Finding Entry-Level Job Candidates

When hiring a designer with years of experience, you know how to evaluate him or her for the job: The candidate should have a proven record of success, an impressive portfolio and solid references. But the criteria become trickier when you’re considering recent college graduate for a creative position and don’t have the benefit of a career path to access.

shutterstock_264708671Image from Shutterstock

In a market in which good talent is hard to find, it can make sense to search for candidates who are fresh out of school.

However, a report by The Conference Board and the Society for Human Resource Management suggests some of these new entrants to the workforce may lack the basic skills necessary to be successful in their jobs, such as writing abilities. So it’s essential to find effective means of evaluating young creatives to find the best candidates for your business. Following are some tips:

Look for real-world experience. This doesn’t mean a recent graduate needs to have designed a new corporate website or an annual report. Instead, seek related experience in the form of volunteer work, internships or other extracurricular activities. If you’re hiring someone for a junior design position, for example, an applicant who redesigned the college paper could be a good fit. So would a recent graduate who spent his or her spare time helping a local charity design a new logo or website. Just be sure the candidate’s experience relates to the open position.

Take note of professionalism. How does a candidate present him- or herself in an interview? The individual should arrive on time, dress professionally and demonstrate a positive, upbeat attitude. You may get an idea of how responsible an individual is (or is not) by inquiring about class attendance and school or project assignment deadlines. Also pay close attention to the person’s body language: A lack of eye contact, constant shifting in the seat or a lot of gesticulation can indicate you may not be getting the entire story.

Is the candidate a fit for your company’s culture? Imagine your business’s idea of “relaxed dress” is a sweater and slacks. You’re interviewing an extremely talented designer from a top school. He’s dressed in shorts and sandals and seems more interested in the amount of vacation time you offer than the job at hand. Even if the individual has the skills for the job, consider whether this person will be comfortable and successful working at your company. Don’t assume he’ll change his style or attitude once he begins working for your firm.

Don’t get too hung up on education. Everyone wants to hire a designer who studied at one of the top art schools in the country, but don’t overlook an excellent candidate because of a lack of “pedigree.” An individual who attended a small, lesser known school could be a strong hire, especially if he or she has taken extracurricular courses, completed internships or is involved with local industry groups. Work ethic can really come into play here as well: A recent graduate who worked while he or she went to school might be more motivated than one who didn’t. Remain open and give all candidates an equal opportunity to prove themselves during the interview process.

Enthusiasm is essential. When focusing on a candidate’s skills and experience, don’t forget to also evaluate the person’s passion and ambition. Asking questions that relate to the individual’s hobbies and interests—and what he or she does to attend to those interests—may help you assess enthusiasm and drive. Imagine a candidate who grew up in Montana but loves to surf; each summer, without fail, she attended a surf camp on the West Coast. Examples such as this, while not directly business-related, can give you an idea of an individual’s dedication to a personal or professional goal. Enthusiasm also may be demonstrated in the way a candidate prepared for the interview: Did he or she visit the company’s website? Did the person research your main clients? These types of actions are often good indications of someone’s curiosity and drive.

References are still important. Recent college graduates aren’t likely to have numerous individuals who can speak to their professional strengths, but their references can still be telling. Maybe a candidate lists a college professor as one of his or her references. When you call, the professor says he didn’t know he was a reference. Even if the professor has generally positive things to say about the individual, the fact that the applicant didn’t ask the professor’s permission beforehand speaks to the candidate’s professionalism and attention to detail. Also make sure the references you receive contain substance. Someone who says a candidate is “a great kid” isn’t really giving you useful information. Ask for specific actions, such as job performance, attendance records, enthusiasm and ability to get along with others.

While an entry-level candidate’s professionalism, appearance and drive are key, don’t forget that you need to do your own homework before the interview process even begins. Make sure you know exactly which hard and soft skills are most critical to success. By determining which traits are most relevant for the role and preparing interview questions that shed light on these qualities, you’ll increase your chances of hiring someone who can grow with your team.