Personality matters: hiring graduates with no experience

by Caroline Dann,Stephanie Zillman29 Oct 2012

Graduate employees are a vital component of the workforce – but how do you choose the right candidate when they all have the same, limited professional experience?

For one HR leader, it’s a combination of excellent grades and extra-curricular activities that sort the wheat from the chaff. “Grades are important, and through the assessment process we seek to get an understanding of the applicant’s analytic skills as well as how they work with others,” said Keith Wilkinson, general manager people and culture, operations, resourcing and people services at energy firm Origin.

“We tend to look for well-rounded individuals that demonstrate an interest in extracurricular activities, for example sports or volunteer work. It’s very important is that they align with and understand the culture and values of the company,” he added.

Getting in early is also the key, and Wilkinson told HC Origin makes it presence felt at universities through job boards, career fairs and information sessions.

“We are mindful that we establish brand loyalty as early in the student lifecycle as possible, so rather than waiting till the final year to engage students, we do so from the moment they commence at university,” he said.

Liz Atchison, graduate resourcing and development senior consultant at legal firm Minter Ellison agreed with Wilkinson – that personality becomes paramount if professional experience is uniform.

Again, extra-curricular activities and a sense of team spirit will often be the deciding factors between candidates. “We’re looking for well-rounded people…what they’re interested in outside of their university degree.”

Applicants could be bright, have a lot of internships under their belt as well as some commercial experience, but if they don’t enjoy, or aren’t successful at working in a team, they will struggle in their organisation’s cultural environment. “We have a saying that the small things become the big things in terms of a screening process. And that’s what we’re looking for – people who are genuinely interested in working for us as a firm,” she said.


  • by Kate 30/10/2012 10:33:46 AM

    Hi Caroline and Stephanie,

    Thanks for the article, I tend to agree with most of the insights you’ve shared – it’s tough to pick the best of the bunch when so many graduates present a similar picture on paper. It’s situations like this where recruiters need to utilise selection methods that measure a wide range of characteristics (not just university grades) and that help discriminate between candidates in a fair and objective way.

    For example, psychometric assessments measuring problem solving ability, personality, work preferences, and cultural fit are great additions to a graduate recruitment process. At Onetest, we find a lot of our graduate employer clients commonly use cognitive ability testing, values/cultural alignment assessments and behavioural profiling (as well as processes like interviews and assessment centres) to help them find the right person for the job. As you say, applicants can be bright, have great experience and present themselves well on paper....but what will you really find when you peel back the layers? Will they fit with the team, role and organisation more broadly? Will they be reliable? Do they have the capability to think on their feet? Carefully chosen assessments are one way you can uncover such traits during high-stakes graduate recruitment processes....hopefully leading to more intelligent hires!

  • by Kim 1/11/2012 9:16:40 AM

    Using participation in volunteer work effectively excludes any graduate who has had to work to support themselves during university - effectively ensuring the continued middle class franchise on access to meaningful work. I would envisage that the "lean and hungry" would equally have the skills and drive to succeed.

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