A revolution in graduate recruitment

HKU Business School alumnus Jimmy Lai (BBA(IBGM) 2014) Co-Founder of OnGrad and his team are changing the way students look for jobs and are recruited.

Jimmy Lai is ever bubbly, loquacious and passionate about what he does. We are in the office of OnGrad, a startup connecting graduates and employers that takes the pain both out of job hunting for students, and acquiring new talent for companies. Their lively office has all the trappings of a dynamic startup, with bright coloured decor, passionate young people, and a view across Causeway Bay, Happy Valley and the surrounding hills.

Sitting down with Jimmy, you get the sense his infectious smile and enthusiasm are strongly translated into OnGrad’s mission of helping graduates earn their dream jobs. On a day where Hong Kong’s summer rainy season is in full effect, Jimmy cuts through the gloomy weather by cheerfully describing how the organisation is shattering the intricacies of traditional employment methodology. Their aim is simple and yet elusive – to get the best talent from the new generation.

Breaking out from a traditional career path

Previously a management trainee at New World Development, Jimmy worked across a range of roles from property to retail, but desired more in his career. “I still remember the day that I decided to start this idea was when we were scolded by a boss,” Jimmy says. “He gave me a terrible appraisal, and I realised that I didn’t want my value to be judged by a single person, and I want to take control of my own future” he adds.

Jimmy and Jesse Chow (BBA(IBGM) 2014) (left), Product Lead of OnGrad

It was a watershed moment for Jimmy, who promptly joined fellow trainees creating a Facebook page helping graduates with career information. The social media resource took off, highlighting the need for real world information for university students who spend most of their time on academic studies. “If you study business you won’t really understand what companies do on a day-to-day basis, and you might just be reading business cases,” Jimmy says.

OnGrad’s frank videos about the trials and tribulations of getting your first job as a graduate began to get attention from students. They craved the insider tips on topics such as how to score a first job and what a real life workplace looks like. Soon, OnGrad’s inbox was filling up with messages from students asking how to get into different industries and companies. The feeling was mutual on the employer side, with companies requesting to be connected to this pool of eager students.

 

The plan was in place to make some revenue, but there was only one problem: Jimmy was still working at New World Development. “We started thinking we could make some money and after three and a half years as a management trainee, decided to quit and go our own way,” says Jimmy.

When resigning from a job, people often like to go for maximum drama, but in Jimmy’s case it was the opposite – the OnGrad team offered their services to New World Development. “They liked our entrepreneurial spirit and asked us to organise a hackathon and that’s how we started charging corporations. They were discovering generation Z (born late 1990s-early 2000s) want new things, innovation, and hate tradition,” he says.

A match made in heaven

All of a sudden, OnGrad had gone from helping students to becoming a matchmaker pairing traditional businesses and graduates. The next step was to raise the game with a “OnMyGrad” mobile app helping personalise a graduate’s career path with information and tips, while also building a detailed profile that can be pitched to companies. “Most platforms are targeted towards experienced people; we help those going from zero job experience, who need to sell their personality more than experience – students have had limited time in a job,” Jimmy says.

The OnGrad team saw severe inefficiencies in the typical job hiring process, particularly the job interview – if graduates don’t perform well, their hopes are dashed. Using the OnMyGrad app, employers can get much more rich information on candidates and a better idea of their potential outside of the traditional CV and interview rigmarole.

Many companies simply don’t understand the characteristics of generation Z candidates. “Everyone tells you that if you get into university, you will be fine. But these institutions are responsible for academics, not your career. Having said that, HKU Business School provided me with a competitive environment to help me raise my game and learn leadership skills,” Jimmy says.

These talents have been crucial for Jimmy and the team, who are in their mid-twenties and are often looked down upon for their youth. “People questioned our credentials and why they should work with a team that is so young. The doubts only drove us to exceed expectations and work hard to achieve results for our clients, getting us critical word of mouth, and media coverage,” Jimmy says.

With digital transformation continuing apace, expect to see more of OnGrad’s paradigm smashing services hitting the headlines – the revolution in graduate recruitment will only grow larger.