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Trend Focus: Moving from Macro to Micro: Where Today’s Students Want to Be

By Universum on 12/07/2017

In our recent WMAE results, we noticed a very interesting trend and one that is worth noting. While WMAE by its very nature focuses on large companies (you must have a presence in 6 of 12 global markets to even be considered for WMAE), the students we surveyed seem to be looking for something a little smaller in scale.

Tweet This: #WMAE 2017 results are in. Read this year’s student preferences on the most desirable employers: 

If you haven’t had the chance to read the WMAE report on this trend of moving from macro to medium-sized employers, here’s a little background. Universum Global surveyed nearly 300,000 students from countries all over the world (Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US). We ask about their career preferences, work goals, factors they use when considering a company and how they prefer to be approached and recruited. These students are divided into two categories prevalent in the global economy: Business and Engineering/IT.

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Companies that boast more than 1000 employers are NOT the students’ first choice, or even second. In fact, these macro employers are third choice overall globally. This holds true whether Business or Engineering/IT students were being surveyed.
In total, 75% of business students and 74% of engineering/IT students would choose to work for a large employer (10,000+ employees) or smaller (1-999 employees), the most desired size being that of a medium-sized organization (1,000 – 9,999 employees). But why?

Smaller Companies May Seem More Creative

Smaller companies (whether this is true or not) are seen as more creative and dynamic than their enterprise counterparts. This is largely due to the “startup culture” proffered in media. While small doesn’t necessarily mean dynamic and more creative, students clearly see these companies as such, and that perception looks to be trending up. This year, nearly 30% of students in both categories stated they wanted to be entrepreneurial or creative in their work.

Meaningful Work Drives This Generation

Meaningful work emerged as a driver for students in both categories and across several economies represented in the survey. Understanding there is a global shift toward meaningful work for these students may be the key to understanding why they might continue to choose smaller employers. At the same time, several of these students want to work for an international organization/company (36% for business vs. 29% for engineering/IT) makes it obvious why a medium sized organization would be their choice. International exposure for your career, plus companies who are young enough and small enough for graduates to feel their work has meaning are a winning combination for this generation.

“Sometimes called Generation Impact, today’s students want to make a difference and might perceive they cannot make as much of an impact in larger organizations like the Fortune 500s.” -Claudia Tattanelli, Global Director at Universum Global

Work-Life Balance Continues to Be a Factor

In the decade since we began this survey and its results, we’ve seen a continuous uptick in work-life balance as a factor for employment. Over 50% of both Business and Engineering/IT listed it as their number 1 factor in selecting a company. Correctly or not, larger, enterprise companies may be seen as too rigid and traditional in their benefits and work from home policies. Large consulting companies have a reputation for 80 hour work weeks, which is simply not something that the majority of today’s graduates are interested in.
So is no one interested in the big guys? Not so fast, they’re still attracting those students more interested in prestige and future earnings.

“In Germany, for example, we see that those employees who chose smaller organizations were more driven by those features of a friendly work environment. Those who chose larger companies were more interested in attractive products and prestige. Overall, there’s an even bigger difference for creative and dynamic work environments. What’s interesting is that for the talent preferring small employers, flexibility is more important, while high future earnings is the bigger draw for those interested in macro employers.” – Daniel Eckert, Research Manager, Universum Global

Of course, the answer for larger or macro organizations isn’t to downsize. In fact, students are looking at number of employees as a baseline for the approachability of the organization. The takeaway to remember here is that students are hoping to find an environment that matches startup and small business culture. So how can companies make that happen?

Do a Benefits Assessment

Are the benefits you’re offering attractive to graduates (currently a blend of Millennials and Generation Z)? Build an assessment to find out. For example, financial wellness and work flex arrangements are far more attractive to today’s entry level workers than retirement planning. Many companies haven’t adjusted their offerings in years or even decades. Work with an employer brand research firm to determine how to adjust your offerings to attract even more millennials.

Revamp Your Employer Brand

Many large companies have a long history which can make students view them as traditional or stodgy. In addition, some companies have pivoted from what they used to offer versus what they offer today. Recent WMAE winner GE has been working hard to revamp its brand worldwide and focus more on meaningful work and impact. The results have helped create positive buzz around the employer. Here’s an example which premiered during the 2017 Oscars:

Create Innovation Labs

Enterprise companies are doing this as a way to help a big company feel small. Some people presume that large companies are lacking in innovation or cannot move quickly enough to align with their career goals. By creating an innovation lab, or offering employees something akin to Google’s 20% time, they can dodge this presumption and foster creativity and innovation within their company.
While students may be selecting more medium sized companies, the gap between them and their large or enterprise counterparts is not terribly wide. Identifying the trend, building an employer brand strategy and creating your plan to bring it to life is as easy as connecting with Universum. How can we help?

Ready to audit your employer brand? Download one of our latest resources to get you started: 

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