Early Careers Recruitment: Hiring for True Potential

By Joe Mongon, Head of Recruitment Delivery

School’s out for the summer, but in the world of our RPO partnerships this is the time of year where we focus on early careers recruitment, in anticipation of entering apprentice, undergraduate and graduate markets in the autumn. Right now, we’re talking with clients both established and prospective about their needs in this area and, as ever, the focus on using EC programs to correct or balance diversity of workforce and (future) leadership remains a priority.

Most organisations will not necessarily view themselves as having a “diversity crisis” of the kind described in a recent article highlighting research into consulting and finance hiring in the City of London. However, many will benefit from accepting its key takeaway that, “employers are more likely to hire black candidates if they rely on anonymised, ‘skills-based’ assessments in the hiring process”.

In my experience, employers have long moved on from the most “traditional methods”. It’s certainly been a decade or more since I’ve heard of an early careers program requiring a cover letter or making space on an application form for candidates to list all the University societies of which they were definitely the President.

But my experience is not universal. I’m not a graduate looking to start my career, and I’m lucky enough to work in a recruitment business with an award-winning assessment consultancy arm, partnering with clients who take hiring for true potential seriously. That doesn’t mean there’s not more work for us to do within these partnerships—even for those who’ve taken positive steps in this area. Each year brings a new implementation cycle, and new opportunities to improve. 

Here are some solutions we’ve developed, launched or refined in our 2022-23 early careers RPO partnerships:

Assessing for Skills & Strengths in Early Careers Recruitment

Over time, many employers have reduced focus on abilities in favour of strengths- or behaviour-based testing, which is considered more conducive to measuring potential. Organisationally we broadly agree, but, where appropriate, we continue to recommend reasoning tests covering verbal, numerical and cognitive ability.  

The key here is not to use them in isolation as a blunt tool. Benchmark or cut off scores should be set only within the parameters of adverse impact analysis using anonymised candidate diversity data, and ability tests should be followed up with strengths or behavioural assessments. The link RPO expertise can create between recruitment technology, recruiters, and business psychologists is critical in this space.

Recruiting for Role Fit to Enhance Diversity

Predicting workplace performance and potential through behavioural assessment is often seen by early careers talent acquisition leaders as a smarter approach to hiring. Experiential tests, backed by data and research, producing personal interview guides for final stage assessment often leads to better outcomes and maintains diversity in the process

This approach highlights candidate suitability against role fit over culture fit, the latter being a potential barrier to creating a more diverse workforce (the concept of aligning new recruits with a prevailing culture or mindset being an obvious denial of the need for organisational change).

Focusing on Culture Add Rather than Culture Fit

I am not yet aware of any early careers programs where assessment is now 100% anonymised. Whether online via video, as part of a wider virtual assessment experience, or in a traditional face-to-face meeting, an interview is going to happen before a hire is made. Removing anonymity can introduce bias, and we promote two key mitigations.

Firstly, design and deliver structured interviews which are competency-based and/or focused on culture add (what the candidate can contribute to your organisation’s culture) over culture fit. Our teams often partner with hiring managers on best practice in this area, even facilitating or assessing directly where needed. This helps maintain consistency and relevance, avoiding questions on personal interests or previous experience—instead asking specific questions on working styles and preferences. 

Secondly, put candidate experience first and learn from feedback to provide support and guidance, setting the stage for success. By hearing the candidates’ voice, and measuring their experience across, we’ve been able to improve outcomes for employers.

We’re looking forward to seeing how these solutions progress, and what improvements they bring as we take early careers RPO from now to next, supporting the diverse workforces of the future—identifying and unlocking true potential wherever it exists.

Learn more assessment best practices in our ebook, Candidate Assessment: Bringing in Better with Passion, Purpose and Mindset.

Post by Joe Mongon