Hiring Grads: in the absence of experience, it’s all about the soft skills

Megan Speet

Grads Soft Skills

​Hiring isn’t easy at any level, but the graduate marketplace presents its own unique challenges. After all, what you’re looking at is essentially a workforce of blank slates – it’s the potential we’re spotting, rather than relying on experience in the workplace.


When hiring at mid-level, or even just a ‘second-jobber’, we’re able to refer to a candidates’ background and practical experience for reassurance that they’ll be able to do the job; we can see if they’ve had the exposure to industries we’re looking for, if they’ve got experience completing the tasks they’ll be doing on the day to day, and all of this can be backed up by facts, figures and references.

So… If someone doesn’t have any of the above, what should we be looking for at interview stage? What are the key things a graduate or entry-level candidate should demonstrate at interview stage, and how do we identify them?


Obvious, but imperative – every single job role requires communication in some form, period. Whether they’ll be communicating with employees internally or representing your business to external contacts in some way, communication is part and parcel of most positions.

As such, it’s important that any entry level candidates you meet at interview stage demonstrate the ability to articulate ideas, issues and express themselves across the board.

How to identify this at interview? Well, it’ll soon become clear. Just speaking with someone, listening to how they answer questions and how they annunciate will allow you to understand the level of their communication verbally; and remember, it’s something which can develop quickly and vastly when in a business setting, so at interview stage we’re merely looking for a platform upon which to build.

Ability to learn

You’re halfway there – if this individual has achieved a degree (or is well on their way to doing so), they’ve demonstrated at least some capacity to learn already.
But the ability to learn doesn’t just pertain to knowledge; sometimes, it’s about learning how things are done i.e. business processes, moreover why they’re done that way. Sometimes learning is about receiving feedback, and how the person implements that feedback into their next movements.

Providing your candidate with feedback whilst you’re still in the actual interview isn’t something everyone is comfortable doing, but overall it can be a hugely positive thing to do, for them and you; it potentially allows that person the opportunity to make improvements if need be, but also immediately showcases their reaction to said feedback and as such how they might react to feedback or direction in the workplace.


One of the easiest to spot at interview – particularly if you’re hiring via assessment day – but one of the most important, nevertheless. Whether you’re a company of a few or few hundred employees, you want to cultivate a cohesive and collaborative workplace, so adding talent who embodies those values is key. As a business leader, you want to avoid anyone coming in and upsetting the apple cart – from a graduate level, at least.

Ask your candidates for examples of group projects they’ve completed at uni; go further and try to identify what role they played, to tease out those leadership and management skills too.

Problem solving

Problem solving is usually in the top 3 skills denoted by business leaders to look for in a graduate, if it’s not topping the list; it’s so much more than what it says on the tin. A problem solver is someone who comes to you with answers instead of excuses, resolutions instead of reasons why (or why not, for that matter) and who navigates unexpected challenges with ease – all things which are pivotal for success in the workplace.

Problem solving show the right attitude; you want to hire someone who doesn’t fall at the first hurdle, but faces it head on and comes up with the goods.

Competency based questions – “Tell me about a time where you overcame a particular challenge,” for example – allow candidates the opportunity to demonstrate where they’ve solved problems in the past, and should give you a good idea as to how they go about approaching challenges.

Hiring a graduate is a little like taking a step into the unknown, but keeping the above skills and attributes at the forefront of your mind during the interview process will ensure that you’ve got the basics covered – the rest is down to you onboarding, training and growing those fresh minds within your business.

Our team of specialist graduate recruiters here at Certus are well-placed to advise our clients on this; after all, it’s what we do for a living. We take the time to understand your specifics: about you as a leader, your business and what it truly needs. Included, but not limited to, the skills above.

Get in touch to discuss how we can add value to the next round of graduates you take on board.