The qualifications for many jobs have grown as companies compete for top talent. It’s no surprise that many candidates in today’s market now apply to any and every job that meets their basic qualifications in hopes to receive an interview invitation.
These candidates are just starting out in their careers. They don’t have extensive experience so being able to spot a stellar employee isn’t always easy. You have to be willing to give these candidates a chance and dig deeper for signs of their true potential.
To help you better identify great entry-level talent, we asked three experts what they look for. Here is what they said they love to see in entry-level candidates:
1. The ability to translate their skills
One trait I love to find in entry-level candidates is the ability to relate the skills they have to the job at hand. I talk with so many entry-level candidates who speak in general terms but never use the experiences they have (internships, volunteering, retail experience, etc.) to talk about how it will directly apply to the job they are interviewing for.
Companies want to hire people who can step in and fill a current need or gap they have. Entry-level candidates who can explain their skills and show how they could contribute to different areas realize this. They are more likely to succeed than candidates who have general answers and have difficulty relating to the current needs of the company.
I was interviewing candidates for an entry-level outside sales position, and one candidate stood out. She was able to take her previous internship and job experience and relate them to the outside sales opening we had. She spoke of being able to build a book of business from scratch as she did in her previous pet-sitting work. She talked about how she can relate to people by using her experience as being the captain of an NCAA team and being the liaison between coaches and players. This was much more effective than the other entry-level candidates who said they were strong relationship builders and wanted to use that skill to help them succeed.
Cameron Culp, talent acquisition specialist at Milliken & Co.
2. A desire to work hard
A strong work ethic is essential and much harder to find than one would think. Hard workers can accomplish so much more than others as they have tenacity, some backbone, and willingness to go above and beyond.
I cast a wide net for entry-level candidates because I find great employees can really come from anywhere. One young woman had an undynamic resume but she’d recently graduated from an Ivy League school. Initially, her resume screamed “slacker” to me. I decided to have her interview to see if I was missing something.
It was clear she was very smart but also seeking something tangible and real. She had coasted through school yet refused to follow the Ivy League norms of graduate school or prioritizing money. I challenged her openly: “Why are you here?” She was not stunned or taken aback. Her answer: “I really want a job. I want to be at a place where I can work hard and create something real. I will work my ass off for you.”
I hired her, and she was great. She did work very hard and she found herself, in many ways, at my business. She had a very sharp brain, but she wasn’t being challenged properly and didn’t know how to express it. A couple of years later she was heavily recruited, she shot up the corporate ladder, and is now one of the youngest creative directors in the marketing industry today.
Patrick West, founder of BE THE MACHINE
3. A hunger to learn
The first thing I look for is enthusiasm and eagerness in entry-level candidates. My first boss in HR called this “hunger.” Candidates with this “hunger” are excited to learn and are often looking for both breadth and depth in their position.
This is valuable because these entry-level employees absorb a lot of cultural and tribal knowledge while they learn and volunteer to do new things. These “hungry” employees will be the first to sign up for new tasks and challenges and can often champion change within the organization as their experience and loyalty within the organization grows. As they learn, they are critical chess pieces with valuable and transferable skills as an organization goes through change.
I once had an entry-level candidate working as a temp in one of our remote warehouses in Michigan. He had only been with us a week but had already shown an eagerness to learn and possibly step into an open position when his temporary term came to an end.
We suddenly had a position open up in our Denver office for an office inventory controller when the current employee had an emergency and had to leave with no notice. We were in a bind and leadership was worried.
This candidate and temp, Brandon, overheard some conversations about the predicament and he emailed our HR department right away. He asked if it was appropriate to request an invitation to apply for the position. He then went on to say that he understood he would have a lot to learn and that he was likely not the most experienced person for the role but that he was the most excited.
He committed to being the first one in the office each day and the last one to leave once he was settled in Denver. He asked about a mentor he could connect with upon moving so that he could learn about any blind spots he may have.
We hired him for the role without a single interview. His email proved a strong eagerness and excitement about the work. He showed awareness to his inexperience but also showed the willingness to learn. By asking for a mentor, he also showed that he is working on himself constantly and wants to learn about how others experience him.
Sara Howard, founder of Blue Raven Training, LLC