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CDI
12,6

Attracting Generation Y graduates


Organisational attributes, likelihood to apply
and sex differences

504
Received February 2007
Revised May 2007
Accepted May 2007

Siri Terjesen
Brisbane Graduate School of Business, Queensland University of Technology,
Brisbane, Australia, and

Susan Vinnicombe and Cheryl Freeman


Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield University, UK
Abstract
Purpose Building on person-organisation fit and gender self-schema, this research aims to examine
UK university final year students perception of the importance of organisational attributes and their
presence in three major graduate employers. This study also seeks to explore which organisational
attributes attract Generation Y men and women to apply to a management trainee position.
Design/methodology/approach In phase one, 32 repertory grid interviews identify 84 common
constructs in undergraduates organisational choice. A short list of 20 organisational attributes was
carried forward to the phase two survey of 862 undergraduates in their final year at 22 UK
universities. The respondents rate the attributes in terms of importance and then evaluate three
employers in terms of perceived presence of these attributes. The students also provide the likelihood
that they would apply. T-tests, correlation and multiple regression are used to test hypotheses.
Findings Among university students, the five most important organisational attributes are: invest
heavily in the training and development of their employees care about their employees as
individuals clear opportunities for long-term career progression variety in daily work and
dynamic, forward-looking approach to their business. Sex differences exist in both the importance of
organisational attributes and the perceived extent of their presence in three organisations. In
describing an ideal employer, women rate eight attributes as more important than do their male
counterparts: really care about their employees as individuals variety in your daily work friendly,
informal culture employ people with whom you feel you will have things in common use your
degree skills relatively stress-free working environment internationally diverse mix of colleagues
require you to work standard working hours only. Compared to women, men rate just one attribute
as more important: a very high starting salary. The perception of presence of these important
attributes is significantly linked to likelihood to apply.
Practical implications Recruiting firms can better understand how Generation Y men and
women graduates perceive the importance of organisational attributes and their presence in firms.
Originality/value The paper represents a seminal study relating organisational attributes to likely
applicant behaviour across a large number of UK university undergraduates.
Keywords Graduates, Recruitment, Employment, Gender, Job applications, United Kingdom
Paper type Research paper

Career Development International


Vol. 12 No. 6, 2007
pp. 504-522
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1362-0436
DOI 10.1108/13620430710821994

Introduction
Attracting applicants is central to recruiting (Barber, 1998; Rynes, 1991) as firms
establish a pool of applicants who are both attractive to the organisation and attracted
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2006 Academy of Management Meeting.

to the organisation (Wanous, 1992). In the graduate recruitment market, firms invest
large amounts of time and money to attract applications from soon-to-be minted
university graduates for management trainee, professional and technical positions
(Breaugh, 1992; Rynes and Boudreau, 1986). As women are the fastest growing section
of the labour force, recruiters are especially interested in attracting female talent.
The graduate recruitment process begins with the organisation communicating values
and image through publicity and advertising. Potential graduate applicants then evaluate
their understanding of the organisation and make a decision to apply or not to apply
(Herriot, 1984). As organisations are extremely selective with candidates, they need to
attract a large number of applications at an early stage to ensure a diverse applicant pool.
For example, if there are insufficient applications from women, the make-up of new joiners
to an organisation will inevitably be male-dominated. Significant sex differences in new
graduate applicant attraction outcomes have been noted (Connerley et al., 2003), and
scholars and practitioners have called for further research.
In particular, researchers highlight the need for better understanding of the process and
dynamics of recruitment decision making (Breaugh, 1992; Breaugh and Starke, 2000) and
factors related to applicant attraction (Connerley et al., 2003; Powell and Goulet, 1996;
Rynes, 1991), including analysis by sex (Thomas and Wise, 1999). A growing body of
research explores recruiters perceptions of applicants (Varma et al., 2006), however, we
know little about applicant impressions, particularly of different potential employers.
Organisational attributes are a key factor in applicant attraction (Rynes, 1991) and an
applicants positive first impression of an organisation increases the likelihood of
post-interview attraction (Turban et al., 1998) and offer acceptance (Powell and Goulet,
1996). Following their meta-analysis of 242 US studies of sex differences and similarities in
job attribute preferences, Konrad et al. (2000) call for research on intrinsic reasons,
internalisation of gender roles and stereotypes and nationally representative samples. The
Konrad et al. (2000) meta-analysis also reveals generational differences in job attribute
preferences by gender and sex, suggesting the need for research on the next generation to
join the labour force and also on extensions to organisation (rather than job) attributes.
Furthermore, graduates initial expectations about future employers influence career
expectations (Scholarios et al., 2003) and their socialisation in firms (Garavan and Morley,
1997). As extant research on applicant attraction is criticised for its atheoretical nature, we
answer calls for research at various recruitment stages and the development of new
models (Turban and Dougherty, 1992; Wanous and Colella, 1989) and theory-based
approaches to recruitment (Breaugh and Starke, 2000), sex and gender (Konrad et al.,
2000). We incorporate gender self-schema and person-organisation fit perspectives into an
analysis of organisational attribute preferences.
Our research examines graduate applicants preferences at the beginning of the
recruitment process when many make the initial decision to submit an application. We are
interested in which organisational attributes attract Generation Y men and women
graduates to apply for a job and the perceived presence of these attributes in three popular
UK graduate employers: a management consultancy, an investment bank and a media
corporation. Corporate recruiters are keen to attract high numbers of both men and women
applicants (Barber, 1998) and to understand potential applicants desired organisational
attributes and their assessment of these attributes in their organisation, and we hope our
research will also be interesting to these stakeholders. To our knowledge, this is the first
study to measure sex differences in desired organisational attributes and their presence in

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three organisations and the likelihood to apply. Most extant research explores job, rather
than organisation, attributes (Konrad et al., 2000). We extend earlier work by using
repertory grid interviews to ask students to identify important organisational attributes.
We then evaluate the importance of these attributes in a study of Generation Y final year
university undergraduate students in the UK.
This paper proceeds as follows. First, we review two complementary theories,
gender self-schema and person-organisation fit, and develop hypotheses. Second, the
sample and two phase, qualitative (repertory grid interview) and quantitative (internet
survey) methodology is laid out, followed by an explanation of the variables. Third, we
present our results regarding organisational attributes, perceptions of organisations,
and the relationship to likelihood to apply. We specifically examine these findings in
the context of one employer, a management consultancy. Finally, we discuss our
findings, offering implications for the recruiting practice as well as future research.
Theoretical background
This paper distinguishes between occupational (e.g. job) choice and organisational
choice, focusing on the latter. Two theoretical perspectives are reviewed and extended:
gender self-schema and person-organisation fit. Both theories are concerned with an
individuals self-assessment, social categorisation and identification.
Gender self-schema
Self-schema is an individuals psychological construction of self based on a number of
aspects, most commonly gender. Konrad et al. (2000) and Eddleston et al. (2006) describe
how gender self-schemas are developed from childhood and are defined as interrelated
networks of mental associations representing information about the sexes that influence
information processing (Ruble and Martin, 1998, p. 987). There are two classifications of
gender self-schema: male gender self-schema (associated with masculinity and career
roles) and female gender self-schema (associated with femininity and family roles) (Bem,
1981). Generally, male gender self-schema are based on roles, norms, values and beliefs
which are considered appropriate for men. In contrast, female gender self-schema are
largely based on roles, norms, values and beliefs held about women. Individuals usually
seek gender self-schema which reflects their sex (Bem, 1981), although there are individual
differences in the extent of incorporation of gender stereotypes and roles in self-schema.
An important component of self-schema is how individuals see themselves in relationship
to others. Relational theory (Miller, 1976) has been used to describe how women develop a
sense of self and personal worth is shaped by a sense of connection to others. Women
spend a large proportion of their lives to helping others, and develop important skills such
as authenticity, openness, care and compassion. This relational model is in contrast to
mainstream male-dominated models, and may emerge from girls relationships with their
mothers, in contrast to boys desired autonomy (Chodorow, 1978).
Most research on gender self-schema and work preferences focuses on individuals at
later stages of their careers. We are unaware of previous studies of organisational attributes
at the applicant attraction phase in the UK However, Konrad et al.s (2000) meta-analysis of
US studies of job attribute preferences report significant sex differences consistent with
gender roles and stereotypes, particularly the gender stereotype that interpersonal
relationships are more important to women. Based on Williams and Best (1990) and Konrad
et al. (2000) summarize the masculine roles (and corresponding job attributes) as follows:

income provider (earnings, benefits, security and openings), dominance (leadership,


responsibility and power), aggression (power), achievement (opportunities for promotion,
challenge, task significance and accomplishment), autonomy (freedom/autonomy),
exhibition (prestige, recognition) and endurance (challenge, not physical work
environment). Feminine roles (and corresponding job attributes) are as follows:
homemaker (good hours, easy commute, location, not opportunities for travel), affiliation
(opportunities to make friends, working with people, not solitude), nurturance
(opportunities to help others), succorance (good co-workers, good supervisor), deference
(not leadership) and abasement (not power) (Konrad et al., 2000).
Early research on men and women managers argues that the traditional role for men
is income provision, hence men should be more likely to place a higher importance on
salary (Lacy et al., 1980). Recent research reports that men are more likely to indicate
preferences for attributes which are consistent with male gender self-schema and
masculine stereotypes. Attributes such as pay and status represent objective career
success (Nicholson, 2000). In their careers, womens satisfaction is linked to the
development of interpersonal relationships (Powell and Mainiero, 2003). When
compared with their female counterparts, Eddleston et al. (2006) finds that male
managers are more likely to prefer status-based career satisfiers and less likely to prefer
socio-emotional career satisfiers. Furthermore, self-schema better explain women
managers preferences: women managers gender self-schema mediate the relationship
between sex and socioemotional career satisfiers, however men managers self-schema
do not mediate the relationship to status-based career satisfiers (Eddleston et al., 2006).
Our study differs from this previous work by focusing on organisation, rather than job,
attributes and illuminating sex differences. We suspect that women and mens
organisational attribute preferences will be strongly linked to gender self-schema. Based
on the above discussion, we expect the following:
H1. Male students will be more likely than female students to indicate a higher
importance for masculine role and stereotype organisation attributes.
H2. Female students will be more likely than male students to indicate a higher
importance for feminine role and stereotype organisation attributes.
As described above, gender self-schema is focused on the individual level. We now
probe more deeply at the link to the organisation, and explore theoretical explanations
based on person-organisation fit.
Person-organisation fit
The application of the person-organisation fit theory to recruitment is derived from the
attraction-selection-attrition model (Schneider, 1987) which describes how individuals
seek organisations which they perceive to have characteristics similar to their own.
These ideas were extended to person-organisation fit theory which describes the extent
of congruence of patterns between individuals values and those of an organisation
(Chatman, 1989). The person-organisation fit literature is concerned with how
individuals select organisations to join and generally focuses on the later stages of the
recruitment process. For example, individuals who perceive a closer fit to the
organisation to which they have been recruited are more likely to adjust quickly and feel
most satisfied (Chatman, 1991). Perceived fit is an important early step in the matching
model of individuals and organisations in the recruiting process (Wanous, 1992).

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An extensive body of person-organisation fit literature explores how individuals are


attracted to organisations with attributes aligned to their personal characteristics
(Cable and Judge, 1994, 1996; Chatman, 1989, 1991; Tom, 1971). Person-organisation fit
is robust across a range of contexts, including a study of graduate applicants to an
Australian media corporation (Carless, 2005). A recent meta-analysis of 71 studies
reveals that characteristics of organisations predict applicant attraction outcomes
(Chapman et al., 2005). Thus, individuals who perceive a strong fit with an organistaion
will be attracted to apply and join that organisation. Coupled with the theory of
reasoned action (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980), person-organisation fit
suggests that, graduates preferences for organisation attributes will influence their
intentions to apply. Following this line of thinking, we propose the following:
H3. There will be a positive relationship between the perceived attractiveness of
the attributes of the organisation and the likelihood to apply.
Finally, we are interested in the salience of these ideas in the context of a specific
employer, a management consultancy.
Data and methodology
Data
The subjects are Generation Y full-time undergraduates at the top 22 UK universities
(identified from the Financial Times 2001 league table of the 100 top UK universities)
who were looking for a job, but not yet in possession of an offer. Subjects are also
disqualified if they reported that they had been in contact with recruiters from one of
the organisations which they were evaluating, as recruiter behaviour can influence
applicants perceptions (Turban and Dougherty, 1992; Turban et al., 1998) and
applicants ingratiation can also affect outcomes (Varma et al., 2006).
Methodology
This study is based on a two-phase, dual qualitative and quantitative approach.
In phase one, 32 repertory grid interviews identified the attributes that undergraduates
use to differentiate between ten potential employers. In phase two, a short-list of 20
attributes was used in a survey collected from 862 students.
Repertory grid interviews (Phase one)
In phase one, we utilised the repertory grid technique, a rigorous and systematic
cognitive mapping method which helps individuals make sense of their world.
Originally developed for use in psychology by Kelly (1955), repertory grid methodology
has high reliability and has been used to develop many key contributions in
management and strategy (Wright, 2006). The repertory grid interview process elicits
respondents perceptions of elements and helps generate conversation and engagement
(CPCS, 1993). See Kelly (1955) and Easterby-Smith (1980) for detailed reviews of the
repertory grid methodology and Wright (2004) for an application.
We conducted repertory grid interviews of approximately 90 minutes each with
32 students. In this study, the elements were nine potential employers and a tenth
conceptual ideal employer. The employers were identified from recent studies of the
most popular graduate employers in the UK (Universum, 2004). The names of the ten
employers were written on ten index cards which were laid face down on a table in

front of the student. The student randomly selected three cards and turned these
face-up in a line, also in view of the researcher. For the purposes of this explanation, let
us assume that the student turned over cards with the names of the three most popular
employers in the most recent Times Top 100 Graduate Recruiters study:
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Civil Service (UK Government) and Accenture
(Birchall, 2006). The student was then asked to describe how the first two employers,
PWC and the Civil Service, are different from the third, Accenture. To differentiate the
organisation, the student described a list of perceived organisational attributes such as
higher salary and more creative work. These responses are constructs, and the
interviewee was then asked to rate each employer (element) against this attribute
(construct). When the student cannot suggest any more attributes, the researcher asked
the student to offer new organisational attributes by comparing employer one (PWC)
and employer three (Accenture) to employer two (Civil Service), and then employer two
(Civil Service) and employer three (Accenture) to employer one (PWC). Once the
student cannot identify any more organisational attributes, the three cards were turned
face down, reshuffled into the pile, and the student drew another three cards and the
process was repeated. The term grid describes the interviewers method of recording
the conversation. The students were then asked to rate the importance of the attributes
identified, on a seven-point scale.
Although, an inductive approach to first identify important organisational
attributes related to applicant attraction for the graduating student population has
been used previously (Lievens and Highhouse, 2003), we believe that this study
pioneered the use of repertory grid analysis for early stage recruitment process
research. Furthermore, this multi-university interview and survey method extends
previous data which was gathered from a population of students at just one university.
We piloted both the repertory grid interview and the survey.
Survey (phase two)
In phase two, a ten-minute long, internet-based survey was designed based on a
short-list of organisational attributes, and administered to 2,351 final year
undergraduates, generating 862 replies (37 per cent response rate). The respondents
were 35 per cent female science students, 25 per cent female arts students, 30 per cent
male science students, and 10 per cent male arts students. The non-respondents
demographics and reasons for not responding were analysed to ensure that there was
no cause for concern about related bias in the sample. The students were asked to
complete the survey about three months before the period in which they would make
selection decisions.
Undergraduates were asked to rate three top UK employers who participate in
university recruiting: a management consultancy, an investment bank and a media
corporation. The three firms are multinationals, each employing over 25,000
worldwide, including at least 2,500 in the UK, and appear on the Universum (2004)
list. The firms identities are concealed in this paper due to a research agreement.
In the internet-based survey, respondents rated the attributes according to
personal importance. The students also provided their perceptions of three major
graduate employers against the 20 attributes and the likelihood that they would
apply for a job.

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Table I.
Mean ratings of
organisational attributes
by importance

Variables
Respondents filled in demographic data including sex, university and degree course.
The following were asked with respect to each of the twenty organisational attributes
listed in Table I.
Importance. Imagine that a graduate employer existed that was ideal for you
personally. Please indicate the extent to which you would agree with the following
statements: My ideal employer would . . . invest heavily in the training and development
of their employees from 1 to 7 where 1 strongly disagree and 7 strongly agree.
Perception of three organisations. Based on your current perceptions of
(management consultancy, media corporation or investment bank), please tell us to
what extent you agree or disagree with the following: The (management consultancy,
media corporation or investment bank) offers . . . a very high starting salary from 1
to 7 where 1 strongly disagree and 7 strongly agree.
Likelihood to apply. How likely are you to apply to (management consultancy, media
corporation or investment bank) from 1 to 7 where 1 very unlikely and 7 very likely.
Organisational attribute

Expected preferencea

Invest heavily in the training and


development of their employees
Care about their employees as individuals
Clear opportunities for long-term career
progression
Variety in daily work
Dynamic, forward-looking approach to
their business
Friendly, informal culture
Opportunity, in the early years, to move
around the organisation and work in
different areas/role
Freedom to work on your own initiative
Scope for creativity in your work
Employ people with whom you feel you
will have things in common
A pure meritocracy (rewards and
promotions based on performance)
Opportunity for international travel
Use your degree skills
Widely regarded as a highly prestigious
employer
Very high starting salary
Relatively stress-free working
environment
Opportunity to work (and live) abroad
Internationally diverse mix of colleagues
Require you to work standard working
hours only
A small organization

Non-gender-typed intrinsic

6.15
6.13
6.11

a ***

Masculine stereotype
Non-gender-typed intrinsic

6.05

a ***

Feminine stereotype
Masculine stereotype

5.83
5.62
5.57

a **

Non-gender-typed intrinsic
Non-gender-typed intrinsic
Feminine stereotype

5.43
5.41
5.24

Non-gender-typed intrinsic
Masculine stereotype

5.13
4.98
4.97
4.94

a **

Masculine gender role

4.92

b ***
a **

Feminine gender role

4.91
4.70
4.51
3.89

Mean rating

Significance

a *

a ***
a ***

3.38

Notes: Konrad et al.s (2000) sex differences in job attribute preferences; significant differences:
a women rate higher; b men rate higher, * p , 0.05; * * p , 0.01; * * * p , 0.001

Analysis
The goal of phase one was to identify the students most common constructs regarding
the ten potential employers. The 32 interviews produced 545 constructs. One of the
authors and a second researcher coded all of the constructs, seeking common
meanings. Working separately, the researchers developed a list of 84 common
constructs, with 99 per cent inter-rater reliability. The constructs importance was
based on frequency (number of mentions across 32 interviews) and importance
indicated. As it was not practical to include all 84 constructs in phase two, a short-list
of 20 constructs, or organisational attributes, was then created using a combination of
those that were ranked highest by the sample overall and separately by men and
women. A provisional analysis was made, based on these data, of the importance of the
attributes to the men and women.
We weighted the data to reflect the UK university population by sex and degree
course. To test our hypotheses, we used SPSS and a two-tailed test at 95 per cent
significance level.
Results
Organisational attributes
We begin with our first set of hypotheses that based on gender self-schema, men and
women students will have different ratings of organisational attributes. We identify
nine significant differences. Men rate only one attribute as significantly higher than
women do in importance: a very high starting salary. In contrast, the women indicate
significantly higher preference for eight attributes. These attributes are, in order of
significance: really care about their employees as individuals variety in daily work
internationally diverse mix of colleagues require standard working hours only
friendly, informal culture use your degree skills relatively stress-free working
environment and employ people with whom you feel you will have things in
common. Taken together, these results confirm H1 and H2. All findings are reported
in Table I.
Perception of three organisations
T-tests reveal differences between the graduate mean ratings of the three organisations
on nearly all of the attributes, significant at p , 0.01 and p , 0.05 levels (Table II).
This confirms that students are able to differentiate between employers, even at this
relatively early stage of the job search process. For example, students perceive the
media corporation to offer more scope for creativity at work (5.44) and a relatively
stress-free working environment (3.74) than the management consultancy (4.56, 3.06)
or the investment bank (3.94, 2.51) (all p , 0.01).
Organisational attractiveness and likelihood to apply
We then test our H3, that there will be a positive relationship between the
attractiveness of organisational attributes and likelihood to apply. Previous studies
identify a positive relationship between organisational attributes and initial attraction
(Turban et al., 1998) and job acceptance (Powell and Goulet, 1996). We extend this work
by examining applicants self-reported likelihood to apply using a correlation analysis
due to the scaled nature of the data. Correlation tests for the total attractiveness scores
with likelihood of application for each of the three organisations reveal a positive and

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Table II.
Mean ratings and
differences in perceptions
of management
consultancy, media
corporation and
investment bank (t-tests)

Invest heavily in the


training and development
of their employees
Care about their
employees as individuals
Clear opportunities for
long term career
progression
Variety in daily work
Dynamic,
forward-looking
approach to their
business
Friendly, informal culture
Opportunity, in the early
years, to move around the
organisation and work in
different areas/roles
Freedom to work on your
own initiatives
Scope for creativity in
your work
Employ people with
whom you feel you will
have things in common
A pure meritocracy
Opportunity for
international travel
Use your degree skills
4.73
4.50
4.91
5.28

4.73
4.59

4.82
4.84
5.44
4.68
4.11
5.15
3.95

5.83
4.41
5.61
4.91

5.84
4.20

5.13
4.68
4.56
4.21
5.04
5.39
4.16

Media
corporation
mean rating

5.44
4.03

3.95
5.16

3.94

4.30

4.79

5.51
3.51

5.48
4.32

4.08

5.46

Investment
bank mean
rating

**

(continued)

**
**

**
**

**
**
**

**
**

**
**

**
**

**
**
**

**
**
**
**

**
**

**

**

**
**

**
**

**

**

**

Media corporation
vs investment
bank

**

Management
consultancy vs
investment bank

**

Management
consultancy vs media
corporation

512

Organisational attribute

Management
consultancy mean
rating

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Notes: *p , 0.05; * *p , 0.01

Widely regarded as a
highly prestigious
employer
Very high starting salary
Relatively stress-free
working environment
Opportunity to work (and
live) abroad
Provide an internationally
diverse mix of colleagues
Require you to work
standard working hours
only
A small organization

Organisational attribute

5.69
3.83
3.74
4.90
5.32
3.14
1.61

3.06
5.22
5.39
2.81
1.80

Media
corporation
mean rating

6.12
5.78

Management
consultancy mean
rating

2.70
1.91

5.42

5.29

2.51

6.07
5.95

Investment
bank mean
rating

*
**

**
**

**

**

**

**

Management
consultancy vs
investment bank

**
**

Management
consultancy vs media
corporation

**
**

**

**

**
**

Media corporation
vs investment
bank

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Table II.

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significant relationship (all p , 0.001). The correlations for the management


consultancy, media corporation and the investment bank are 0.440, 0.332 and 0.436,
respectively. These findings confirm H3.
Regression: likelihood to apply
We use multiple regression to examine the relationship between likelihood to submit
an application to the management consultancy (dependent variable) and perceptions of
organisational attractiveness (independent variables). The analysis is conducted for
both the total sample and the men and women respondents separately.
Table III reports those attributes that are significant in predicting likelihood to
apply to the management consultancy, together with associated betas indicating the
size and direction of effect. All of the organisational attributes reported are statistically
significant ( p , 0.001), however the R 2 is low. This may be due to the reduction of the
84 common constructs identified in phase one to a short-list of 20 for the phase two
survey. It is interesting that the attributes explain more of the likelihood to apply for
men students (R 2 0.333) than for women students (R 2 0.240).
Table III also reveals that the most important predictor of likelihood to apply to the
management consultancy, for the sample as a whole, is employs people with whom
you feel you will have things in common. In descending order of importance, the other
key attributes for the population of men and women students are offer the opportunity
for international travel really care about their employees as people friendly,
informal culture a very high starting salary use your degree skills scope for
creativity in your work and a dynamic, forward-looking approach to their business.
Two attributes are negatively related to applicants preference: an internationally
diverse mix of colleagues and require you to work standard working hours only.
Interestingly, in the case of the former, students indicate a preference for employers
that will provide them with the opportunity for international travel (0.127), e.g. to go

Organisational attribute

Table III.
Relationship between
attractiveness and
likelihood to apply to
management
consultancy: summary of
multiple regression
results

Employ people with whom you feel you will have things in
common
Friendly, informal culture
Offer the opportunity for international travel
Internationally diverse mix of colleagues
Use your degree skills
Really care about their employees as individuals
Offer a very high starting salary
Dynamic, forward-looking approach to their business
Require you to work standard working hours only
Scope for creativity in your work
Widely regarded as a highly prestigious employer
Opportunity, in the early years, to move around the
organisation and work in different areas/roles
R2

Total
Women
Men
stand. coeff. stand. coeff. stand. coeff.
0.199
0.110
0.127
2 0.104
0.096
0.112
0.098
0.073
2 0.079
0.088

0.173
0.136

0.178
0.261

0.108

0.128
0.130
0.148

0.108
0.089

0.274

Note: All attributes reported are statistically significant at p , 0.001

0.240

20.123
0.333

out and see the world, but not to an internationally diverse mix of colleagues,
e.g. being surrounded by foreigners (2 0.104).
The results provide further evidence of differences between men and women
respondents in relation to their assessments of the attractiveness and likelihood to apply
to the management consultancy. Secondly, the results suggest that women who rate the
management consultancy highly on the following attributes, in descending order of
importance, are most likely to apply: employ people with whom you feel you will have
things in common friendly, informal culture really care about their employees as
individuals and dynamic, forward-looking approach to their business. Seven
attributes are significant for the men, providing further evidence of differences between
the sexes in their assessments of the management consulting firms attractiveness and of
the effect of graduates assessments on their likelihood to apply. For men, the positive
attributes, in descending order of importance, are opportunity for international travel
employ people with whom you feel you will have things in common very high starting
salary really care about their employees as individuals use your degree skills and
widely regarded as a prestigious employer. Interestingly, for men, the opportunity, in
the early years, to move around the organisation and work in different areas/roles is
negatively related to organisational attractiveness.
Discussion
We begin by reflecting on the 20 most sought organisation attributes (Table I). Konrad
et al.s (2000) meta-analysis identified 39 commonly-identified job attributes from 242
previous studies. While many attributes are also identified in our sample, we note the
absence of students mention of benefits (e.g. medical, life insurance), job security,
physical work environment, solitude, easy commute, geographical location and
feedback. This provides some at least anecdotal evidence that, compared with previous
generations, Generation Y are looking for slightly different qualities in their employers.
We extend earlier research by analysing likelihood to apply to three organisations
by women and men undergraduates, and explore the relationship to organisational
attractiveness. Our findings corroborate the importance of certain organisational
attributes for applicant attraction (Rynes, 1991; Wanous, 1992) and with regard to
sex and gender. Organisational attractiveness is operationalised as the product of the
importance of organisational attributes and the perceived extent of their presence in a
particular organisation. Differences in likelihood to apply to an organisation may be
due to sex differences in either of those components. This study finds sex differences
exist in both the importance of organisational attributes and the perceived extent of
their presence in three organisations that recruit heavily from the graduate market.
In line with earlier work on gender self-schema, our results suggest that men place
greater importance on a high starting salary. We had expected the male students to
identify with this masculine gender role. However, we had also expected men students
to identify more with the masculine stereotype for the following three attributes: clear
opportunities for long-term career progression opportunity, in the early years, to
move around the organisation and work in different roles and widely regarded as a
prestigious employer. In fact, none of these attributes revealed differences that were
significantly more significant for men. This suggests that Generation Y men and
women are more similar than different with regards to these traditionally masculine
stereotypes.

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We found that women indicate a greater preference for feminine organisational


attributes. Based on the Konrad et al. (2000) meta-analysis, we suspected women students
to more strongly identify with the feminine stereotypes of friendly, informal culture and
employ people with whom you feel you will have things in common and the feminine
gender role require you to work standard hours only. Indeed, all were true and
significant. Interestingly, the non-gender typed intrinsic attributes variety in your daily
work and use your degree skills were also more true and significant for the women in
our sample. We did not have any expectations about three other attributes: care about
their employees as individuals relatively stress-free working environment and
internationally diverse mix of colleagues however all were found to be significantly
more important for women. Taken together, our findings suggest organisational
attributes explain more of Generation Y womens preferences than those of their male
counterparts. It may be that women, even at the career entry stage, adapt behaviours
which are more associated with traditionally masculine gender roles and stereotypes.
Limitations
We recognise several limitations in our study. The sample is non-random and many
surveys are incomplete, however the non-respondents demographics and reasons for
not responding were analysed to ensure that there was no cause for concern about
related bias in the sample. The initial list of 84 constructs was culled to 20, which may
have limited the impact of organisational attributes on likelihood to apply. Although
recent studies highlight the need for applicant quality (GPA in Connerley et al., 2003),
we do not measure quality as we made two assumptions:
(1) as the three firms regularly recruit from the top 22 universities, there was a
good base of quality applicants among those sampled; and
(2) a firm which attracts a large number of applications can then select the most
qualified applicants.
Although we control for labour market differences by gathering survey data during a
two-month period, there may be other factors, apart from organisational attractiveness,
that influence initial job application behaviour such as the level of difficulty, effort or
specific timing of a particular organisations application processes. We acknowledge
the concern that perceptions are not an appropriate proxy for actual applicants
preferences (Ryan and Ployhart, 2000), however our student sample are future
applicants and our study is scoped to focus on those at the applicant attraction stage.
Although our study focuses on applicants intention to apply, our results might be
extended to suggest actual behaviour. Ajzens (1991) theory of reasoned action
suggests a strong relationship between intention and later actions, although this
weakens over time (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). Given the time frame of our study and
the recruiting market, these students are reporting intentions within approximately
three months of their real-decision timeline.
Conclusions and implications
This study of graduating university students perceptions of organisational attributes
and reported likelihood of application offers several key contributions for academics
and practitioners. First, we add to the emerging body of early applicant impressions of
organisations (Cable and Graham, 2000; Gatewood et al., 1993; Highhouse et al., 1999)

by identifying the organisational attributes used by UK undergraduates to


differentiate among potential employers at the job application stage. Building on
gender self-schema, we distinguish sex differences with regard to attributes on two
levels: importance of ascribed benefits and the attributes favoured more highly by
women can be related to female gender self-schemas emphasis on relationship-based
organisational characteristics and career satisfiers. The study finds that men and
women respondents held different perceptions of three potential employers. Finally, as
expected by person-organisation fit theory, desirability of perceived organisational
attributes is linked to likelihood to apply.
Taken together, our repertory grid interviews with Generation Y students produce a
list of desired organisational attributes which vary from earlier work in the field
(Posner, 1981). These findings are not surprising given that most Generation Y
students (born 1977-1994) were not even born when Posners (1981) and other studies of
labour force perceptions were published. Our samples five most preferred attributes
are invest heavily in the training and development of their employees care about
their employees as individuals clear opportunities for long-term career progression
variety in daily work and dynamic, forward-looking approach to their business.
These findings answer Konrad et al. (2000) and others calls for a focus on intrinsic
reasons and extend work by Heslin (2005) who identified the importance of both
intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Prior studies indicate that Generation Y workers, when
compared to their generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts, are more adaptable,
confident, able to multi-task and technologically savvy (NAS Recruitment, 2006).
Generation Y employees plan to move around and want to work faster and harder than
their colleagues and want to be climbing the corporate ladder by their sixth month on
the job (NAS Recruitment, 2006, p. 6). The implications of the importance of this
generations preference for organisational attributes cannot be understated as, in the
not too distant future, Generation Y will replace retiring Baby Boomers.
Implications for recruiting professionals include the need to become familiar with
the organisational attributes desired by Generation Y graduates. Following scholarly
work on the importance of realistic job presentation (Wanous, 1992; Wanous and
Colella, 1989), it is important that recruiters should only advertise those attributes
which are true for the organisation. Firms that emphasise unrealistic attributes will
quickly be found out by the new graduate recruits who depart for other organisations
which they perceive to have these attributes. New recruits who do not sense a strong fit
with the organisation are more likely to leave (Chatman, 1991) and the churning of
graduate employees constitutes a great cost to the firm in terms of lost time, morale
and possibly customer trust and goodwill. Furthermore, it takes time for new
employees to become productive, impacting firm performance (Watson Wyatt, 2006).
Private UK employers seek applicants from the over 125,000 degree graduates each
year. One of the main implications of the study to practice is that a segmented
approach is needed if the male and female Generation Y undergraduate population are
to be assessed effectively. There is little evidence of sex segmentation activity in the
existing recruitment marketplace. Regardless of the popular view that the values of
young men and women are increasingly converging and possibly contrary to the
professed view of young women themselves, women undergraduates value, to a
greater extent than men, organisational characteristics that reflect gender
self-schemas. This presents both a considerable challenge and a great opportunity

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to organisations wishing to increase their representation of women. Employers may


wish to consider gender roles and stereotyping and sex in a broader sense.
Our study suggests a number of future research directions. First, while it is critical
to study the earliest phases of the graduate recruitment process, our work could be
extended to later career stages to examine men and womens perceptions of desirable
organisational attributes. Further studies could explore mens and womens changing
perceptions of the attributes of their employer and how this influences their likelihood
of seeking alternate employment. For example, are women more attached
to organisations with their preferred attributes and are men more likely to join
another organisation that offers a higher starting salary? Further research of a
longitudinal nature could examine how Generation Y graduates organisational
attribute preferences change over time, for example given additional work experience
and family responsibilities (Corrigall and Konrad, 2006).
Finally, this study focuses on graduates perceptions of large multinational
employers. As an increasing number of Generation Y university students are enrolling
in entrepreneurship classes (Katz, 2003), and considering entrepreneurial careers
(Mainiero et al., 2007), future research might explore students perceptions of these
possibilities.
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About the authors
Siri Terjesen is a Senior Lecturer at the Brisbane Graduate School of Business at Queensland
University of Technology. Concurrently, she is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Max Planck
Institute of Economics in Jena, Germany. She has published in journals including Strategic
Management Journal, Small Business Economics, Journal of Business Ethics, Entrepreneurship
Theory & Practice and Venture Capital and is co-author (with Anne Huff, Steve Floyd and

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Hugh Sherman) of Strategic Management (Wiley, 2008). She is on the boards of Corporate
Research Board, NPRC and Silicon Capital. Siri Terjesen is the corresponding author and can be
contacted at: siriterjesen@yahoo.com
Susan Vinnicombes particular research interests are womens leadership styles, the issues
involved in women developing their managerial careers and gender diversity on corporate
boards. Her research centre is unique in the UK with its focus on women leaders and the annual
Female FTSE 100 Index is regarded as the UKs premier research resource on women directors.
She publishes in a range of journals including International Human Resource Management
Journal, Corporate Governance: An International Review, Women in Management Review and
British Journal of Management and is on the editorial board of four management journals.
She has written eight books and is currently working on The Global Challenge of Diversity
(with J. Bank) and International Women on Boards (with D. Bilimoria, R. Burke, M. Husen and
V. Singh). Susan was awarded an OBE for her Services to Diversity in the Queens New Years
Honour List in 2005. E-mail: s.m.vinnicombe@cranfield.ac.uk
Cheryl Freeman was formerly a DBA student at Cranfield School of Management.

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