Oct 19, 2021

5 min read

Millennial Musings — I wonder how the Graduate HR process works.

I am not a HR specialist, far from it! But this week, I have been getting more and more curious about the HR process and why it is seemingly really easy to get to the later stages of some graduate schemes but others, with seemingly the same tasks to complete, you don’t.

One explanation is that on some days you are “having a good day” and you hit the required standards with ease and progress to the next stage. Then the same test on a different day you fail to hit the magic score as you’re not having as good of a thinking day. This seems silly to me, an employer should expect to have both good and bad days.

A test organised like this seems more like a test of do you know when you are having a good day, and are you willing to sacrifice this maximum productivity time in order to take a test in order to progress your application to the next stage. Yes, the employer can learn something about the graduate such as are they committed to us as an employer to work when we need them to. But if this was the point of yet another funny shapes pattern exercise, I am sure that HR could find a better way of testing this that is less onerous of the applicant which would encourage more people to apply! Particularly as in effect you are literally hiring the person’s whose good days aligned with the schedules of the process (most likely the only days that are free in the manager calendar for the assessment centre). This doesn’t feel optimal for anyone, the applicant is relying on luck to get the job and the employer is not guaranteed the best person for the job.

Another explanation is that employers value different things and have different scoring criteria at different stages. This also doesn’t make sense to me this would mean that no HR knows what makes up the top applicants so they each have a different scoring system. If any company was to find the magic scoring system it would be copied by the others very quickly! I wonder how much time and research goes into the process to come up with different scoring methods? I have been a part of a few (even some for the same company) and they seem to do the same exercises in the same order with the same scoring every time. So, these companies miss out on the same people five years ago as they do today!

So how would I change the process for something that arguably has more to do with your long-term future than any single end of university module exam. Firstly, lets make it fairer, look at the end of module exams, they are at a set time and date to stop people from passing information about the application process and make it a set time and date for each round of the process and change it every year. This will accomplish two main things one, information from one applicant being passed to a friend who applied later, and two to reduce the advantage for people re-applying every year.

The second thing that I would want to change is the cadence of the application process with the aim to understand the applicant's peak, average and bottom scores. How do we do this? I am not entirely sure, one for the HR experts to work out. The first thing that springs to mind is to have every stage of the process fall on a different day of the week to work out if the prospective employee is not productive on a Friday etc. What about if they are asked to do two tests back-to-back, how does that affect their scores (against the expected number) or if tests are given with more or less notice. Lots of variables can be played with in order to tease out these numbers and get a more complete profile of an applicant driven by data.

Talking of data, the third thing that I would want to change is to review the scores of the people who didn’t make it through the process but are now massively successful (web scrape linked in?). Then use this data to see how the employer can change the process to miss out on those who should have been hired.

Fourthly I think there are key skills that make a good employee that is not tested at all during the process. Proactivity, why not tell everyone to expect the next test on the 12th and see how long it takes for them to reach out after the 12th when they have not received it. Responding to feedback and self-improvement, imagine giving the same test to the applicants twice once before feedback, a second time after feedback and see if they can improve their performance. Communication skills, do the applicants let you know that they have completed a task so will they communicate to a manager when inside the organisation? Depending on the core skills of the graduate scheme different skills need to be tested. This seems a far fairer way of assessing people rather than the “tell me about a time you” interview questions which are subjective and rely on the honesty of the candidate.

Finally, and possibly the most extreme change that I would like to see would be for employers to get together and run one process. No more of this applying to a hundred different places with the same tasks put them in one process. Let people be tested once and share the scores between employers. This works out better for everyone! The time that the graduate spends on all the applications can be reduced substantially while still giving them more tests to do and thus getting more information about their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, you can now put more people through all the stages and not need to funnel down as the costs are shared between everyone so the employers will find people whose strengths are only normally demonstrated in the later stages of the process. After the assessment process, there can also be more fairness, everyone makes offers at the same time so that graduates can see all the offers and not have to turn better fits down due to already accepting an offer that they already got. You can also allow more bidding based on talent, why is it that all graduates start on the same value? If graduate A is in high demand and has multiple companies that want their skill sets, they should be rewarded for that. You can also get more SMEs, who can’t finance a whole process as they only take on one graduate a year, access to all this data and can find the best fit.

To make it even more of an extreme idea what if all of this was done via the blockchain? The graduates would have a profile that lists all their skills and scores that everyone can publicly share and compare to each year even for the people outside of the process. Not sure it's GDPR compliant but it can all be anonymised. This feels a long way off but potentially this is the future of recruiting with more transparency!

But the thing that sticks with me more than anything is why do the current employees not take these same tests yearly if they are the best way to assess talent? Maybe its cos they are not good enough yet and when they are improved they can be.