Recruiting Entry-Level Talent in Today's Market

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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As competition in the field makes it more difficult to find, afford and retain qualified mid-level staff, companies are turning to less-experienced employees and training them to fill more senior roles. At the same time, entry-level (or junior) talent is still needed, as has traditionally been the case, to fulfill basic IT responsibilities, such as troubleshooting computer problems, installing upgrades and creating new user accounts.

The biggest obstacle to successfully recruiting and hiring recent grads and other entry-level professionals is that you’re assessing candidates with little or no real-world (that is, non-academic) work history. While you may be able to look at a seasoned worker’s resume and identify relevant skills and experience for your job opening, the same isn’t always true with someone just entering the IT field. Here are some ways you can determine whether an entry-level applicant is right for your organization:

Look at the Track Record

Even individuals with limited or no work histories will have some indicators that they possess the dedication and aptitude to succeed. For instance, a high grade point average demonstrates a candidate has the ability to focus, set goals and exceed expectations.

In addition to performance at school, consider other notable achievements. Someone who’s received formal recognition at previous employers or assumed leadership roles in student groups, for example, is likely to be just as motivated to excel in his or her first IT job.

Give H igh Marks for Enthusiasm

Ask applicants what interests them most about their chosen path in technology. Why did they pursue training in this field? What do they look forward to most in this type of work? Look for a natural excitement about starting a career in IT.

Also take note of how well candidates have researched your firm and industry. You want to hire people who are not only enthusiastic about technology, but who also have the same enthusiasm about joining your company.

Evaluate Prior Work Experience

Give extra points to candidates who made the effort to pursue on-the-job work experience in IT before completing their education or seeking entry-level positions. People who worked part-time jobs in school, participated in internships, volunteered their IT expertise to nonprofit enterprises or worked on short-term assignments, for instance, have taken proactive steps to gain practical job knowledge and enhance their marketability. Membership in professional associations and work toward certifications are other positive signs.

Even if someone has no formal work history in IT, you still can gain useful insights by considering the individual’s background. Candidates should be able to explain how skills gained in previous positions relate to your job opening. For example, an applicant who was a waiter in college may have learned valuable multitasking, problem-solving, customer-service and time-management abilities, all of which are useful in any IT specialty.

Ask About Initiative

In a typical, busy IT department, you need self-starters who, when they see something needs to get done, do it. So, be sure to ask entry-level professionals to describe situations in which they demonstrated initiative. Examples could be as advanced as starting a tutoring business to help fellow students struggling with their computer science courses or as simple as straightening up messy shelves at a retail job. What matters most is that candidates have some history of self-motivation.

It’s a Two-Way Street

Finally, don’t forget that recruiting isn’t just about applicants impressing you; you also need to impress them. Entry-level IT professionals may be evaluating multiple job opportunities, so you need to make sure your organization stands out. Those just entering the IT field will likely be looking for learning and advancement possibilities, so be sure to highlight any mentoring or training programs as well as career paths within the company. Access to cutting edge technologies also can be a major selling point. Additionally, note attractive benefits such as flexible work schedules, time-off policies that exceed the industry average, concierge services or gym memberships. Keep interest high by letting applicants know the timeline of your hiring process and when you’ll be in touch next.

While you don’t want to delay your ultimate decision and risk losing top applicants, do make sure you’re diligent when assessing entry-level candidates. Talking to references such as former professors or managers can give you a better idea of whether the person’s work style, character and personality suit your organization. You’ll make additions that not only fill critical needs in your department today but that also help prepare your group for the future.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Asia and Europe and offers online job search services.