Imagine you're interviewing a recent college graduate for a job opening. She's smart. She's enthusiastic. She's motivated and driven. But she also has almost no work experience, and very little experience as an interviewee -- which can make assessing her fit for the position extremely hard.

You ask some of the most common interview questions. You ask a few of the better behavioral interview questions

But still: As an interviewer, you're left to make your hiring decision based more on impressions rather than on the candidate's accomplishments and experience.

That's one reason a recent Gallup study shows that almost 25 percent of millennials have switched jobs within the past year, a rate that is three times higher than that of any other age bracket. And only half of millennials see themselves still working at their current employer one year from today, and 60 percent say they're open to finding a new opportunity.

Clearly recruiting, interviewing, and hiring the right recent college graduates is a problem for employers and for job candidates, a problem the staffing firm Avenica works to solve. Avenica focuses exclusively on placing recent college graduates into permanent roles. 

How does that work? And what can you learn from Avenica's approach to interviewing and hiring recent college graduates?

I talked with Avenica CEO Brian Weed to find out.

Unlike many staffing and recruiting firms, you actively work on both the supply and demand side. 

There are two sides to the hiring equation: The talent pool side and the client side. We develop those in parallel. We're always looking for people that will be perfect for the roles that companies need, but we also work to develop and build relationships with those companies. 

On the candidate side, we take each person through a series of steps. We start with a phone interview to assess the individual's communication skills, their interest in our model, and their interest in the types of clients we have. 

The next step is where most of the magic occurs. We conduct in-depth, two-part interviews. The goal with the first hour-long interview is to determine exactly how the candidate stacks up against what twelve of what we consider to be the most important transferrable skills. Those skills aren't specific to a particular job; they're cognitive and non-cognitive skills and attributes.

We come out of that interview with a great understanding of the kinds of roles the candidate will thrive in.

Sometimes work I may be able to do well is not the kind of work I want to do, though.

That's why the second interview focuses on career exploration. We talk about dream jobs, about what give you energy, about a time when you were most engaged and excited, the work environment you prefer... and at that point we can help steer the candidate a bit.  Often we can open people's eyes to opportunities they didn't know exist.

Theoretically they've spent the last four years trying to figure out where they fit in the workplace... but that's not always the case. And not every college is great at helping prepare kids for what they want to do after they graduate. 

Your major doesn't define you. Say you're a history major; there are plenty of interesting opportunities for people with analytical skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, etc.

We also screen for the understanding that new graduates will need to work their way up the ladder.

I may want to start at what would be my fifth job... but no one is going to hire me for that right out the gate.

Exactly. So we help people understand that being willing to work hard to get promoted can be a real competitive advantage.

We also overweight experiences where a person had to fight through some adversity, had to work through challenges, had to balance schedules because of work or athletics...  

Ultimately, if you make it through those steps and we think you're a good fit for our client base, we put you in our talent pool. Once we put you in the talent pool... things happen pretty quickly because we're actively working to place you. 

Helping clients with their expectations is also important.

On the client side, we definitely help them think through how their entry-level jobs should be scoped and structured. Sometimes we help to rewrite job descriptions... but more importantly, we help clients understand that some of the old paradigms are too limiting.

Many employers think the right candidate must have this degree, come from this school, have this background... but that's not the case. For example, often people with liberal arts backgrounds do extremely well in highly-analytical roles.

Many clients also have a heavy bias towards experience, even for entry-level roles. It's so easy for candidates to apply for positions that most employers apply some simple screening tools, and experience is an easy screening tool.

That's where we come in. We do all the screening so our clients don't have to sift through hundreds of resumes. They don't have to worry about casting too wide a net because we cast that net for them. That lets them focus on, say, the two candidates we curated and believe will be great for the role. 

Many times they like both candidates. So they take both of them. (Laughs.)

Your interviews focus heavily on behavioral interview questions. Isn't that a challenge when many of the interviewees have limited work experiences to draw from to provide examples? 

The questions we ask are aligned with the twelve transferrable skills, and we have a rubric our talent specialists use to put candidates into situations.

Keep in mind young people have had plenty of experiences, whether work, school, clubs, relationships, etc. We know how to guide them through the process, and if they struggle with the context, we help them along. 

What we often find that many employers discount some of the most meaningful experiences kids have had. Work an hourly job at McDonald's and you pick up a lot more life skills and experiences than people imagine. 

How do you deal with candidates that have unrealistic expectations for what their first job will be?

We do a tremendous amount of prep work getting people ready for what the role will be. We're honest with them: It might seem like grunt work at first, but that's where most people start... and people who succeed embrace that fact.

Sometimes clients have unreasonable expectations.  

A lot of hiring managers are Gen X or Baby Boomers who... 

Walked five miles in the snow to get to school every day.

Your words, not mine. (Laughs.) But many do have the sense that this generation is a little different, more likely to have been coddled, have inflated expectations regarding feedback, are looking for certain work environments and have unrealistic expectations about quickly progressing up through the ranks...

The reality is that both parties need to meet in the middle. Some things have changed. Work/life balance is more important. More frequent, less formal feedback is important. The ability to make fairly rapid progress is important. 

One way to address that is to structure career paths in shorter chunks.

You don't have to totally transform your company... but you do need to adjust so it fits the needs of your people.

Then you'll be attractive for this generation of workers. And to every generation of workers.

Speaking of adjusting. Some industries have no trouble recruiting great people. Investment  banking is a sexy field. But some of the best places to work -- and best career paths -- aren't necessarily sexy.

That's why we've chosen to concentrate in certain industries.

Take insurance. I've asked rooms full of future graduates if they want to be in insurance and no one raised their hands. 

But then when I describe how diverse the different roles are, how the industry steadily grows, how it's semi recession proof, how many different career paths exist... lots of eyes start to open.

We're a really good solution for industries that haven't had great success drawing recent college graduates because they lack that "sexiness" factor.

Another example is logistics. Once up a time, distribution wasn't exciting. But it's a highly sophisticated field and will only grow more complex.

The tech sector and investing banking are extremely visible at the campus level, but that means tons of people lose sight of other industries that are just as dynamic... but don't get the headlines.

If you're an employer, work hard to tell your story to potential employees. Help them see past the headlines and the "hot" industries. Ultimately we all want to do work that matters, so show people how working for you can be rewarding and fulfilling -- and help them build a career they will love.

Published on: Dec 13, 2018
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