Reflections on entry level hiring

Shields Russell

Published: 2020-02-29

Since January 1st, I no longer lead the process of recruiting and selecting entry level hires. Entry-level hiring is a serious responsibility. We are who we hire. And who we hire is formative in terms of what we can become. In a knowledge firm, talent acquisition and development is the business strategy. Making this move is a generational shift that will bring those driving the process closer in age to the talent they are assessing. That is a very good thing.  The younger cohort of managers that have chosen to develop and ‘make’ themselves at RIG are our best advert. They are also invariably much tougher and more demanding than I have ever been.

One challenge I have set those now responsible is to map the process as it is currently understood. And that, of course, is about translating my practices into a process that can be codified, iterated upon, and improved. Part of this task falls to me. Unlike previous blogs I have written on entry-level recruitment, my purpose here is simply to reflect on my experience. Two thoughts linger. What goes into making a hiring successful? And what I have left undone?

My key insight is that when it comes to entry level hiring selection is only half the equation. The one thing that I feel fairly certain about is that recruitment of the ‘best’ candidate never in itself created a success. Potential is nothing until fulfilled. Apparent aptitude is worthless until demonstrated. In a firm that develops talent through an apprenticeship model, this is perhaps hardly surprising. Simply put, when ‘making’ a success, recruitment cannot be divorced from development. The type of clients RIG works with, and the challenges we address, furnish us with a rich canvas of development opportunities. Two symbiotic factors are at play in determining whether the developmental value is captured:  the first is the desire and drive of the individual; the second is the ability of RIG, manifest in its practice leaders, to develop talent. I would wager that the second factor – the ability to lead, inspire, and teach -  is the catalyst that transforms the raw recruit into an effective operative. The most important questions for the entry level candidate to ponder are not about what they will be paid but how they will be developed and who will mentor them. A good place to start is to ask those they are meeting with, how they were developed.

My most obvious failure is that RIG remains too male. I can say that achieving a better gender balance in a tech-related environment has been historically challenging but that is a poor excuse. It is simply a failure that we have only gone some way to rectifying.  Today 30% of our work force are female. The overriding reason to pursue great gender diversity is quite straightforward: we have, without doubt, become a better, more successful, more culturally cohesive firm as we have striven to correct the gender imbalance. The litmus test is not simply about numbers; it is about balancing up leadership roles. To drive this agenda at the entry level, we must counter institutionalised bias. While we must always seek to hire the best candidate, we must find and sustain more effective ways of systematically engaging and attracting a greater number of high potential female candidates.