Entry-level candidates may be short on experience in their chosen careers, but most already have soft skills to thrive in in a position. Yes, they have soft skills – even though they may be coming to you direct from high school or college and with limited work experience. What kind of soft skills do you look for in an entry-level job candidate? And how do you get an accurate, unbiased assessment of those skills?

Finding entry level candidates with the right soft skills

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal about the draw of liberal-arts majors to employers, cited a survey of 180 companies by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). In the survey, employers named four of the top five traits that “matter most” to them: teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude and strong oral communications. Conversely, surveyed employers rated technical skills 10th.

The Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey, recently released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in collaboration with Mercer and funded by the Joyce Foundation, sought to identify the skills employers are looking for in entry level candidates. What did it find? Almost all polled (97%) felt dependability/reliability is very or extremely important in an entry-level candidate, and at least 83% feel the same about integrity, respect and teamwork, in that order. Additionally, 78% said having customer focus is a top priority.

Following the adage “good people know other good people,” the SHRM/Mercer study also found that 87% of HR professionals said they use employee referrals to find entry-level job candidates – more those who rely on than their organization’s web and/or career site (72%).

Most methods of assessing soft skills come up short

To assess entry-level candidates’ skills, HR professionals rely heavily on traditional hiring and selection processes. In the SHRM study, to find evidence of soft skills, 95% used in-person interviews, 87% studied applications and 86% reviewed resumes. However, even though most polled routinely used these methods, they weren’t satisfied with their ability to collect soft skills data. Only about 16% were very or extremely confident that applications produced what they needed, while 17% felt the same way about resumes, notes the survey.

References provide the best feedback, even from those first jobs

A far better, more reliable picture of candidates’ soft skills comes from their references, who may be managers at shops and restaurants where applicants worked while in college. It can be done easily and quickly online, too.

SkillSurvey’s Pre-Hire 360® utilizes a unique combination of behavioral science and talent analytics to secure feedback from candidates’ references. Recruiter Theresa Mazzaro, who hires recent graduates for nurse residency/extern programs, advises “Even feedback from when a graduate was a waiter or coffee shop barista tells us about their customer service aptitude, and their ability to handle conflict. These are important critical skills that we couldn’t capture without Pre-Hire 360.” Read her full hiring story.

How does it work? SkillSurvey’s team of I/O scientists has identified a meaningful set of behaviors or soft skills (e.g. problem solving and adaptability, personal value commitment, professionalism and interpersonal skills) for each job. References go online and submit detailed and candid feedback on how a candidate demonstrated these behaviors in their previous position. Using SkillSurvey’s tool, 85% of references typically respond and complete the online survey, and most do in less than two days.

Check out this video to see it in action.

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