The business case for investing in entry-level talent

There is growing evidence that hiring Gen Z is delivering a clear return on investment. Here’s how to make the most of that talent.

The business case for investing in entry-level talent
[Photos: kieferpix/iStock; AlexLinch/iStock]

If the recent U.S. labor forecasts hold up for 2020, we’re likely to see a tenth straight year of growth for early talent hiring. A recent study of 2,800 employers by Robert Half found that 83% of senior managers will hire recent college grads.


While part of the boom is due to a historic bull market, it’s also a result of employers figuring out how to hire and develop  Gen Z talent, and the growing evidence that hiring them is delivering clear ROIs. Companies such as Box, PayPal, and Under Armour have turned entry-level hiring into a strategic advantage, and employers increasingly agree that this talent group can boost profit, accelerate digital transformation, and fill the growing gap left by retiring Baby Boomers.

Three reasons entry-level workers are good for business

MIT research finds that the more diverse a workplace is, the more profitable it is. One key way to balance the age, gender, and ethnicity equations of an effective diversity program is to hire more aggressively at the entry-level.

As “digital natives,” Gen Z are dramatically changing how companies interact with companies and setting the new standards for customer experience. Companies like Adobe are creating programs to embrace their desires and wisdom by bringing them to the management table to provide an active voice on what these generations want from companies.

Given how many Baby Boomers will retire in the next decade, employers will need to rely on more college graduates than they did before the Great Recession. The Department of Labor predicts that the 25-59 age groups in the workforce will remain about the same, so hiring early talent is likely going to be a top strategy for most organizations.

Maximize the value and fit of early talent

While the business case for hiring early talent is stronger than ever, organizations of all sizes still struggle with maximizing the fit and effectiveness of this population. This year’s report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that organizations will hire just 57% of their interns. On the employee side, 70% of college graduates leave their job within two years according to the Harvard Business Review. This means that there is still a ways to go on the front of identifying and developing early talent in a mutually beneficial way.


Put more diverse candidates at the top of your funnel

Effective recruiting often includes in-person engagement job fairs and on-campus recruitment, but these tactics alone will challenge your organization’s ability to attract a wide and diverse population of early talent. Employers must market effectively through online networks and social media channels that Gen Y and Gen Z frequent every day.

Experiment with different forms of trial employment

Micro internships are rising in popularity, as are other forms of limited trial engagements that take less than a few months and cost less than a traditional internship or apprenticeship. Employers can use these and other efficient means to figure out how to shorten the time it takes to determine whether or not a new hire is an effective one.

Be realistic about the required work experience

We all want grads to perform effectively on day one, and oftentimes we expect too much. One study found that 61% of entry-level job listings required three years of experience, which few new graduates actually have. One simple strategy is to compare your entry-level job listings to the individuals’ résumés that you’ve actually hired and determine whether or not you really require all that experience upfront, or it can be gained within a short amount of time in your company.

Identify the soft skills that make your employees successful

Job descriptions often have educational and hard skills requirements, but it’s often the so-called soft skills that are just as essential to ensuring performance and a good fit within your culture. So why not determine what they are for your organization, and work with your recruitment team to develop suitable skills assessments to gauge and measure these skills.

Promote your values and mission

More than the prior three generations, Gen Z emphasizes the need to be aligned with a company’s purpose. So not only should you include values and mission as early as possible in the recruiting process, but also be sure that it’s not templated language written 20 years ago.


Personalize your communication

Employers can tap into this generation’s need for connection by delivering encouraging, personalized messages. In Handshake’s student survey, 95% stated that they engage with employers that send personalized, proactive outreach.

Increasing your organization’s ability to attract and retain the best early talent is an evolution and a never-ending process. Achieving short-term wins to show progress while longer-term strategies come to fruition is highly recommended. And plan for lots of experimentation because every company is a bit different, and today’s workforce trends are changing faster than generations before.

Garrett Lord is the cofounder and CEO of Handshake.