What to Look for When Hiring Recent Grads

Graduation season is upon us, welcoming the latest batch of college graduates to the workforce. The job search process is notoriously difficult for recent grads because they’re often competing against more seasoned and experienced applicants. Similarly, the hiring process can be a challenge for employers who are interested in hiring for entry level roles because it can be hard to identify which applicants have the most potential, especially when these applicants don’t have much experience on their resumes.

Fortunately, the hiring process doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. The way you evaluate a mid-career professional shouldn’t be the same as the way you evaluate someone looking for their first job. When it comes to hiring recent grads, here are a few things to specifically look out for:

1. Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is a great quality to look for in recent grads because it exists separately from an applicant’s background and experience, something that many of them lack. And fortunately, enthusiasm is pretty easy to spot early on in the application process. If a cover letter as listed as “optional,” did they go ahead and send one anyway? Was the cover letter clearly personalized to your company? These are quick signs of enthusiasm in the earliest stages of the hiring process. After the interview, some applicants may continue to show their eagerness and interest in the role by sending a thank you letter or email, or by following up with more questions about the position.

2. Attention to Detail

While raw enthusiasm is a wonderful trait, it will only go so far if it isn’t accompanied with strong attention to detail. It’s hard to forgive a resume that’s riddled with typos, or a cover letter that is clearly written for a different company. Attention to detail is one of those traits that is so important in entry level positions because it demonstrates a level of professionalism and conscientiousness that is essential to job success. Many entry level roles involve some degree of manual or repetitive tasks, and you want to trust that your employees will be able to complete these tasks relatively error-free.

Attention to detail isn’t just the absence of mistakes. You can identify a candidate’s attention to detail in the interview process as well. Did they come prepared to the interview with questions specific to your company? Did they pay attention and practice active listening throughout the interview? These are all strong signs of potential in a recent graduate.

3. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are extremely valuable signals for candidate potential because they’re associated with learning ability. The ability to learn quickly and apply new information is particularly important for entry level roles since they’ll have to learn a ton of new job skills in a short period of time. What’s interesting is that these abilities all fall under the umbrella of cognitive aptitude, which is one of the strongest predictors of job success. In fact, cognitive aptitude is significantly more predictive of job performance than experience, interviews, and education. Pre-employment assessments can be used to quickly evaluate which applicants have high cognitive aptitude, which is correlated with how quickly they will pick up new skills on the job.

4. Any Relevant Experience

This may seem obvious, but when you’re evaluating recent graduates, you may need to broaden your definition of “relevant experience.” Most recent grads will have very limited job experience, so this means you should take into account just about anything under the umbrella of “relevant,” including internships, volunteering experience, part-time jobs, coursework, and even hobbies.

When evaluating these elements on someone’s resume, you should look out for some of the qualities we mentioned earlier in the article. Maybe their completion of a rigorous honors program could serve as a signal of their eagerness to learn more and follow through on difficult challenges. Maybe their part-time job working in a lab is an indication that they have strong attention to detail. These types of details can help highlight the candidates that show the greatest potential to excel in their first job.