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HR Connection: In defense of hiring entry-level candidates

By now we’ve all seen the startling statistics of under- and unemployment throughout the United States. Gaining employment as an entry-level candidate is no easy feat, but recently we’ve seen research and focus shifting away from hiring for skill and a movement toward hiring for personality and fit.Lancy,-Kearston

With this shift, we may see more space for entry-level candidates in the business arena. However, hiring entry-level employees shouldn’t be viewed as charity. By adopting the right hiring and training strategies, employers may see long-term benefits in overall performance and retention, two key areas of focus for employers in any industry.

The cost to replace a single minimum wage employee has been estimated to be upwards of $3,000. That number increases exponentially as salaries increase. With that said, it is crucial that companies hire positive and productive employees who will stay for the long-term. Embracing entry-level employees may be a strategic and cost effective way to accomplish performance and retention goals.

While experience is always desirable and absolutely necessary for some positions, there are benefits to hiring entry-level talent. First, entry-level employees will be driven to succeed, if for no other reason but that they know they can’t just walk out the door and be swooped up by any other competitor. They worked hard to get their foot in the door; now they need to work hard to stay there and develop their professional career. As they do so, these employees are growing within the company, willing to take on extra projects and seek out opportunities to develop.

Another added bonus to employees without baggage from previous work relationships is that they are less likely to be adverse to change, new procedures or the use of new technologies. If your company is one that embraces the idea of trying new things and thinking outside of the box, entry-level candidates should fit well into that culture.

Should you decide to explore how entry-level candidates may fit into your company structure, keep in mind that the traditional methods of finding, screening and training used for individuals with previous work experience won’t set your company or entry-level employees up for success. Below are a few suggestions for employers looking to invest in entry-level talent.

Look for talent in the right places

When reviewing entry-level candidates, managers will need to look beyond the paper resume. Resumes will not tell you what you need to know about a candidate’s personality, drive or how they may fit into your team’s work culture. This information is best gathered in person, but it is completely unrealistic to call and interview every entry-level candidate.

Job fairs are one of the best ways to have quick face-to-face contact with candidates without going through a complete in-depth interview. Local colleges and career development centers host regular job fairs for students, alumni and the public. Or, if you’d like to ensure that you meet with candidates that are specifically interested in your openings, you might consider hosting an on-site job fair at your company. You can easily advertise the job fair and openings via online job boards.

Ask the right questions

Before you begin screening candidates, it will be helpful to identify the background and personality traits of your current top performers. You may want to screen for similar traits, or you may screen for traits that will fill in any gaps that exist within the current team. Once you begin screening entry-level candidates who may need training and skill development, look for individuals who enjoy learning, are eager to improve, and are open to feedback and constructive criticism.

As part of the interview, candidates should be asked to provide a clear picture of how they came to be sitting in front of you. What is their motivation in applying for this specific position and what are their future goals? Motivation to obtain a job, intent to stay, self-confidence and decisiveness were found to be four predictors of employee performance and retention.

To provide entry-level candidates with the best opportunity for success in the interview, they should be asked a mixture of behavioral and situational interview questions. Behavioral based questions ask the candidate to respond with examples of a time when they demonstrated a specific competency.

Relying solely on this type of question will leave entry-level candidates with limited experience to draw from. By incorporating some situational questions and asking them what they would do in a particular circumstance, you can get a feel for their ability to think on their feet and their openness and adaptability to new situations.

Create the right training program

Managers should invest time in creating daily training schedules and manuals for entry-level employees until they are comfortable managing their time and taking on delegated tasks. Don’t rely on a method of shadowing and note taking. Set these employees up for success and minimize the room for error by providing them with the tools they need. It is helpful to type up step-by-step instructions for standard operating procedures and frequent tasks so they can refer back to them as a checklist.

Take the time to have weekly meetings and make training fun by setting weekly goals with praise and small rewards. Schedule a mid-week meeting to discuss progress toward these goals and allow the opportunity for your new hire to ask questions and express any frustrations.

Most entry-level employees are motivated to build their professional career, but many are doing so without any sort of road map. Managers can help foster a relationship of trust and respect by taking the time to understand their new employee’s long-term career goals and help them develop both within and outside of the company. Encourage employees to take advantage of outside resources for development by recommending books, websites, networking groups, industry trainings and professional organizations. By taking the proper time to invest in training, managers are earning long-term commitment from their employees.

When it comes to hiring, finding the “perfect” candidate is a near impossible task. The good news is, skills can be taught and experience can be gained. Traits like integrity, a strong work ethic, open-mindedness and adaptability are unique to each individual and tend to be ingrained prior to the start of one’s professional career. These personality traits are not easily taught by a manager.

When it comes to job skills, most new hires know the ins-and-outs of their job within three to six months. If a manager invests this period of time training and building trust with an entry-level employee, the payoff should be a positive and productive employee who is appreciative of the opportunity and loyal to the company that has invested in their growth.

Kearston Lancy is a Recruiter for Volunteers of America Upstate New York. Volunteers of America’s programs and services encourage positive development, foster independence and promote self-sufficiency, providing individuals with the guidance and resources they need to make positive change happen in their lives. Kearston is also an active member of Professional Recruiters of Rochester and National Human Resources Association, Rochester Affiliate. This article is brought to you by the Rochester affiliate of the National HR Association, a local professional HR organization focused on advancing the career development, planning and leadership of HR professionals.

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