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Top tips for hiring recent grads (part one)

Posted 5 years ago in Small business by Hannah Gray
Posted by Hannah Gray

A popular topic these days is how to hire the perfect candidate for your business. Many industries seem to be suffering from a candidate shortage. When you can’t hire a quality candidate with a lot of experience, the focus quickly turns to hiring people straight out of school. So, how do you identify the diamonds in the rough? How can you give them what they need to grow and turn them into the best they can be?

Many companies approach graduate recruitment in the same way as they would with regular hiring. Find the best, brightest and smartest, with a solid knowledge base.

We sometimes forget what it was like when we were just leaving school. The view of the real world from college, university or high school is skewed at best, invisible at worst. This means employer’s expectations and a graduate’s expectations can be misaligned. How do you get past this?

I’ve been obsessed with mentoring graduates, talking about graduates, and working with people on graduate training for nearly 10 years now. What’s fascinating is the attitudes and preconceptions I continue to see from year to year – both from graduates and the industry.

Xero graduates and interns gather around to learn from a senior designer

Hire graduates on promise, not just metrics or gut feel

Many employers (especially in IT)  pre-vet candidates using technical or personality tests. A bad score tends to mean an instant “no”. It’s fair that companies only want the best and brightest. However, if a potential grad is having a bad day, or it’s their first ever technical test (which are completely differently from school exams), then their chance is blown. Which doesn’t seem right.

Think about it – this process doesn’t acknowledge that graduates are new to the world of hiring and interviews. All too often, employers expect them to perform to the same standards as experienced professionals.

So here’s an idea: give graduates multiple chances to shine. No single test should result in an instant failure.

A team works best if they have a complementary combination of strengths and weaknesses. All industries require a wide range of abilities and skills. If you only ever hire the very strongest technical specialists, you omit other critical factors. A good team needs people good with communication, teamwork and the ability to look at the big picture.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you tell graduates at career fairs (or similar events) that you value traits other than just their technical skills… then eliminate them in a single-strength test?
  • Could you adjust your graduate recruitment process to take human fallibility into account?
  • Does your testing reflect what you consider to be equally important strengths in a candidate?

This doesn’t mean that you give everyone an interview or take candidates you normally wouldn’t accept. If you have high standards, stick to them. But challenge any assumptions you may have around existing testing processes. Think of alternative ways to test for the things you value in a graduate. Look for candidates skilled in communication, teamwork, ownership, critical thinking, leadership as well as specific knowledge and abilities.

How we handle graduate recruitment at Xero

Sure, we have candidates take skills-based tests – but we also have some quirky ways to find out how they tick. We don’t, however, go as deep as psychometric profiling. We combine that with interviews and in person assessments to make our decision. No one part is an instant failure – instead each step is only a portion of the decision. If they didn’t do so well at something, we ask them what happened. This produces a hiring process that balances cold numbers and warm personalities. It gives us a much better picture of a person before making a yes or no decision.

Remember what it was like when you started in the workforce

Soon after hiring a graduate, companies focus on pushing them forward and ensuring they have a career path. But the best way to give graduates the boost they need is to focus on those first few weeks after they join your company. Think of it as the formative years, where the “now” is more important than “the future”.

Take a few moments and think back to when you started in the workforce. If you can remember, you probably wished someone told you back then what you needed to know.

Put yourselves in their shoes and try and pre-empt any questions (especially those they may be afraid of asking). If you can’t remember what that’s like, ask them. Ask them what they studied, what they struggle with and what’s easy. Don’t assume that they know things, and question your own assumptions about what a graduate looks and acts like and what they should be expected to “just know”. You will be surprised how much you learn those first few months at work.

  • Do you tell your graduates what time to turn up on the first day? Because you’d be astonished how often the contract says one thing but the general practice is subtly different.
  • Do they know the bathrooms, kitchen, meeting rooms, stationary cupboard and other key facilities are?
  • What practices are acceptable? Think breaks, getting in late in the morning from an appointment, working late and time in lieu?
  • Do you make sure they leave when the office empties out, and tell them it’s okay if they haven’t finished their work at the end of the day?
  • At any point, are they expressly told that it’s okay that they take their time on a piece of work?

Most importantly, tell them it’s okay to ask for help and have a voice or opinion. School can sometimes be a one-way flow of information, and after three or more years of tertiary study, students have specific ways of doing things. They’ve learned to solve the problem themselves, aren’t used to being able to ask for help, and wouldn’t think of contradicting a lecturer. Look at your environment, and check that you’re not assuming they implicitly understand the workforce is different. This is the number one thing I focus on teaching graduates.

We have a tendency to think every graduate is like us. That if we are relaxed about things, they will be too. Or if we are a stickler for rules, they will be. Or even if we learned this subject fast, they probably did too. A small moment to reassure them can sometimes help out those who are more than likely feeling very much out of their depth. In the end it’s an opportunity to make their experience better than yours was, even if yours was great!

Check out part two of this post: Top tips for hiring recent grads (part two)

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