The new Milk-Round: if students all want jobs in start-ups these days, how do you attract and retain them?
11th July 2019

Oxford University runs many careers fairs annually where established organisations present their graduate programmes, to attract the 3,000 people who leave the university each year. Fairs focus on well-known brand names, offer formal programmes, from industries including consulting, banking, retail, arts and heritage.

That world is changing: in the last couple of years, we have seen more students and researchers wanting to join exciting new start-ups, and those same start-ups and SMEs trying to work out how to attract Oxford students.

Understanding what students look for can be key to attracting them, and overcoming the lure of Bright Lights, Big City. Surveys of the University of Oxford’s students show that their highest priority is ‘intellectual challenge,’ with pay being 5th out of ten.

For prospective applicants (be they students, graduates or postdoc research staff), who are already considering an exciting role in a young organisation, it shouldn’t be difficult to attract them since you can offer considerable intellectual and other challenges.  Your issue is how to ensure they hear about your opportunities.

Last year almost 12,000 vacancy lines were posted (for free) on the University vacancy system, accessible only by University of Oxford students, graduates, postdocs and select alumni. However, it’s a buyers’ market as only 3,000-4,000 people leave the University each year to go in to work.

In such a market, reputation and brand recognition are key. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful element of reputation building. Offering summer internships or microinternships can effectively engage students, and build your organisation’s reputation.

Traditional methods of raising awareness also have their place. We’ve dedicated one careers fair to ‘OX and Start Ups’ (you can download the programme here). And if you fancy competing with the major established organisations, try the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair, for example.

A third way, is to host a student or researcher consultancy team. What better way than to offer a meaningful project of work that you actually want done, to teams of smart Oxford people. They receive prior training in consulting skills, and will take on your task for 8 weeks (students) or 3-4 months (researchers). You gain insight and answers to your questions, and the participants gain real experiences and learn some great skills.

If it’s marketing and PR help you want, then teams in The Agency can help. No money changes hands – you contribute time and expertise, they do the same, and focus on a real business issue.

Finally, you can run sessions at your offices, or in a college, at the Careers Service, in the Randolph Hotel – you name it. We can (for a fee) send targeted emails to students, based on the industry sectors in which they’ve registered interest, their subject, and year group. We can also identify students with specific advanced or native language skills.

Oxford University can be tricky to navigate when you’re trying to recruit. There are colleges, faculties, departments, undergraduates, graduates, researchers, alumni and more. The Careers Service can reach almost all – and throughout the year, we have a 55%-60% open rate for our weekly What’s On newsletter that goes to everyone.

About the author

Oxford University
Jonathan coaches students one-to-one with careers advice, runs workshops and seminars for groups of undergraduates and postgraduates, trains colleagues, and devises new and innovative programmes that provide hands-on experiences for students. Jonathan writes the fortnightly, ‘Dear Jonathan’ column in the Financial Times, and his recent book, ‘How to find the career you’ve always wanted’ was described by Baroness Gillian Shephard as, ‘One of the most practical and comprehensible career guides ever produced.’

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