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Caution! Are You Overlooking Cultural Fit in Recent Grads?

A candidate's "experience" is often secondary to his or her understanding of your company's mission and culture.

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As graduates join the workforce, employers need to look past those young people's lack of experience and see their true value. In a word: The emerging Class of '17 and Gen Z-ers in general have a lot to offer.


Related: 4 Ways to Test 'Cultural Fit' During the Hiring Process

Proof? A 2017 report from Accenture surveyed 1,000 U.S. students graduating this year and found that 83 percent of them described themselves as feeling prepared for their future jobs and careers.

While confidence is important, of course, these graduates' dedication to career growth is even more impressive. According to the Accenture report, Gen Z-ers are 2.5 times more likely (than previous young age cohorts studied) to commit to their employer for five-plus years. What's more, 97 percent of them plan to pursue additional training to further their careers.

As for experience: That's important, but chances are, this new wave of talent won't have much. However, that should not be a disqualifier.

Beyond experience, when you're thinking of hiring, look for skills and traits that align with your company , such as creativity, teamwork, communication and professionalism. After all, cultural fit is important to both individual and overall success.

Here are some tips on assessing cultural fit in recent graduates:

Define specific personas.

Before recruiting new graduates, write down what your ideal hire looks like. Define a specific persona for each type of applicant and identify which aspects the applicant offers that might make up for his or her lack of experience.

These personas should include details about what this individual has studied and does with his or her free time, and what this candidate aspires to be doing in the short- and long-term.

For example, one persona might be a 24-year-old female who grew up in a small town and went to college in a big city. She studied and minored in psychology. During college, she played , volunteered at a local animal rescue center and enjoys spending her free time reading and checking out new coffee shops.

She wants to start as a marketing representative and work her way up to management in five to seven years. While she seems quiet in smaller groups, she's a strong presenter and enjoys leading discussions.

Related: 11 Crucial Interview Questions to Ensure a Culture Fit

Test for traits and skills.

When establishing personas, look for specific traits and skills that make each candidate a strong cultural fit. The young woman described above seems to exhibit strong communication skills, thrives in leadership roles and has a strong work ethic.

Design test materials around the skills and traits that best align with your company culture. For example, if employees who succeed in the organization are creative and independent, target new graduates who, similarly, are self-starters and show creativity.

Put these candidates in a situation that encourages them to prove themselves. For example, ask them to give a presentation to the team they would be working with. If candidates are applying for a sales position, give them a prompt on what the presentation should be and encourage them to develop and deliver it.

No candidate will match any one persona exactly. So, view it as merely a tool to measure against, and to determine what skills and traits are ideal.

Make the candidate experience great.

Testing for cultural fit can and should be fun for both the hiring team and the job candidate. So, develop a strong employer-branding strategy to educate the candidate on your company's culture as well as its mission, vision and values.

Most candidates are eager for this information -- a 2016 study found that 66 percent of job seekers surveyed said they wanted to know about a company's culture and values, and 50 percent wanted to know its mission and vision.

To engage these job seekers, host "mission meetings" where they share how they interpret the mission and how they want to contribute to it. This shows employers how well each candidate understands the company's purpose.

To take things up a notch, consider assigning candidates to a digital scavenger hunt. This should consist of a series of questions and prompts that encourage them to explore the company's website and online presence. Also, include a portion of the "hunt" that requires the candidate to reach out to current staff members.

For example, ask them to contact the sales director to ask about how that person exhibits company values on a regular basis. Not only do scavenger hunts engage candidates in an exciting way, they also start a relationship between the current team and potential new hires.

Mission meetings and scavenger hunts also get candidates thinking about whether or not they see themselves succeeding in the company. After all, cultural fit is a two-way street.

Measure and improve.

Data-driven recruiting is the best way to optimize the entire process. Use quality-of-hire metrics to gauge the success of each part of the process and to find areas to improve.

Always survey candidates to hear about their perspective. Did they enjoy showing off their skills by giving a presentation? Was the scavenger hunt educational and fun? Use feedback to tweak each component as needed.

Related: Sizing Up Candidates for Cultural Fit Throughout the Hiring Process

When it comes to hiring recent graduates, employers need to know what they want from candidates who don't have much experience. Finding a true cultural fit is difficult, but it is a great predictor of success.

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