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How can leaders can assess the work readiness of new graduates?

5 min read


The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

What is one way leaders can assess whether potential hires who just graduated are really work-ready, beyond the usual interview protocols?

1. Simple — ask what they plan to contribute

The best way I have found candidates who can contribute on day one is to ask them to contribute before day one with some meaningful ideas. I do not ask them to work for free, but to list things that, knowing what they know about the company, they would like to enhance in their first week. Lots of folks never get back to me. Those who get back to me with good ideas have proven to be good hires. — Gerard Murphy, Mosaic Storage Systems Inc.

2. Utilize job-specific case studies

As a part of our company’s interview process, we will sometimes ask candidates to do a case study. If we are hiring someone in marketing, maybe we’ll have them write a press release or for a software engineer, we’ll have them do a coding exam. It’s important to know if candidates actually know how to apply their skills to something that’s pertinent to the hire. — Luke

3. Hire them as contractors first

If you think someone might be a good fit, hire them as a contractor and give them a project to complete. This allows you to see how they interact with the team and shows if they are a good cultural fit. If it works out, you’ll be certain they are ready to join your organization. If it doesn’t work out, you save yourself from potentially making a bad hire and you have a completed project. Win-win. — Arian Radmand, CoachUp

4. Throw a curve ball

Potential hires straight out of school are trained on how to behave on interviews and what to include in their resumes and cover letters. If you throw out a business curve ball, like inviting them to a lunch with a current client or asking them to review a deal proposal, you can find out how well they think on their feet and how well they respond to real-world pressures. — Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

5. Focus on trainability, not experience

Since they’re not going to have much work experience (if any), don’t focus on that. Instead, fashion your interview questions around how trainable the candidate thinks they are. You could pose questions on how they performed on team school projects, or ask for good examples of how they took direction from an instructor. — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

6. Give them a real-world problem to solve

Test their skills through a simulation. Keep it open-ended to see how they respond. I typically like to use real business issues/problems (present or past) and to see how their take and approach differs from my team’s. Different can be good (so can similar) but most valuable of all is seeing how they work. If you have time, having them work with an employee can be a great litmus test, too. — Alec Bowers, Abraxas Dynamics

7. Screen for self-awareness

We often ask applicants to leave a message on my voicemail about why RJMetrics is a good fit for them. The phrasing here is deliberate: we are not asking why they are good for us; we are asking why we are good for them. Assuming they answer the question we’ve actually asked, it provides insights into how much they are thinking about their own career goals and how this role fits into that picture. — Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

8. Test them out

There’s nothing wrong with having a test period for potential employees. Are they passionate enough to work for your business? Test it out and give them a project to complete that they’d do for free anyway. If they accomplish this with enthusiasm and drive, then they are probably going to be solid employees. — Matt Wilson, Under30Experiences

9. Assess their time-management skills

I am a stickler for timely deliverables. I don’t just demand great work, I demand it in a reasonable amount of time. Instead of voicing my expectations, I ask about their abilities. For instance, if I’m hiring a copywriter, instead of revealing that I need a perfectly edited, strongly supported, 600-word piece done in less than 2 hours, I ask them how long it would take them. — Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media

10. Pre-screen with detailed questionnaires

Request that any potential employees fill out a comprehensive, job-specific questionnaire before they come in for the interview. The questionnaire can provide you an insight into how each potential employee thinks and what their strengths and weaknesses are before the interview. — Nathaniel Victor, Sonic Electronix Inc.