How to use strengths in early careers recruitment and onboarding

What do we mean by early careers and how is early careers recruitment and onboarding different? 

In today’s episode, I’d like to explore why (and how) to use strengths in early careers recruitment and onboarding. So first things first…what do I mean by literally any of those words?  

Strengths are those qualities that energise us and which we are either great at using or have the potential to become great at. I guess recruitment speaks for itself.  

‘Early careers’ though…what are they exactly? Well I’m talking about people in their first few months and years of tenure in the workplace. This could include school or college leavers, apprentices, graduates. Essentially, anyone who has completed their education, at least for the moment, who has less experience of work.  

And what’s onboarding? This is the word most people now use for induction, possibly because it sounds less industrial, or like a cooking hob. And it means the process by which someone enters into an organisation after having successfully navigated the hiring process and having been offered…and accepting…a role. And it usually follows a prescribed process of introduction to an organisation’s ways of working, processes and people, including someone’s new line manager and team…as well as to their new role.   

So what’s different about early careerists applying for work and being onboarded into a new role. Well, essentially, this relates to the lack of direct work experience that some in early careers may have. And that is where strengths can play a very useful role. And I’d like to explain how that’s possible in my 8-step guide.  

1. Recruiting for potential, not just attained skills and experience 

The first point I want to make is that strengths can be super helpful in identifying what energises early careers candidates rather than just focusing on their qualifications or experience.  In general, people aren’t great at talking about where they can best contribute value but if you give an early careers candidate access to a strengths assessment before they go into an interview, and ask them to consider how their strengths may show up at work and in the target role they’ve applied for, you’re likely to get much more natural and authentic answers than if you ask them to cite experience they have or speak to the qualifications they’ve attained in their education to date. 

During interviews, questions can be tailored to uncover what energises candidates – where their passions lie and where their greatest potential may lie too. And this is likely to lead to better recruitment outcomes. We have multiple examples of where this has worked for our clients across many sectors, improving the quality of decision making around hiring, with better outcomes for both candidates and for organisations. Benefits include a fairer process (e.g. an increase in candidates getting hired from protected characteristics groups), better retention and quicker promotion. Because early careers candidates are being asked to show up as themselves and not as someone they think the hiring organisation wants to meet. 

2. The importance of a candidate-led experience

Building on this, at Strengthscope we are firm advocates for a candidate-led experience. Partly because this is increasingly becoming an expectation for Gen Z and Gen Alpha candidates and partly because it just works better. Recruitment today is less of a ‘two way’ process than it used to be. It’s more ‘one way’, and that’s ‘candidate way’ than ever.  Where candidates feel seen and understood, they are more likely to report positively on a recruitment process and this increases the chances that they will take a role and stay in it. 

So where strengths fit in here is to encourage candidates to bring their strengths insights into interview but not to make this compulsory. To support candidates to think about where their strengths can bring value and to speak to how their risk areas (like strengths in overdrive) might show up and what they’ve learned about how to manage those risks in their life experience so far. It becomes the candidate’s decision to offer this information rather than for the hiring manager or recruiter to ask multiple questions about what the candidate has done so far, with behavioural evidence to back it up.  

3. Recruiting for self awareness

When you take a strengths-based, candidate-led approach in early careers recruitment, what we find is that recruitment decisions relate more to candidates’ self-awareness than to attained knowledge, skills or experience. And this means that your recruitment process is more geared towards understanding the level of emotional intelligence that a candidate can offer. What do they know about what motivates them, how they can keep themselves energised, how they can modify their approach when the situation demands it? So you’re hiring for self-knowledge rather than for attained knowledge, which provides a much fairer and more rounded picture of an early careers candidate. 

4. Recruit for skills or for strengths?

The topic of skills is coming up a lot recently when it comes to people management, including in a recruitment context. This is no huge surprise given the rise of artificial intelligence and the role it is playing increasingly in many workplaces.  This is throwing up existential questions around parts of many people’s roles and questions around the skills that people will need now and in future to be successful at work which may be different from those in the past (because the nature of work is shifting and some tasks will be augmented by AI, or replaced by it, soon, if they haven’t been already). 

In truth, you need to see evidence of both skills and strengths (or what energises someone) at point of recruitment. Hiring someone with skills or knowledge but without the passion or energy to deliver in role won’t work out well. So it’s the blend of how an early career candidate’s strengths (which tend to be role transcendent) and skills (which will be more role specific) that will be of most importance when recruiting early careerists in the future. How do a candidate’s strengths play out in terms of positive client interactions, or managing their day’s tasks, or delivering a report? It’s important to understand both strengths and skills aspects.  

So that’s strengths in early careers recruitment. But let’s give some airtime to onboarding. I talk about this much more in Season 16, episode 1: Unlocking early careers – the power of strengths-based onboarding. But let’s go with a summary here. And so to tip #5…

5. Team onboarding for early careers candidates 

Onboarding is the business end of recruitment…where freshly hired recruits meet the machinery of organisation. As I mentioned earlier, there will no doubt be a need for early careers hires to be made aware of company policies, processes, procedures. How the workplace operates, expectations on working hours, what the company values mean in practice and so on. But what about the individual human in all of this. And arguably the most important aspect of onboarding of all…onboarding into their new team. Strengths can be incredibly helpful here. There’s more in Season 13, episode 3 – Team onboarding 101 – top tips to help colleagues get on the good foot, but here are some key areas to consider. 

During onboarding at Strengthscope, we share our strengths on a 1-2-1 basis so that new joiners get to hear what energises each team member as well as being able to say where their strengths lie too. How might the new joiner’s strengths benefit the team, are there any risk areas that have popped up with perhaps a couple of people joining and/or leaving? And what will the team do to get the most from the strengths and minimise any risks in driving towards its objectives? This conversation can be very beneficial not just for new joiners, but also for the team as a whole.

6. Building confidence using strengths 

One of the toughest aspects of being an early careerist coming into the workplace is the inevitable culture shock of moving from a school, college or university context into a wholly different workplace experience. Here, as in any transition, strengths can be very powerful. If I know that I have certain strengths I can rely on to: get my work tasks done to a decent quality standard; build productive relationships with my colleagues; communicate clearly with my line manager…then I’m more likely to feel confident in such a new and alien environment, quickly. So that’s building confidence with strengths.

7. Developing and improving relationships 

Encouraging open discussions about strengths and risks for early careers hires supports better communication with team members, more rapidly building trust. And pairing new hires with mentors or buddies who complement their strengths can really help with faster integration into the team.

8. Looking for energising development opportunities 

Finally, a focus on your strengths as you step into the world of work for the first time can be very informative as to which areas to focus on for development. Why not start by seeking out opportunities for development in the team or in your role where you can build on your strength areas…those aspects of work that energise you most and where you can add value the quickest. This creates the double value of confidence building and solid personal development, the combo of which are more likely to quicker achievement of results.  

Conclusion – why wouldn’t you use strengths for early careers recruitment and onboarding? 

Hopefully I’ve made the case for the inclusion of strengths for those in early careers. For me, the fit is really compelling. And we’ve covered some practical ways in which you bring strengths into the early careers recruitment and onboarding process.  I hope you’ve found today’s episode useful, there are many many more episodes to check out on your favourite podcast platform, or if you prefer written format, on the Strengthscope website in the ‘Resources’ section. And if you’d like to chat to our friendly team about early careers recruitment and onboarding and how strengths can play a part please do get in touch. Our team loves a chat! Till next time, stay strong.