What HR Wants in Entry-Level Workers

If new SHRM research is any indication, HR professionals have a pretty good idea of the attributes they’re looking for in entry-level job candidates.

HR leaders aren’t quite so sure, however, of their organization’s ability to spot the skills they’re searching for.

Produced in collaboration with Mercer, SHRM’s just-released Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey polled 521 HR professionals. Overall, 97 percent of respondents said dependability was very or extremely important in determining whether an applicant possessed the necessary qualifications to be hired into an entry-level position, according to SHRM. Eighty-seven percent said the same about integrity, with 84 percent and 83 percent saying that respect and teamwork, respectively, were very or extremely important.

In addition, 78 percent indicated that dependability was one of the three most important traits an entry-level candidate can possess. Forty-nine percent placed integrity in their top three, with 36 percent considering teamwork a top-three quality.

Looking ahead at what skills and traits would best serve entry-level job seekers in the coming three to five years, 62 percent pointed to adaptability, while 49 percent singled out initiative and 49 percent said critical thinking skills would be most desirable.

Respondents were also asked to gauge their faith in the methods their firms use to assess the aforementioned qualities (and a handful of others, such as professionalism and customer focus). Their confidence levels aren’t exactly off the charts.

With regard to evaluating the integrity of an entry-level candidate, for instance, a mere 15 percent said they thought the phone interviews they conduct with these applicants were effective. Just 13 percent of HR professionals reported confidence in their company’s ability to accurately assess integrity through telephone screens.

A simple phone conversation will only tell you so much about a candidate, of course. Respondents did feel that they could get a good sense of an applicant’s character in person, with 96 percent saying they were very or extremely confident or moderately confident or confident in on-site interviews as a way to assess integrity. Ninety-five percent expressed similar belief in panel interviews, with 97 percent saying the same about situational judgment tests.

Still, just 20 percent of those surveyed described themselves as being very or extremely confident in their organization’s ability to effectively assess the overall skills of entry-level applicants, while 11 percent said they were not at all confident or only slightly confident.

Such findings “may be due to an over-reliance on applications and resumes, even though most HR professionals believe them to be ineffective in assessing entry-level candidates, simply because they are ingrained in our culture,” says Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM.

“This is a clear indication for a need for new, more effective approaches,” says Esen, noting that improvements in the use of predictive data modeling and assessment technologies could begin to influence the methods HR professionals use to evaluate entry-level candidates.

“Although few HR professionals indicated that their organizations currently used data-based assessment methods such as personality and cognitive tests or simulations,” adds Esen, “the use of these tools may grow in the future.”