How to Determine if an Inexperienced Candidate Will Be a Great Employee

March 17, 2016

The Catch-22 of first time job seekers is that you need a job in order to get experience, but you need experience in order to get a job. Most young job hopefuls, whether still in high school or fresh out of college, manage to overcome this. The conundrum we hear far less about is the challenge faced by the recruiters and managers who hire these newcomers into the workplace. 

Without any past work experiences to talk about during the interview, how is it possible to assess these candidates for likely future performance?

Happily, if you hire for attitude, this works whether a candidate has previous work experience or not. Attitude starts developing when we’re quite young.

How one company determines if inexperienced candidates are the right fit

I recently worked with a successful food-service franchise company looking to solve this challenge. With an employee ratio dominated by high-school and college-age people, the company brand is largely defined by employees who serve with a smile. 

The actual job skills for this position are easy; with a little training these skills can be taught. But they still need workers who smile pretty much nonstop and who find it easy to converse with customers of all ages and backgrounds.

Finding candidates with the right attitude is tough for them, and if you’ve ever interacted with a typical teenager, you can probably understand why.

“How can our franchise owners identify inexperienced candidates with the right attitude for our culture?” was the big question this client brought.

To answer this question, we came up with the key attitudes their franchise owners need to look for in selecting young, inexperienced workers who are good attitudinal fits for the company culture. Your organization may be looking for different kinds of attitudes from your younger workers, but let this example serve as a model.

Determining if candidates have the right attitude for the job

Below is a summary of two of the key attitudes this particular company was looking for, along with some of the interview questions we created and a sampling of the kinds of responses they got during their first time out with this new hiring system.

Required attitude #1: Helper

High performers at this organization are naturally wired to put others’ needs ahead of their own. They find passion working toward something bigger than themselves. Low performers may do what they’re told, but it’s only because they know their job depends on doing it. There’s no joy in their work.

To get determine a “helper” attitude, they asked: 

"Could you tell me about your most rewarding volunteer experience?”

What did candidates’ answers sound like? Here are a few samples…

  • Candidate A: “Giving back through community service was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
  • Candidate B: “I guess it was an OK experience, but I really only did it because I wouldn’t have graduated without it.”
  • Candidate C: “I actually haven’t done much volunteering.”

It doesn’t require past work experience to find joy in bringing a purposeful level of meaning to your efforts and to create something better in this world. But, if you hear “I only did it because I had to,” or “this really doesn’t apply,” take it as a warning sign that this person probably doesn’t have the helper attitude you want.  

Required attitude #2: Relationship builder

High performers at this organization feel great reward when connecting with other people. They look for opportunities to establish trust and communication. Low performers have low tolerance for challenging social situations and bail out early.

To assess the “relationship builder” attitude they asked:

“Could you tell me about a time when you had to work on a project with someone who was really different from you?”

And again, they heard a wide range of answers, like…

  • Candidate A: “In one class we had to work on a different short project with everyone in the class. One girl was really quiet and shy, which I am definitely not. Anyway, she was petrified to present to the class so we came up with a fun way where we split it up into really small sections and took turns. It was a lot of fun and the class had a good time and we got an A.  I’d totally work with her again.”
  • Candidate B: “Yeah, I have teachers who are always trying to get us to do that. It never works, I wish they would just let us work with who we want to work with.”
  • Candidate C: “I can’t really think of an example of that. Sorry.”

Attitudes like friendliness, awareness of others and easy conversationalist develop early. Are, they are often evidence when we’re put in situations that take us outside our comfort zone. Take it as a warning sign of a poor attitudinal fit when candidates express discomfort with stepping outside their usual boundaries or claim to have no correlating experience.

As the response examples show, candidates don’t need previous work experience to answer these questions that do reveal these important attitudes. By the time we’ve reached a legal working age, we’ve had all these experiences in school, clubs, sports teams, etc. and we should be able to talk freely about them and provide clear examples.

Hiring first time workers isn’t just for fast food service. Companies like Nike, Google and Apple have figured out how to successfully hire the best of the younger generation, many of who have no previous experience. These organizations have learned to leverage their younger employee’s high performer potential and gained a name in the millennial culture as being a great place to work. In this era of increasing transparence and viral networking, that’s a reputation that’s worth its weight in gold.

Mark Murphy is the founder of Leadership IQ, a NY Times bestselling author, and a sought-after speaker on leadership. Check out Mark’s latest Leadership Styles Quiz to see what kind of leader you are.

*Image by Death to the Stock Photo

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