Recruitment, in particular graduate recruitment, is a very different beast to what it was a decade ago. Today’s graduates are the first for whom the internet is synonymous with their lifestyles.
To keep up with these changes, many law firms have invested heavily in their websites, developing dedicated graduate microsites to carry out all the necessary functions involved in the recruitment process. But the results have been mixed.
So why do so many firms still neglect their websites or implement muddled online recruitment strategies?
The state of play
The reasons are wide-ranging: ego, lack of resources, conceptual folly, poor management. But one by one these excuses are becoming obsolete. In the past, a magic circle firm could simply trade on its reputation to draw in the best recruits. At the same time, smaller firms suffered through lack of exposure.
However, the ubiquity of the internet has levelled the playing field.
The relative cost of an effective website compared to its ongoing value to a firm’s brand means that it is the investment of the (21st) century. Through clever online positioning, a niche or boutique firm can become more desirable to potential recruits than a legal behemoth.
The market is the driving force; law graduates want to be fully informed about all aspects of a firm, from corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy to salary structure.
Indeed, it could be argued that such total online exposure has led to a level of transparency that has caused some firms to put their houses in order.
A good example is the issue of work-life balance. A decade ago this concept barely featured in the employment lexicon – now it is an essential factor in the potential trainee’s decision-making process.
Furthermore, those of an ambitious mind-set with the right qualifications are well aware of their value in the wider graduate marketplace. They want to be impressed, even courted, by firms.
After all, a law degree can open many doors: management consultancy, investment banking and the civil service are just three professional sectors that covet law graduates’ analytical skills. Hence competition for the top talent has rocketed.
With the needs of the end user in mind, the ingredients of an effective career website section are extensive, from the obvious – slick design – to the more obscure, such as intuitive navigation.
However, two points are crucial here. First, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Second, graduate recruitment is a process of attraction. Combine these thoughts and a philosophy emerges: maximise your firm’s key assets or specialities and differentiate from your competitors.
If you specialise in media law, go to town on it. A good example here is Olswang, which has successfully positioned itself as the pre-eminent law firm for the film industry.
Often the worst recruitment websites simply get the basics wrong. They might have poor content, an inefficient application procedure, or fail to give an insight into the firm’s working culture.
For budding lawyers with partnership aspirations, the dedication and sheer hard work of the following years makes the recruitment decision a life-changing one.
Those who have not had the advantage of work experience want to know what life is like as a trainee at your firm before they take the plunge. Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and video clips give firms the opportunity to illustrate their work culture online, and are increasingly popular with progressive firms.
However, our forthcoming paper on law student attitudes towards career websites suggests that new media tools should be used with caution, as gimmicky features can be an irritation as well. Innovation is helpful, balance essential.
James Tuke is head of Intendance Research