Rethinking the entry level candidate profile


Transforming to the future of work includes rethinking long held beliefs about the ‘right’ age range for entry level positions. Companies that identify talent for these roles by leveraging post-graduate recruiting programs, and potentially biased resume screening technology, might be doing themselves a disservice. These talent filters can exclude older workers who add value and a diverse viewpoint to foundational jobs.

Jamie Barrette, Product Leader for Career Analytics at Mercer, calls on organizations to change the way they approach entry level recruiting in his recent piece published on Read below about misperceptions about younger workers, new realities regarding tenure expectations, and the benefits of focusing on the most qualified, relevant candidates from a wider selection pool.

Rethinking Entry Level Recruiting

Entry level recruiting practices are facing fresh charges of age discrimination. It’s time to reevaluate long held reasons for excluding older workers from these roles.

The programs that many US organizations have in place for college recruiting, and for entry level recruiting in general, are being scrutinized for possible age discrimination. Two current lawsuits (details here and here) allege that these types of programs can have a disproportionately adverse effect on job applicants over 40 years old.  At issue is whether the word “employee” in section 4.a.2 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) excludes job applicants from protections.

The outcomes have the potential for widespread impact on hiring practices. For instance, offering certain positions only through college recruiting programs might not be allowable.  The legal and compliance issues are certainly interesting, but there is a broader question here: Is it even in an organization’s best interest to limit access to entry roles?

Recruiting Practices Out of Step with Talent Demand

Organizations are telling us they face a labor market where narrowing the field of available candidates does not make good business sense. According to Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends study, 92% of employers surveyed expect an increase in the competition for talent this year. That finding reflects the current strengthening economic conditions, falling unemployment rates, and an environment that favors job seekers.

In response, forward-looking organizations are adapting their attraction strategies and rethinking sourcing. Perhaps realizing the need to expand the pool of potential candidates, 73% of employers in the Trends study stated they already have a strategy in place to make their companies attractive for older workers.  As an example, returnship programs are offering caregivers a pathway back into the workforce, while giving employers access to experienced talent.

However, organizations should be sure they are applying new programs and strategies to all organizational levels. What the current ADEA lawsuits could be signaling is that traditional recruiting practices at entry levels might not have caught up with competitive demands for talent. As a result, they could still be excluding swaths of eligible candidates from consideration.

Focusing on Nearer Term Returns to Hiring

When reviewing attraction strategy, it can help to understand the reasons behind current practices. In the past it might have seemed logical to focus on younger recruits for entry positions. These roles were seen as onramps into an organization’s internal labor market. The thinking was that hires would learn the fundamentals of the business bottom-up, and leverage this knowledge in their future years at the company. But new realities are invalidating that view: millennials leave their jobs for other opportunities at three times the rate of non-millennials doing the same, and by the year 2020 giggers are expected to exceed 40% of the workforce.

With tenure no longer a certainty, it makes sense to shift some hiring emphasis away from longer term returns on investment to nearer term benefits. Framed this way, the current capabilities of candidates become more relevant than the demographics.

Changing Longstanding Views

One challenge organizations face is overcoming durable notions about the ‘right’ candidate profile for specific roles.  A common belief is that entry level positions are too junior and too low paying for older workers. But consider mid-life career switchers: they may have made the decision to draw on their financial reserves in order to break into a new field. Additionally, some workers might be comfortable in tactical, lower level positions and have no aspirations for higher roles.  In either case, these hires can potentially benefit organizations in non-obvious ways. For instance, they can possess a professionalism and knowledge of unspoken corporate norms that they can impart to their younger coworkers at the same level.

Another misconception that can seep into hiring, particularly in tech, is that innovation and creativity are the domain of younger workers. Putting aside the invalidity of that stereotype, keep in mind that diversity and inclusion are key drivers of innovation. Teams that are inclusive in terms of cultural backgrounds and experience levels tend to have the type of constructive conflict that results in group-driven innovation.

Making it a Competitive Strategy

An important key to a Thriving organization is building a workforce that captures multi-generational points of view – within levels as well as across. And because entry level employees are often on the front lines performing much of the actual work, it makes sense to diversify the talent being deployed here in order to leverage a wide range of abilities.

Regardless of any potential compliance requirements, ensuring all candidates have equal access is a smart competitive strategy. One of the first places to start might be to check if current recruiting practices are having filtering effects that narrow the talent pool.

Consider these points:

  • Are there programs in place that prevent any type of candidate from applying for certain positions? For example, some organizations have separate job sites with positions available only to individuals graduating from college.
  • Be aware that the algorithms your talent management software uses to screen resumes are subject to imperfections. It is a good idea to periodically review them to make sure they are not implementing their own biases.
  • Check job postings for terms that potentially signal age preferences, and think about stating experience requirements in terms of tasks rather than as a set number of years.
  • Finally, be sure to confirm that the third party recruiters you leverage are playing by your recruiting rules (this is a factor in one of the current ADEA lawsuits).

"Rethinking the Entry Level Candidate Profile” by Jamie Barrette, Product Leader at Mercer, was originally posted on

Jamie Barrette
by Jamie Barrette

Product Leader

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