now look at some of the best practices being implemented into Europe-wide early career teams. 

5 examples of best practice for Europe-wide graduate careers strategy 

Flexibility of hiring – this isn’t just when you open applications but can involve this. The longer you leave things open, the more chance you have to attract the best candidates. What’s more, if you’re new to the market, a year-round approach will allow you to test when strong applications are likely to come in, which will enable you to finesse strategy in the following year. 

When it comes to flexibility, being more open about when someone starts is also an advantage. In the UK, graduates and universities are usually very tuned in as to when they are likely to do an internship or start a graduate scheme. Whereas that’s not the case in many European countries, with Germany being a key example. It’s important to treat students and graduates like individuals and offer as much flexibility as you can around start dates and even length of programme for things like (off cycle) internships. 

Role models – the group agreed that role models within the company are so important to attracting under-represented groups. In many countries, employers talked about how engaged the hiring teams were and the likelihood for referrals. This is great but could lead to a lack in diversity of thought when university alumni only reach out to the new graduates leaving that same university course.  

Therefore, it’s important that the early talent specialists (us!) facilitate champions in our attraction efforts. If your goal is to increase gender diversity in your pipelines for tech roles for instance, encouraging rising female tech talent in the organisation to be a central part of the campaign is crucial. In places where you will struggle to run diversity focused initiatives (e.g. mentorship programmes or events), either due to legal or cultural constraints, role models become even more important. 

Making an effort – we’re all working hard and putting lots of effort into our strategies. What we mean here is that you need to be showing potential applicants of a particular country that you are serious about that particular county and the opportunities on offer there. Simple things like translating adverts, job postings or videos of graduates in that office goes a long way. For many international companies, they typically require fluency in English so it is easy to default to English for all of these materials, but you could be missing a trick, and this was something the strategy group picked up on. 

Moreover, Bright Network Germany tested the effectiveness of social media ads for job opportunities to the German student population. Half of the ads were in English and half were in German – exactly the same message, photo and link to find out more. We found that German students were more likely to click on the German ads. This won’t be the case everywhere – for instance, in the Netherlands they expect everything to be in English – but in most big European countries your messaging will perform better in the host language. 

Your mindset – many cross-European employers have seen benefits from a shift of mindset when it comes to graduate talent and how it’s best deployed in their business. By coordinating internal teams more effectively across Europe and not just expecting that if an individual has lived or been to university in a country, that they want to stay there, you can build stronger pipelines. In our research, we have seen more graduates wanting to explore opportunities abroad and they feel less tied to a certain location than ever before. 

If you look at your Europe hiring as being truly cross-Europe, you will benefit. Be on the front foot and spend time understanding where excellent candidates want to work and try to make that possible, rather than losing them. If they go through an application process in one country but the candidate’s goal is actually to move to a different location, can you make that work? Implementing this “yes” mindset in your teams is crucial to expanding your talent pools and getting the very best talent into roles. 

Being too university focused – when I joined the UK graduate careers space a decade ago, many firms only hired from a handful of “top” universities. In the last 10 years, most firms have broadened this and it has generated great results, both in terms of diversity and overall quality of hiring. In Europe, there is often a big focus on a handful of universities and this can limit talent pools and diversity, as we saw in the UK in the past. 

Tapping into networks wider that a handful of universities is important in a diversified strategy. You should still maintain good relationships with the universities where you’ve had success, but also look for student organisations and platforms which allow you to target a broader set of students in a particular country, plus if it’s a network which is specialist in that country, they are likely to have expertise to support your efforts.   

Getting hiring managers onboard with this approach was something the group pointed out as a potential challenge, but it’s so important to take them with you on this journey if you’re going to be able to drive more applications and get the diversity of thought that’s so important to your teams. 

Next steps 

Here at Bright Network, we would be delighted to speak to you and help you form your European-wide or German early careers strategy. With essential research, a platform of rich data and vast experience of running attraction campaigns across Europe, we are here to support. Contact Ben Triggs.