HR Ranks These Must-Have Skills High on Entry-Level Workers’ Resumes

Dependability, integrity are important for entry-level workers, HR professionals say

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 11, 2016
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​Dependability and reliability, integrity, and respect are skills organizations highly value in entry-level job applicants. Coupled with an employee referral, they are key to landing a job, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey report released Tuesday.

In fact, more than three-fourths of HR professionals ranked dependability and reliability as one of the three most important skills those applicants should have, followed by integrity and ability to work on a team.

The findings are from the Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey that SHRM conducted in May 2016 with 521 HR professionals randomly selected from SHRM's membership. The report was produced in collaboration with Mercer and funded by the Joyce Foundation.

In the next three to five years, adaptability, initiative and critical thinking are expected to become more important qualities for entry-level job candidates to possess, the survey found.

Dependability and reliability as well as integrity are sought-after skills, but adaptability will become more important as companies recognize that a fast-paced workplace is becoming the norm, according to Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM.

"Being adaptable is an important quality for employees to have, to be nimble and to be able to shift gears—to take on whatever challenges come along," she told SHRM Online.

Adaptability is "related to the changing nature of work and the pace. The world around us is constantly shifting, and businesses are also shifting. They want people who are not going to be resistant to change or stuck in one way of thinking."

And it's not just about staying up-to-date with the latest technology, she noted.

Initiative and critical thinking, while important for all employees, is particularly important for entry-level employees, she added.

Employers don't want employees who merely wait to be told what to do "but really take the action that is needed" and seek out the training they need.

"Employers aren't necessarily looking for the hard skills, especially for these entry-level positions. They really want to have employees who have a strong work ethic and who are dependable"—qualities that 97 percent of respondents ranked as very or extremely important.

The lesson for schools, she said, is that these are skills that can be taught.

"We shouldn't expect that students automatically have them."

Where HR Is Finding Candidates

Who you know is important for landing an entry-level job, according to the survey. It showed that a majority of HR professionals surveyed (87 percent) use employee referrals to identify potential job candidates.

"Employers reported that not knowing enough about entry-level applicants' qualities and skills was the most commonly reported concern in accurately assessing them," Esen said in a news release. "Therefore, employee referrals and on-the-job training, like career-related internships, will continue to be important for entry-level applicants."

She acknowledged that relying on employee referrals can affect the diversity of an organization's workforce.

"It depends on how diverse your workforce is to begin with," she pointed out.

The employer's website or careers site was the second-most-popular source for HR professionals looking to identify entry-level candidates. Only about one-half used job fairs (53 percent), school recruiting (49 percent) and LinkedIn (49 percent) to find those candidates.

Social media tools registered barely a blip on the radar: 8 percent used Twitter, 4 percent used Google Plus, 1 percent used YouTube, and no one surveyed used Pinterest or FourSquare to find potential applicants.

Career-related internships help position entry-level applicants as strong candidates; holding a job outside of the school system, if the applicants are students, also can give them an edge when being considered for a job, according to the research.

In-person interviews, applications and resumes are used by the majority of HR professionals in the hiring/selection process for entry-level candidates, but few HR professionals were especially confident that applications and resumes accurately reflected the candidates' various skills. About three-fifths (58 percent) did not use selection tests; among those that did test applicants, the majority (84 percent) saw it as only one piece of data used to make a hiring decision. 

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