Research summary: Evaluating the Skills and Assessment Methods Used by Employers in the Entry-level Hiring Process


Mercer conducted this research study for the Joyce Foundation with the objective of better understanding the general employability skills — especially non-cognitive skills — that are most important to employers in entry-level job hiring. Additional objectives of the research included understanding the methods employers use to assess these skills, the confidence employers have in these assessment methods, insights from empirical research studies regarding the usefulness of different method/skill combinations, and employers’ knowledge of emerging assessment methods.

Most and Least Important Skills?

Dependability and reliability, integrity, teamwork and respect emerged as the most important skills that employers consider in evaluating entry-level job applicants.

Planning and organizing, creativity/innovation and mathematics (computation) were rated as the least important skills, although even they were rated as at least moderately important by the clear majority (around 78%) of survey respondents. Adaptability was the only skill that most respondents (62%) thought would increase in importance over the next 3–5 years, although nearly half (49%) believed that both initiative and critical thinking would increase in importance — results that were consistent across organizations of all sizes and all industries.

It is worth noting that employers considered the non-cognitive skills more important than the cognitive skills, which may be surprising considering the current emphasis on STEM2 in both education and industry. However, the focus of the skills survey was entry-level job hiring, and although cognitive skills may not be a critical requirement for certain entry-level jobs, they will likely become more important for employees to move into higher-level positions for which job activities are more complex, and to advance their careers.

How Do Employers Assess Candidates?

Only one-fifth of HR professionals are fully confident in their employers’ overall ability to effectively assess the skills of entry-level applicants. Most employers are relying solely on in-person (individual) interviews and application and résumé reviews to select their entry-level job candidates even though the scientific literature endorses more objective methods, such as selection tests, as of the most accurate predictors of performance. These findings indicate a need for new and more effective approaches to entry-level selection.

What Does the Future Hold?

The need for more effective approaches to entry-level hiring leaves the door open for innovative assessment approaches that take advantage of advanced technologies, such as machine learning algorithms, gamification, and high-fidelity simulations. These methods will most likely have a positive impact on the assessment and selection processes for applicants at all job levels going forward.

Rather than shy away from new approaches, HR professionals should seek to harness the power of new technologies to advance candidate selection and provide a more objective and engaging hiring process.

What are the Implications for Employers, Employees and Educators?

Identifying the most important skills employers consider when making entry-level hiring decisions can guide job seekers and educators on where to focus when preparing for the entry-level hiring process. Job applicants must possess a core set of noncognitive and cognitive skills, with dependability and reliability, integrity, respect and teamwork heading up the list. As we look forward, the rapid transformation of jobs and their required skills will challenge employers to be more forward-thinking about the skills they seek in entry-level candidates and also challenge educators to focus on training that truly helps students be successful both today and in the future.


Barb Marder
by Barb Marder

Talent Business Global Innovation Leader, Senior Partner

Dan Lezotte, Ph.D
by Dan Lezotte, Ph.D

Principal, Workforce Strategy & Analytics

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