Do You Need Work Experience For Entry Level Job?

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Recent report (March 2018) by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicate that the largest unemployment rate in the country was recorded in the age cohort 20–24 at 19.2 per cent. This paints a grim picture of what recent college graduates are facing part of which is as a result of employers demanding experienced candidates for entry level jobs.

For recent college graduates, nothing is more frustrating than applying for entry-level jobs that require experience. With degrees in hand, an eagerness to perform and a willingness to learn on the job, these prospective hires could be making a significant impact in the workforce.

Unfortunately, employers are limiting their ability to hire a large group of high-performing entry-level personnel by setting the barrier of experience too high for many otherwise qualified candidates. This hiring strategy, which may help simplify the recruiting process by screening out more applicants, is holding back companies that need the best talent at the entry-level in order to stay competitive.

Experience ain’t equal to success

An age old paradigm by organizations hiring entry level employes has been that those with even modest level of experience offer more value to the business. However this is now being challenged by a new breed of entry level job seekers: the High Performing Entry Level Employees (HPEL). These lot of millennial hires may lack direct work experience in a similar role, but they can bring other attributes, and less baggage, than their more experienced counterparts.

This breed of job seekers have a natural malleability thus blend well and fast with company’s culture. They also bring fresh and interesting perspectives to the table that are informed by learning, listening and intuition. This is contrary to the experienced lot who may already have been “moulded in their own ways”.

The HPELs’ drive to create positive impact at the workplace is one benefit that rigid organizations could miss out on. This job seekers, though devoid of any previous work experience, are adept at learning and acquiring new skills and this is strengthened by the fact that they are still quite from their academic experience. Beside, these inexperienced college graduates also bring on board intangible benefits such as teamwork, resilience and problem-solving abilities – very critical attributes for job success.

The value of retention

While businesses keen on hiring experienced entry level job seekers might think its a plus, there are risks worth mentioning. Once hired and onboarded, the highly qualified or rather experienced new employees often experience their entry-level roles as repetitive, mundane, and without purpose. Discouraged and disenchanted with the organization, they start looking outwards long before they even hit the break-even point for the employer.

Failing to fully realize the potential of their technically competent and highly-qualified employees, these organizations find themselves back in the recruitment field seeking new talent to fill the same positions again.

One just needs to aggregate all talent acquisition costs including recruitment, onboarding and the lost productivity hours to see the unnecessary expense such organizations incur courtesy of their misguided entry level talent acquisition strategy. This cost could be two to three times the annual salary for the same position.

To address this issue, smart companies are filling these roles with HPELs, who are a more natural fit with the positions. Given their desire to establish themselves and their resiliency, it’s reasonable HPELs would have higher rates of retention (but don’t forget they are millennials), promotion and professional success relative to their experienced counterparts.

Understanding the “high performing” part right

There is no denying that high performing candidates are a great asset to any progressive organization, however locking out entry level job seekers who lack work experience is never a wise criteria of getting the right talent. The term high performing must be re-defined. Any super company must rethink its strategy of attracting the HPEL among recent college graduates.

Right from the job vacany posting and job description, the organizations’ goal should be to attract as many candidates as possible that are interested in the company, regardless of the course or major pursued in college or work experience (Read PwC Kenya Graduate Recruitment 2018). The job posting should be based on required skills and competencies — some of which can be trained — as well as experience, while making it clear that all interested candidates are encouraged to apply.

The interview process should also be framed in such a way that the most “hungry and driven” fresh graduates are identified with or without the work experience. Questions should border around transferable skills and real-life examples of how the job seekers have applied these skills successfully in a non-professional position, volunteer setting or team-oriented activity.

These skills are often a more accurate measure of a candidate’s future success than work experience or even a college degree. Simply put, a lack of work experiences should not be an obstacle to hiring quality talent; the transferable skills these candidates possess more than make up for any downside.

While classroom learning is an important capability, for the new grad with little-to-no professional work experience, it’s life experience that counts. Employers or interviewers that understand the value of non-professional experience will seek to know from the candidates about their success in sports, arts, leadership or entrepreneurship to gauge whether they possess the soft skills necessary for success in the workplace.

Finally, hiring companies especially those that have embraced the use of Applicant Tracking Systems, should not automatically dump resumes that don’t tick every box of the job description and experience requirements for the position. There are many other indicators of future success besides work experience, coursework and a diploma. Companies should look beyond the usual and expected CV fodder and consider how these HPELs can contribute.

The cost of inflexibility

With the war for talent getting fierce by the day, any serious organization must by now be strategizing on how they will create a strong appeal to the best candidates at the entry level (and all other levels as well). Being an employer of choice should be the unending journey of improvement for such companies. A change of paradigm and subsequently the recruitment strategy is inevitable if this is to be a reality.

Failure to think transformatively as far as fresh graduate talent is concerned will in the long run be costly to organizations’ talent management practices. Succession planning will be in jeopardy and their entry level talent pipelines will be just empty pipelines. The myth for experienced fresh graduates must be discarded and the high performing entry level employees be sought after in order to inject fresh perspectives and long term thinking into the business.

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