I’m currently looking for staff and have just interviewed a new graduate (who was on a report on Look North about graduates struggling to find jobs in the recession, and had just the sort of skills and degree I was looking for!) and I’m about to start interviews for 2 sandwich-placement students from Leeds Metropolitan University (as they too are struggling to find year-long placements as part of their course).  However, as we went through the same issues when we were starting out (incidentally in the last recession!) and know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without that initial ‘leg up’ we make it a policy to try and help-out and nurture young talent as much as we can: Matt, our MD did his sandwich placement at an engineering firm in Elland who then went on to give him his first job when he graduated, and I did a work experience placement at the BBC in Bristol and knew that by the time the £500 I’d got in my pocket had run out, I’d have to have a job there, or I’d be coming home and going on the dole (I had a job in the Natural History Unit after 2 weeks!).

Of course there can be disadvantages to taking on students or recent graduates (inexperience, and attitude being just two), but there are also great advantages – enthusiasm, willingness to learn, up-to-date knowledge, a blank canvas to work with, and as the big firms like Microsoft and IBM know, it can be a good way of cherry-picking the best of the new crop.  The other big advantage is that they tend to be cheaper to employ (but have potential for development and promotion), and so can be a good option for growing your business cost effectively whilst still being able to take on qualified and motivated people.

We took on our first employee in 2007 from the Business Link Graduate Placement Scheme which was designed to find 6 month placements for recent graduates who were finding it hard to get jobs.  This scheme was a win/win for businesses because it took away the cost and risk of recruitment (they matched you up with graduates who had already registered with them and then subsidised their pay whilst, in effect, you had them on trial basis for 6 months.  Plus you were given a cash bonus if you kept them on at the end of the trial period).  We were matched up with 3 applicants for our software developer position and so interviewed all 3. Odion, who was the least experienced of the 3 and on paper wouldn’t have been our first choice, completely stood out at interview and so we decided to take a chance and train him up in the areas he was lacking. He fitted in from the very first day and is still with us 2 years on.

Our next foray into employing students was via the www.studentgems.co.uk  – a brilliant website designed to match potential employers offering temporary, part-time or freelance work with students wanting to use the skills they’re learning at university to earn money AND gain valuable experience in their chosen field.  I advertised via studentgems for a local design student to help with some website and advertising designs and met the very brilliant and talented Tom who filled the hole left when the design company we used went bust and left us in the lurch.  Tom was a 3rd year student, also at Leeds Met, and would often work on something for me into the early hours of the morning and have it ready for me when I sat down at my desk the next day – needless to say he landed a job as soon as he graduated!

So I’m very much looking forward to meeting our next batch of students next week.  They’ll be joined by a 3rd year programming student from Huddersfield University who will be working for us part-time in his final year.  (He found and approached us and asked if he could get some work experience with us in his final year!) And next year we hope to offer a placement to an MBA student too.        


  1. In Yorkshire we’re lucky to have a large number of great universities on our doorstep and it’s a good idea to find out about the relevant courses for your business and build up a relationship with them.
  2. Generally it’s free to advertise a placement or job via a university (or there can be a minimal charge) but you can change your mind at any time in the process and there’s no obligation to take someone on.    
  3. If they’re at university or have just finished university, their CV isn’t really going to tell you that much about what they can and can’t do, so be prepared to meet them and find out who they really are.
  4. It’s also a good idea to give them a task or test that’s relevant to the job that they’ll be doing to check that they have the skills that you need.
  5. And you can always offer them a trial period in which to prove themselves.
  6. Plus it may be worth thinking about any extra training (and you may be able to get some funding and support from Business Link for it).




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