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Nicky Garcea



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Ernst & Young uses strengths-based assessment for graduate recruitment


Research from HM Treasury published prior to the release of this year’s A-level results has shown that a record number of young people are seeking alternatives to university and are turning instead to apprenticeships or on-the-job training schemes.

But with more job candidates on the market than ever before, the importance for HR directors to recognise high potential is at an all-time high.
One approach for trying to weed out the best talent is to adopt a strengths-based recruitment method.
The problem with more traditional means is that many candidates have been tutored in coming up with polished responses to competency-based questions, offering ‘evidence’ that is well-rehearsed rather than a real reflection of their skills and personality.
Strengths-based assessment, on the other hand, evaluates people based on their natural talents by trying to identify and gauge the things that they not only do well, but also that they love doing.
For the last three years, we have been working with Ernst & Young to help the accountancy firm identify potential high-performers at an early stage. Its assessors have been trained to look for authenticity and energy as well as evidence of achievement, a combination which should guarantee that it takes on genuine high performers.
Understanding candidates’ strengths
As part of the shift, Ernst & Young explored the differences between its existing high and low performers and changed its interview techniques and assessment tools in an attempt to understand candidates’ essential strengths.
It launched a series of bespoke recruitment campaigns in a bid to find the best people for the jobs on offer and implemented an online assessment tool to act as a means of sifting through the first batch of candidates.
In the first 18 months, the firm evaluated more than 18,000 individuals, but found that 15% fewer unsuitable candidates made it through the first stage, while 12% more were accepted based on their skills and competencies.
Stephen Isherwood, Ernst & Young’s head of graduate recruitment for the UK & Ireland, said that strengths-based recruitment had “revolutionised” its hiring activity.
“Recruiters are seeing an increased number of candidates who are more aligned to the roles they are taking, allowing us to recruit better people in a more efficient way,” he continued. “Candidates tell us our selection process is more authentic and personal, compared to our competitors. This fits in line perfectly with our new commitment to individual recognition.
Because the approach enabled the company to gain “a much greater insight into skills and competences”, it also provided an “insight into future potential and ways to manage talented individuals,” Isherwood added.
Drawing on our experience with Ernst & Young, here are five tips for HR directors interested in going down a strengths-based route:
1. Look for energised and authentic individuals – Learn to recognise if job candidates are energised and authentic. Because both traits are strong indicators that they are using their strengths, such applicants are likely to become high performers in future.
2. Ensure your hiring activity is aligned to business goals – Ask key stakeholders what their five-year vision for graduate recruitment is in order to ensure that incoming personnel are aligned to organisational goals and future requirements.
3. Identify generic and specific strengths – While you are likely to want all recruits to demonstrate a number of generic strengths, it is also important to identify what individual strengths certain roles require. Being more specific here will speed up the recruitment process and ensure better performance once people are in the job.
4. Ensure assessments are based on real-world scenarios – Focus any assessment exercises on role-specific tasks and real-life situations. Providing a highly realistic job preview at every stage ensures that candidates know what to expect.
5. Continually re-evaluate data – Keep gathering data against your key indicators of success such as candidates’ perception and recognition of your brand, the percentage that pass their exams, peer and manager ratings and sales targets.
Nicky Garcea is a director at people management consultancy, Capp.
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