Experience Matters, But Certain Skills Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

Identifying these valuable skills requires leaders to look beyond experience and the type of skills an employee could simply learn to do the job effectively. They must dig deep and rethink the questions they are asking to uncover these traits.

The secret behind great companies is, and always has been, great people. The right people, receiving the right support, have the power to drive limitless growth and innovation. Most, if not all executives, would agree with this notion; however, many executives overlook the importance that entering talent, specifically entry-level talent, can play in this equation. Employees early in their careers are hungry for opportunity, eager to learn and contribute, and they possess the ability to approach situations with fresh perspectives and ideas that can help your business remain relevant in an ever-changing world. What don’t they possess? Experience and job-specific skills.

Unfortunately, many employers require an arbitrary level of experience from entry-level candidates. In some cases, qualified and high-potential candidates won’t even apply for certain roles due to experience or skill requirements the candidate hasn’t had a chance to obtain yet. Or, even worse, great potential candidates are being screened out of consideration by algorithms that are scraping resumes for specific knock-out items such as years of experience. When employers set the experience bar too high, they are not only missing out on quality candidates for entry-level roles, they are passing up people with valuable skills who could help shape the future of the organization.

Identifying these valuable skills requires leaders to look beyond experience and the type of skills an employee could simply learn to do the job effectively. They must dig deep and rethink the questions they are asking to uncover these traits. As we’ve found with the entry-level candidates my organization works with, the right combination of assessment and exploratory conversation can make all the difference. Here are some of these types of qualities you should be on the lookout for. If a candidate lacks the experience and teachable skills you are seeking, but they possess some of these characteristics, don’t write them off, at least not yet.

Communication: Communication is no longer just about writing e-mails and having in-person meetings with co-workers and clients. In this digital age, this concept has gotten more complex. Candidates who have a natural ability to communicate in different ways, with different people, and through different platforms is a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked. Additionally, someone who can naturally adapt to the communication needs of a particular situation is invaluable.

Problem Solving: This trait is tough to identify on most job applications. However, many hiring managers do ask candidates to discuss a problem they’ve encountered and how they solved it. Don’t be quick to glaze over this. Dig deeper and find out whether that candidate possesses the ability to be a true problem solver in your organization. Also, don’t be quick to dismiss a college experience or an activity he or she describes. Remember, these candidates are not able to draw from professional experience; however, the strategic thinking they used to solve a problem could go a long way for your company.

Leadership: Think beyond the role the candidate is applying for. Do you see him or her growing at your organization, perhaps even into a leadership position? Investing in this individual now as an entry-level candidate could pay long-term dividends. Carefully consider the candidate’s approach to solving problems, his or her coachability, how he or she works with people, and how the individual carries him or herself. Don’t overlook previous leadership experience either, even if it’s a role they held in college or within a group. There is a good chance they took away quite a bit from that experience that could be helpful to your organization.

Resilience: Because entry-level candidates are coming into the workforce without professional experience, mistakes are going to be made. Everyone makes mistakes. How someone recovers and uses what they learned to grow is something that sets that person apart. During the recruitment process, try to uncover ways the candidate learned from his or her errors and how well he or she bounced back after making them. Seeking out this information will help you determine how well that individual could grow within your company.

Initiative: This is another trait that’s blurry on paper. Initiative is not just about how late a candidate works or how many projects he or she is tackling. Think of it more as the willingness to go outside the scope of his or her work for the greater good. Is the candidate someone who likes to think up new ideas? Does he or she go the extra mile to solve problems outside his or her wheelhouse? When someone possesses this trait, he or she could be a valuable resource in and outside of his or her entry-level role.

Collaboration: Think of collaboration beyond teamwork and a candidate’s ability to simply work alongside others on projects. When you’re trying to seek out whether this candidate possesses this trait, consider the ways he or she collaborates. Can he or she provide valuable input to others and seek feedback about him or herself? Can he or she think outside of the box and message his or her points effectively to others? When an individual is able to do these types of things while gaining buy-in for his or her ideas from others, make sure you are giving him or her a second look.

During the entry-level hiring process, a candidate’s experience and teachable skills should not be discounted entirely. However, emphasizing the characteristics listed above may help uncover an individual with great potential who otherwise would have been overlooked.

Scott Dettman is CEO of Avenica, an education-to-work platform based in Minneapolis, MN.