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Assorted weirdos needed, apply within

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Dominic Cummings hopes to recruit new talent directly, advertised in his blog aimed at bright new graduates in a method totally at odds with existing Civil Service recruitment processes. We might raise an eyebrow, but in many ways, the advert is refreshing to read. It is sets out a clear unambiguous vision and plainly describes skill-sets needed. It is also surprisingly candid in saying that jobs may mean working long unsocial hours, and at times be boring. But what makes the advert especially interesting is saying misfits and weirdos should apply – not the usual strapline in modern graduate recruiting, which is now a marketing-led function with ‘Instagram-ready’ adverts with aspirational career messages to attract ambitious candidates.

While it lacks gloss, the ad will probably receive a high number of applicants who like its bare-bones style. Cummings has used a similar cut-through approach he used in the general election, but this time to appeal to graduates who perhaps don’t feel they match the ‘slicker’ graduate recruitment messaging. Does his strategy have some merit? We can feel we are misfits at times, and a job advert specifically speaking to that part of us, saying ‘you can be weird here and belong’, might be an empowering prospect to many.

However, there is more to unpack. From a diversity perspective, the advert flies in the face of fairer recruitment practices. For example, Cummings says people need to come from the ‘best universities’ – but how is he defining the best? What if you achieve greatness from a ‘non-best’ university will you be filtered out? And what about social purpose? We know this is an important recruitment value for new graduates. Our research found that more than half (57%) of Gen-Z feel they need to be able to express values that are important to them through their career. It showed that 80% of employers see social purpose as important for attracting and retaining customers, and 71% say it helps when recruiting employees. But their commitment to it can be questioned; only around a third (34%) of employers say having a social purpose is a significant focus. So, it is possible Cummings may also need to focus more on attracting and retaining new graduates by looking at his social impact policies.

It’s worth remembering huge strides have been made in graduate recruitment to ensure greater diversity. Employers now place more emphasis on strengths, skills and abilities, and less on background - with the removal of UCAS grades and using more blind recruitment and AI tools. This has resulted in more students from broader backgrounds entering jobs they previously were less successful in obtaining, including those from lower-social economic groups. Companies are finding diversity adds positively to their culture and importantly, to their bottom line. If you just have to wing a CV into a guy to look at, you’ve bypassed an open recruitment process which takes us back to more subjective, less diverse times.

While public sector organisations, including the Civil Service, probably do need to improve performance management, this advert, while honest, gives a sense that working all hours and being sacked if you don’t cut it, are good work practices. However, having such a work culture can have highly negative consequences for graduate recruits. Employers are now instead encouraged to ensure mental health is taken seriously in the workplace. At our World of Work conference 2019, we heard Jaqueline Davies, Past Master at the HR Guild and CEO Peter Cheese from the CIPD say that talent recruitment and development must focus on ‘good work’ including wellbeing.

Cummings is right, I feel, in one thing in that he sees the key to managing future change is to understand and harness the power of AI, ML and Data for the ‘Future of Work’. However, we need to remember that alongside these technical skills that all graduates need, we must continue our work on regulation in recruitment, to ensure fairness and objectivity. We must ensure that new graduates possess a range of skills to enable their critical thinking, so they can make value-based decisions from the tsunami of data they will be working through. Perhaps most importantly, they need people skills to understand ethics and AI, and the impact of their decisions in a new world of work.

Published 7th January 2020
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Leading insights