Hiring Graduates: Is brightest always best?

For many professional firms, key hiring decisions focus on the current year’s graduates and whether these applicants will add value to their organisation.  Since quite high costs are usually associated with the appointment of graduates (induction and training, coaching and secondment, real work exposure opportunities, and performance-lag until they are proficient in the role), choosing a fully suitable person is crucial.  Professional firms cannot afford the luxury of taking on someone who will later prove unsuccessful – or, equally importantly, risk failing to select someone who later turns out to be a star performer for a competitor.

Case Study 1: A matter of detail

After using Selector Insight for two years, a client company analysed the behavioural characteristics that matched the most suitable appointments for several roles.  They were interested in hiring graduates who had succeeded academically, and because they were a respected firm, had little difficulty in attracting those who were both qualified and gifted. However, they still needed to make a choice, and for this they used some interesting criteria.

The right mix: “Qualified and gifted” were naturally seen as essential, but even more important was ensuring the applicant matched the role.  One role called for a focus on tasks, requiring orderliness, attention to detail, and the need to work in small, qualified teams.  There was close supervision initially, to ensure the new staff member adhered to rules and procedures, and while this would in time ease off, there was an expectation that the work completed would be regularly checked on.  To ensure professional competence, the successful applicant needed a desire for continuing education, the ability to focus on the various tasks and should expect to encounter pressure to complete them in the allocated time.  While the score on the Logical reasoning scale indicated the operational focus of a candidate, it was the personal characteristics and their ideal working environment that provided the pertinent selection criterion.

Case Study 2: A question of attitude

A second key role called for applicants to be strategically focused, competitive and enjoy the opportunity to operate in business. This role called for a team player who would be confident around potential clients, but not too comfortable or overly-familiar.

There had been previous, unsuccessful appointments to this position: interestingly, these people had often presented well at the interview phase, and had glowing reports back from the day-long assessment activities. However, they had proved too sure of themselves too quickly, which had required management intervention.

By contrast, the successful appointees had similar characteristics, but knew when to hold back and refrain from comment, and weremore anxious about being successful than the candidates who failed to work out.  On analysing the scores (qualities) of this second bracket of high performers, the client was able to identify behaviour characteristics around extraversion and interaction, which were often high, but were moderated by self-confidence scores, which ensured they did not ‘over-do’ the intensity in their interactions.

The formula for success: In follow-up research it was found that the personal style of the candidate was more important than their ability levels.  In short, ability + correct attitude + application = success

This was clearly illustrated in the findings. While the majority of the high performers had high scores in verbal and numerical reasoning, there were several ‘star’ performers who also had:

  • gained a strong reputation for being a team player;
  • were considerate of others;
  • worked hard and shared the success;
  • were willing to lend a hand at all times.

This further supports the evidence that hiring ability is important, butunless ability is combined with application, all an organisation does is hire a bright person.  Ability plus application was demonstrated as leading to success.

Putting it to the test
A prominent software development company hires graduates to develop and build new products.  Many of the applicants and the appointments have English as a second language, so it is important that the appointment matches the best team environment and project culture.  The applicant’s computer skills had been a previous consideration factor, and management had been more interested in ascertaining knowledge of programming and software development.  Later examination of the most successful candidates showed that these skills did not set them apart. What did was:

  • an interest in continuing to learn;
  • the individual’s team chemistry;
  • attention to detail;
  • being comfortable about putting in additional time to keep a project up to schedule.

Case Study 3: A matter of size?

Ability scores indicate the candidate’s “size” of intellectual ability, but high scores may not be the most suitable indicator for success in the role.  An organisation which took science graduates into its monitoring department had a reputation for taking only the ‘A’ graduate.  In a year when they had more positions than applicants, they selected some who had attained their degree with a number of C and B passes.

A follow-up analysis identified the high performers in the role, using a number of information sources (managers, team leaders, stake-holders, and clients).  Imagine their shock and surprise when the staff member with the lowest academic qualifications was consistently identified as the best performer and an outstanding researcher.

It became obvious as to why she stood out so clearly when her personal style and work interests were examined.  Here’s what they found:

  • Her focus was on the people and her relationships.
  • She was a team player, who liked to win, but expected a high level of interaction in the relationships around her work.
  • She was confident, but not arrogant: this was seen by clients as being indicative of an official who wished to assist, but was aware that the rules needed to be adhered to as well.
  • Although she was working in a sole role, and had considerable authority, she was someone who included others in the decisions and negotiated a win for all parties.

In summary: Achieving a clear idea

Successful companies are those which have a very clear idea of exactly who they need to hire, what behaviours led to previous years’ applicants being successful staff members, and the importance of having average, high or sensational achievers in the organisation.  Firms which seek good, solid performers to fill a role that is routine and regular will find that their turnover is lower than those who seek ‘stars’ and then bore them to tears with endless mundane activity!”

Grant Amos