The care and feeding of fresh graduates, Part 1: How to assess candidates who are new to the workforce
Some companies actively prioritise hiring them. Some companies would prefer to minimise their numbers if possible. And some companies bring them in by the dozen but struggle to hold onto them beyond the first year or two. But one thing remains unchanged, year on year: there will always be fresh graduates and interns in the workforce, newcomers to the world of work with all the pros and cons that their lack of experience implies.
How do people managers ease these young employees into the workplace and get them started on their careers? People Matters asked HR leaders and recruiters across a variety of industries and company types about their approach to managing fresh graduates and first-time interns. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, they shared some thoughts on how to assess and select candidates when hiring from this group.
Be open-minded about their lack of experience
Cecilia Yeoh, Vice President of Human Resource at Singapore's PSB Academy, says that HR professionals must be ready to consider skills, capabilities, character, and attitude in place of professional experience.
“HR professionals first need to acknowledge that fresh graduates will not have much formal working experience or professional skills as they have just graduated from school,” she advises.
“HR professionals and hiring managers have to adopt a more open-minded approach when it comes to interviewing and making a choice with fresh graduates. Their values, attitude and skillset will be important factors for consideration, as compared to purely deciding based on professional experience. By giving candidates who are new to the workforce a chance, they might bring in fresh perspectives and different dynamics to the team.”
What are the skills and capabilities to look for? She flags out the soft skills needed to navigate the working world: agility, adaptability, communications, and teamwork, amongst many others. “They can be acquired in various settings, from joining co-curricular activities to leading volunteering projects."
"Candidates with no working experience need to be able to demonstrate that they have these traits which make them desirable employees.”
Finally, Yeoh says that a positive learning attitude is a key indicator of how receptive and adaptable the candidate is when it comes to the job. “It shows whether they are a good fit for the company in terms of culture and dynamics. In addition, having a passion for the job can also help to determine if the candidate will go beyond his/her way to achieve greater things in the job. This could prove to be extremely useful as companies decide to invest in a candidate who has a passion for the job and is willing to contribute back to the company.”
Look beyond qualifications and at real qualifiers
KC Wai, Head of People, Deliveroo, recommends that recruiters and hiring managers shift their focus to the quality of the applicant’s street smarts.
“As most people looking to fill the position have very similar qualifications, it’s important to know what sets them apart,” he says. “So, instead of judging solely on work experience, I look at two areas – Agility and Adaptability. I am a strong believer that these two qualifiers are the key to success. You see, candidates may have years of working experience, but if they only know how to follow instructions and never take risks, they’re not presenting our hiring managers with anything unique.”
Based on these two areas, what are some of the factors to take into consideration? He highlights prioritisation and the ability to deal with stress as important soft skills, but going beyond that, there's also some forecasting of how they might perform on the job or interact with their co-workers.
“Can the candidates take on the role independently or rise through the rankings? Would you like to hang out with this person after work? To me, work is no longer strictly transactional or an individualistic role. We must look at the potential of teamwork and consider the applicant beyond office hours.”
Most importantly, can they get along with their team?
Jayashree Velupillai, Staff Recruiter at AMD, says that even in fields that require technical skills, the focus needs to be placed on behavioural attributes when interviewing and assessing fresh graduates. Why behavioural attributes? Because these determine whether a candidate will be a good culture fit.
“For this reason, behavioural attributes play a huge role in AMD’s hiring, not just for fresh graduates, but for all roles,” she says.
That said, for tech firms like AMD, there is still a need to assess technical skills, and with little or no hands-on experience to gauge by, she suggests that hiring managers look at the candidates' interest in the industry and ask about relevant examples of their projects, internships, or even hobbies related to the field.
The quality of a candidate's culture add - over and above fit - is also very important in startups and in fast-paced industries, says Pauline Puay, Vice President of Human Resources at Singapore-based gaming startup Storms.
“There are three most important qualities that HR professionals – especially those operating in startups or fast-paced industries – should be looking for in an intern or a fresh graduate besides their relevant educational background: Their work ethics, attitudes towards the organisation’s culture, and other skills that they have – that can fill the gap that the team currently has.”
Unlike technical skills and industry knowledge, which can be seen in candidates' education background or evaluated through tests, values, attitudes and whether they can work in synergy with their team members can be tricky, she points out. So what's a good way of assessing these?
“HR professionals and hiring managers can address it by posing the candidates with situational interview questions."
"If the candidate has the willingness to learn and is open to receiving feedback, and can respect the organisation’s culture and the people behind it, hiring a fresh graduate or an intern whom an organisation can help to nurture, can be one of the best decisions you can make.”
- Don't look for the same kind of work history or level of knowledge that an experienced hire would demonstrate
- Do look for the ability to fit into the organisation's culture, as demonstrated by soft skills and attitude toward learning
- Don't just look at academic performance, as this will largely be the same for most candidates
- Do look at what they've done outside the classroom and its relevance to the role
- Do also consider their potential career path within the organisation, as this will tie into retaining them a few years down the road
Read part 2 , on how to manage graduate hires, here.