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Interviewing For Entry-Level Roles: 3 Things Recruiters Should Do

As less-experienced professionals, entry-level candidates may have weaker resumes than their peers, but don't be too quick to count them out. As a recruiter or HR manager, your interview skills are fundamental to determining which entry-level candidates or interns are the best fit for your company. Interviews with junior-level candidates can often be a little more challenging because they usually lack extensive job experience and may not know how to navigate specific questions like a more seasoned professional would.

With this in mind, it's important to adjust your approach when screening greener candidates so you can parse out their potential despite a lack of concrete experience. Use these tips to separate their background from their ability and select the highest quality entry-level candidates for your business.

Understand the Essential Skills for Entry-Level Workers

Without clear job history that correlates to a given role, it's a recruiter or hiring managers' job to try to uncover alignments between the candidates' skills and disposition that can be useful in the position for which they are interviewing. Entry level positions can vary quite a bit, but a good starting point is to understand that there are a few essential skills -- both soft and hard -- that should be required for just about any job. In many cases, you can start to decipher these from the candidates' resume and cover letter as well as how they interact over the phone and email leading up to your video or face-to-face screening.

RELATED: 3 Methods for Building an Entry-Level Talent Pipeline

1. Communication

This is the one we hear the most from recruiters and hiring managers. Having both verbal and non-verbal communication skills is essential even in the most junior role or internship. Pay close attention to how the candidate conducts him or herself during the interview. How is their voice on the phone? Do they seem to have a sense of humor? Does this seem to be a person who can accept constructive criticism and be resilient in the face of a challenge? What is their social media presence like? Even having good manners (saying please, thank you, following up quickly on emails and phone calls) can give you insights into how they will communicate with colleagues or clients.

2. Organization and Time-Management

Academic performance can help you paint a picture of how disciplined and self-directed your candidate is. A stellar transcript and active involvement or leadership in on-campus activities are never a bad sign. However, keep in mind that just because someone has a 4.0, doesn't mean they will be adaptable to the shifting demands of a dynamic workplace. You'll want to assess this directly in your interview questions to see how well they can manage time and juggle various projects.

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3. Ambition and Eagerness to Learn

Even more than possessing innate intelligence, someone with high-potential for growth will be someone who is an avid learner and ambitious to take on new responsibilities as their role develops. One EVP of HR at a French ad-tech company says she looks explicitly for candidates who show signs of "intellect, open-mindedness, and passion'' both for the company and for the role. Remember, technical skills can be taught, but ambition and willingness to learn may be that certain je ne sais quoi that separates the best entry-level talent from their peers.

Ask the Right Questions

Considering the soft skills that are necessary to succeed as an entry-level hire, the onus falls on the interviewer to make sure they are asking the most valuable questions to determine both skills and cultural fit for the role. Having targetted questions will allow you to gauge your candidate's competencies and assess their potential for development.

Try asking the following:

  • "Despite not having much experience, why do you think you're a good fit for this job?"
  • "What was it that drew you to apply for this role?"
  • "When scheduling your time, how do you determine your priorities?"
  • "Can you describe a time when you worked as part of a team to achieve a goal?"
  • "What skills would you like to develop while you work here?"
  • "What would you do if a manager assigned you an unfamiliar task?"

Remember to ask detailed situational questions rather than behavioral ones. Posing hypothetical scenarios will help you assess how candidates approach work-related situations, even if they don't have formal experience.

RELATED: Understanding Challenges Around Filling Entry Level Positions

Assign Homework

Besides pre-screening and insightful interview questions, one of the most effective ways to assess entry-level talent is to assign homework. Not only does this allow you an inside look at their potential performance, giving them a task to complete will help you weed out less motivated candidates who don't want to take on extra work. Most importantly, you'll get to see how this person will handle something like writing a piece of original content, creating an expense report, or communicating with your clients and customers. If the homework assignment relates to the everyday work, candidates are more likely to appreciate the exposure to what the day-to-day responsibilities will be on the job and assess their own interest as well, minimizing the risk of turnover that sometimes comes with hiring less experienced talent.

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Julie Briggs

Julie Briggs is an independent business and HR blogger based in New York City. She is a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Purchase College with a bachelor's in Sociology. Her career has spanned internationally and across a diverse array of industries. She specializes in human capital, recruiting, leadership, and employee engagement.

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