Investing in graduates to grow your business

Freddie Ossberg, founder and MD of Raconteur Media, makes the case for the careful nurturing of new graduates in order to ensure future success in a growing business.

Like most entrepreneurs, when I started my own business I had to do everything that needed doing. In my case, this meant arranging distribution deals for our special interest reports, selling the ad space, planning the content and hiring a team of project managers, journalists and designers.

Three years on Raconteur Media is now well-established and continuing to grow – our reports are distributed in the UK by The Times, The Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal and we’ve just launched a new partnership with The Week.

With growth comes the need for new recruits and I’m a firm believer in hiring graduates. For me, a good graduate – someone who is naturally inquisitive and has a can-do attitude – is hard to beat. While their work experience is relatively low, they may only have a work-placement or summer holiday work on their CV, this is not a handicap if their attitude is right.

Graduates are good learners. They are sponges who can soak up all you teach them since the only culture they’re familiar with is an educational one. So providing an atmosphere where they’re expected and encouraged to absorb everything in the business is hugely beneficial for both them and the business.

You must though, have a development scheme in place to harness their potential. Fail to do this and you’ll either lose them along the way, or they won’t progress at the rate you require. Another critical factor for success lies in establishing a questioning culture – by which I mean a culture where graduates feel they can ask about anything they want to gain the knowledge they need.

Early responsibility

On the job training is very popular in many media companies. WPP for example lets graduates take three consecutive year-long ‘fellowships’ across its network of advertising and marketing agencies.  During this period each graduate is assigned a senior executive mentor who is invaluable in ensuring progress and helping match interests and abilities with business needs.

Unilever recruit 30-40 graduates a year with the aim to start moulding future leaders over a two year period based in the UK and China. Again the idea of placements within the business is favoured, promising the development of the individual’s capability.

Raconteur can’t claim to be a business on the same scale as WPP or Unilever – we currently have just one office in London – but we’re equally concerned with ensuring our graduates feel supported as they develop. We find that pairing-up new recruits with not just a mentor but also another new joiner is invaluable since it allows responsibility to be shared and some empathetic support.


The only downside of recruiting graduates is that compared to the US or Scandinavian countries, the pool of graduates in the UK seem less business-savvy.

It’s far less common in the UK to study business as a degree subject and I find the lack of basic mathematical ability to perform simple tasks such as calculating VAT so surprising.

In the workplace, understanding the business fundamentals of profit/net/loss is vital and poor business acumen in this area can easily give the impression of a lack of common sense. We don’t expect people to be the fully finished article but we do look for evidence that they’ll be able to grasp the essential fundamentals.

With the right selection process and training, my view is that it’s possible for graduates to pick up five years worth of experience by the end of their second year.

When a small business has a solid developmental system in place, the benefit in bringing on new talent is enormous. The turnover of those within the scheme will be lower and ultimately the workforce will be highly equipped to perform their roles.

See also: Gamifying the job hunt – Debut connects graduates to the right employers

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.