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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

7 Ways to Improve Early Career Hiring to Increase Diversity and Retain Top Talent

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock
Image courtesy of Adobe Stock
Anita Jobb AvatarAnita Jobb
November 29, 2023

Improving diversity in your workplace starts with better early career hiring programs.  Here are 7 effective ways to improve your entry-level recruiting to increase diversity and retain top talent.

  1. Cast a wider, more inclusive net for entry-level recruiting (with online sources).

Traditional early career recruiting is often synonymous with campus and college recruiting, but you don’t have to be ‘on campus’ to be successful. Every college student out there is using online resources to search for jobs and research employers, including Google, social media, and a variety of job boards. Online recruitment marketplace insight from Appcast indicates job seekers are using 10+ channels to look for jobs – on-campus is just one of those channels. 

Online recruitment also provides a better job search experience for historically marginalized populations than in-person recruiting, according to data published by NACE in their 2021 student survey. You can develop a wider, more diverse pool of candidates virtually, especially if you are limiting on-campus recruiting to something like the top 10 institutions located in a major city. One retailer opened up its sourcing net to a much wider range of universities, community colleges, and nontraditional learning environments, which led to 70% of new early-career hires coming from different schools and a 65% increase in incoming diversity talent. 

  1. Target skills, not schools, with job postings.

Enterprises often limit their college recruiting to visiting and posting jobs to the same small list of universities, which systematically skews the playing field toward students from a handful of schools and misses a large pool of your most talented would-be hires. While you look to open up your recruitment to cast a wider net, doesn’t it also make more sense to target candidates based on skills they’ve developed as a result of their education and experiences, as opposed to the specific schools they attend? 

There is growing evidence that a skills-based approach to hiring leads to a wider, more diverse talent pool and stronger retention rates. This is becoming even more important as, according to a new McKinsey Global Survey on future workforce needs, nearly nine in ten executives and managers say their organizations either face skill gaps already or expect gaps to develop within the next five years. As technology and market trends evolve, organizations are hiring employees to prepare for and fill this potential skills gap. 

  1. Create job advertisements that attract. 

Most organizations aren’t Apple or Google which have the luxury of candidates seeking them out. For many employers, the first impression they make with student recruiting will be a job description landing in the inbox of a job seeker or will be found in a matching search by a candidate, making it critical that your job advertisements attract candidates, not detract them. Including video within job ads is a great way to visually share why an early career candidate would want to build a career with your organization, particularly if it highlights career growth paths and opportunities available. The US Navy does a wonderful job of this in a video it created for various career paths highlighted on Of course, it pays to work with job boards and sources that will embed your videos into job postings. 

Organizations should also consider including verbiage around inclusivity, and career growth, considering how important these ideals are to early career candidates. In one recent case, a financial services company realized that while its company employee value proposition (EVP) highlighted inclusivity and belonging, its online job postings did not. The bank rewrote its technical EVP and the accompanying job descriptions to highlight career growth and inclusion, and early results show a 40 percent lift in the number of applications and a doubling of qualified candidates.

“Candidates are looking for, ‘What’s in it for me?’” said Jennifer Cooper, senior vice president of recruitment process outsourcing operations at Hueman People Solutions. “If a job posting is just a list of the job requirements, and there’s nothing enticing or intriguing to the candidate, the job definitely loses its luster.”

  1. Highlight pay equity and transparency.

One of the most frustrating parts of the job search is combing through job after job to figure out the compensation being offered. Everyone wants to know what they’ll be paid in the role for which they are applying, but pay transparency in particular is one of the top criteria when Gen-Zers are considering a role. And that’s not to say they want to work for the highest-paying employers.

Pay equity and transparency extend to career growth opportunities, clear expectations, and unbiased performance assessments. According to a study by Handshake, around half of Gen-Z workers would consider leaving a job if they perceived a lack of equity.

  1. Make the application and interview scheduling process easy for a positive candidate experience.

According to data from Jobvite, the top reasons for a positive candidate experience during the hiring process were 1) an easy job application process, and 2) simple to schedule interview. Unfortunately, Jobvite also found that 85% of Fortune 500 companies lack an optimized job application process, which leads to a high dropoff rate from intended applicants and very high rates of dissatisfaction, especially during entry level hiring.

Not only will you turn away some of the best talent with dated or lengthy application processes, but you’ll also inadvertently drive up your job advertising costs. Here’s a good example – If you are using any performance-based solutions, such as College Recruiter, or a programmatic solution like Appcast or Recruitics, you are very likely buying job seeker traffic on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. Let’s say you spend $5000 to buy job seeker clicks at $1 per click, which results in 5,000 candidates visiting your career site to see a specific posting. If 10% of those candidates go on to submit a completed application, you receive 500 applications and your resulting cost-per-application (CPA) is $10. If you have a terrible application process, you might have only seen 1% of the 5,000 candidates go on to fully apply, which means you only received 50 applications and your resulting effective CPA was $100. For the same cost, you received 450 fewer applicants, some of whom may have been your best candidates who were turned off by the process.

(Note: many things affect your effective CPA, in addition to your application process, including where you are located, the job categories for which you are hiring, and how much you might be bidding if you are spending on a CPC basis. We provide benchmark reports with current CPA rates and also provide you with a recruitment advertising calculator that shows you current costs by job category to arrive at a job advertising budget.) 

  1. Focus on early career pathways and advancement opportunities. 

The #1 reason for Gen-Z turnover is the lack of career development and advancement, starting with a good onboarding process which is crucial for employer branding and to drive retention and team engagement. A LinkedIn workplace learning report found that a good onboarding program leads to 69 percent of employees staying at a company for at least 3 years. On the flip side, 64% of new employees are likely to leave a new job within their first year because of a negative onboarding experience. That’s not even counting the candidates who don’t show up on Day 1.  

Once new early career hires are on board, what steps have you taken to show a pathway for advancement? Gen-Z is highly motivated to grow their careers, with 76% seeing learning as the key to their advancement. They are eager for continued education opportunities and upskilling, and studies show they’ll be almost 3 times more likely to be engaged at work if you have transparent pathways in place. 

If you need help with internship hiring and conversion, or early career onboarding and engagement, check out Symba, which offers a software platform that helps companies onboard, manage, and engage early talent. Research shows that early talent does not want to be treated like a number. They are looking for genuine connections during the hiring process and beyond. Why is this so important? A whopping 80% of new hires who receive poor onboarding plan to quit! 

  1. Use mentorship programs to foster lasting growth.

Mentoring is another way to foster growth among early career talent, improve retention, and drive lasting diversity – with one caveat: Mentors should be assigned protégés. Social science tells us that when people get to choose their own mentees, they are prone to pick people who are most like themselves. And we already know women and minorities are painfully underrepresented in management roles at America’s top companies, which means these underrepresented candidates wouldn’t often be voluntarily hand-selected for mentorship programs. According to his research on mentoring, Georgetown’s business school dean David Thomas, found that white male executives don’t feel comfortable reaching out informally to young women and minority men. Yet they are eager to mentor assigned protégés, and women and minorities are often the first to sign up for mentors. 

Two sociology professors, Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, have analyzed three decades worth of data from over 800 medium to large U.S. companies to discover the best and worst-performing diversity programs used in corporate America. When barriers of race and gender were removed as part of formal programs, mentorships increased the proportion among all People of Color in management roles 5 years after such programs were implemented. The key is to mentor people who aren’t like you, make them feel valued and teach them what they need to know to grow and succeed within the organization, and the evidence shows this pays dividends for retaining top talent and increasing diversity.

Start at the beginning (of prospective employees’ careers)

For companies who are truly focused on DEI, it’s not enough to simply post a job listing and expect the best candidates to apply. It’s essential to employ proactive DEI strategies in early career recruitment to build a more diverse team and retain top talent – which will lead to better hires, more engaged employees, and long-term business success. 

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