Hiring sucks. Hiring for entry-level positions sucks even more. At least with your higher-level roles, you know what the profile of a strong candidate looks like. The primary challenge comes down to finding that candidate at the right price. It’s a different story when it comes to young talent.
Not only do you have to find a candidate who can do the job effectively and fit in with your company’s culture, but you have to know how to identify what that person would look like in the first place.
They aren’t going to have 3+ years of relatable experience. They won’t have more than one or two professional references that aren’t their family friend or a professor. They will likely know nothing about what doing the job day-to-day entails. Forget having the necessary and relevant skills; they don’t even know what those skills are.
Yes, hiring is difficult. Yes, there is a better approach than relying on static resumes and boring interviews, and putting faith in the fact that someone paid a whole bunch of money to sit in a classroom to half-listen to academics who know as much about inside sales, customer success, and marketing automation as…I’ll let you pick the imagery. Use your imagination (I went with this).
Entry-Level Hiring Practices You Can Count On
The first step to achieving a no-nonsense hiring process is to know what the ideal young professional looks like. What type of experience do they actually bring to the table? What are the soft skills less likely to be developed, and therefore must-haves at the time of hiring? What traits and behavior will give you confidence this is a person who is going to learn the job quickly and be enjoyable to train and work with?
Here are the top four elements I look for in young hires and some insight into how they tend to be revealed in applicants. Strong candidates don’t need to have all of these in spades. I certainly don’t think it’s a healthy practice to hold out for that unicorn hire at this level, but the right young person will have a mix of these traits. You should be able to trust that this person will not only kick ass at their initial job responsibilities but also show clear potential to grow alongside your company and team members.
Track Record of Value Creation
I didn’t say “work experience” because not all work experience is equal. Anyone can have jobs for 3-6 months, but few go above and beyond the job description. Excelling in one professional environment is the number one indicator that someone will excel in yours. Nothing can replace solid evidence of getting shit done. There’s something profound about being paid by an employer to provide a service to a paying customer and exceeding expectations. It’s just a different level of reliability.
*Young people, you should not only be kicking ass in your daily responsibilities but also identifying ways how the role can be more valuable.
On a 1-5 scale, what a 4 might look like: He waited tables for two years through high school and was regularly a top tip earner. He has a couple great stories of dealing with difficult customers and although he struggled in the job at first, he stuck with it and figured out how to excel. His reference tells you they would be excited to hire him again.
I break communication down into two important categories: 1. Communication as a skill and 2. Communication as judgment. Both are must haves for entry-level talent.
Communication as a skill simply includes strong verbal and written competency. There are very few, if any, grammatical errors in their writing. They are concise (almost everyone overwrites), and they are generally comfortable speaking on camera or conversing in an interview.
Communication as judgment is huge. It’s probably the second greatest indicator of future success next to having a track record of value creation. Someone with judgment will respond to all emails within 24 hours or less during an application process, know when to CC, will always send written thank you notes or at least email follow-up’s, and say all the right things and avoid all the wrong things. They can sell themselves through a good story, know not to speak negatively about a past colleague or work experience, and have a general likability factor.
On a 1-5 scale, what a 3 might look like: She had 1-2 minor typos in application essays or over email. Overall was articulate in an interview setting, but also didn’t quite have that professional polish or high energy you want to see from an eager candidate. She gives you confidence she can handle herself well on a call with a customer, but will need more up front training to deliver above and beyond customer service or handle objections well on a sales call.
People tend to have a track record of value creation and strong communication skills because they are intellectually curious. They are always thinking about big ideas and the bigger picture of whatever environment they happen to find themselves in. Someone who is curious about the world around them is someone you should take a chance on, given they provide you with a reason to be confident they can execute on that curiosity.
On a 1-5 scale, what a 2 might look like: She treated her interview as if it was just a Q&A session. They answered your questions as directly as possible and they were unable to read in between the lines of what you were trying to find out at all. When you asked if they had any questions for you, they didn’t (gasp!). They don’t seem to be passionate about anything in particular.
I don’t care what position you’re hiring for, you’d better look for people who have ambition and a bit of an edge to them. They only way to build a successful company is to surround yourself with people who love how difficult to build this effing business will be. I’m not talking Michael Jordan-level all-consuming competitiveness here – only the founder and a couple early team members will likely be on that level – but your best young employees will have that spark, a little bit of fire in the belly.
On a 1-5 scale, what a 4 might look like: She prides herself on her history of getting shit done. She can speak to times where she stepped up to a big challenge and worked her ass off to overcome it. She probably has some type of athletics or another competitive hobby in her background.
Apart from some specific technical skills for certain roles, these are the four elements to identify in entry-level candidates. A candidate who has these qualities will quickly make up for a lack of experience and have far more potential to become a leader with your company versus a 9-5’er just looking for a paycheck and a startup t-shirt.