How to Land an Entry-Level Job: Hone Skills and Utilize Employee Referrals and Company Career Sites, New SHRM Survey Finds

Top qualities HR professionals look for in entry-level candidates: dependability and reliability, integrity, respect, and the ability to work on a team

October 11, 2016
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Honing key skills such as reliability and utilizing resources such as employee referrals are key to landing an entry-level job, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey report released today. 

SHRM’s survey, Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey, which was commissioned by and produced in collaboration with Mercer and funded by the Joyce Foundation, showed that more than four-fifths of respondents said dependability and reliability (97 percent), integrity (87 percent), respect (84 percent), and teamwork (83 percent) were very or extremely important when determining whether an applicant possessed the necessary qualifications to be hired into an entry-level position.

The majority of HR professionals surveyed indicated that their organizations used employee referrals (87 percent) and their organization’s web/career site (72 percent) to identify potential entry-level job applicants. One-half of companies also used job fairs (53 percent), school recruiting (49 percent) and LinkedIn (49 percent).

“The skills that employers place importance on reveals that if these base skills are present, employees can train new entrants on the job-specific skills,” said Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM. “Employers reported that assessing entry-level applicants’ qualities and skills was the most common concern in determining the qualifications of these applicants. Employee referrals and on-the-job training like career-related internships will continue to be important for entry-level applicants.” 

When hiring entry-level job applicants, the majority of HR professionals indicated their organizations used in-person interviews (95 percent), applications (87 percent) and resumes (86 percent). 

Only one-fifth (20 percent) of HR professionals said they were very or extremely confident in their organization’s ability to effectively assess the skills of entry-level applicants. Eleven percent said they were either not at all confident or only slightly confident. 

Among HR professionals who worked for companies that used selection tests when evaluating applicants, the vast majority (84 percent) reported using the results of the tests as one of a number of pieces of data in the hiring process. Selection tests are meant to replicate actual job tasks or situations (e.g., writing tests, computer-based tests and typing tests). Twenty-nine percent used them for developmental purposes once the candidate began the job. Less than one-quarter indicated using them for other reasons. 


What else does HR look for in entry-level applicants?
  • One-half to three-fifths said adaptability (62 percent), initiative (49 percent) and critical thinking skills (49 percent) would become more important for entry-level job candidates to possess in the coming three to five years. 
  • More than three-fifths (78 percent) indicated that dependability/reliability was one of the three most important skills for entry-level candidates to have. One-half (49 percent) said that integrity was one of the three most important skills, and more than one-third said the same about teamwork (36 percent).

“The results of this study will provide valuable guidance for educators as they prepare individuals to enter the workforce,” said Esen. 

For more survey/poll results, visit Follow SHRM Research on Twitter @SHRM_Research. 

Media: For more information or to request an interview, contact Vanessa Hill of SHRM Media Relations at and 703-535-6072 or Kate Kennedy at and 703-535-6260. 

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 285,000 members in more than 165 countries. For nearly seven decades, the Society has been the leading provider of resources serving the needs of HR professionals and advancing the practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SHRMPress. 

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