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On the Sofa with Karen McLoughlin: Succeeding with Hiring Early Careers Talent through Engagement, Potential and Development

SHL’s Principal Consultant, Karen McLoughlin talks about challenges in early career hiring and how candidate expectations have increased pre and post-hire.

In this month’s “On the Sofa” series, we are joined by Karen McLoughlin, Principal Consultant in the UK&I business, who talks about the challenges in hiring early careers talent, balancing virtual and in-person demands, and increasing candidate expectations pre- and post-hire.

Tell us a bit about your role at SHL.

I have over 15 years of experience working in the talent assessment and management industry, including designing, managing, and supporting early careers assessment solutions and hiring graduates/ early careers talent. At SHL, I work with organizations to help them identify the right school leavers and graduates for their businesses while ensuring the process is fair and inclusive.

How have you seen the early career hiring process change over the past few years?

As with most hiring, there is a trend to try and streamline the assessment process. This includes prioritizing getting the most important information not just on, but to the candidate in a more efficient manner, providing quicker feedback and movement through each stage.

Organizations are more focused on building from within rather than hiring from outside so integrating early careers hiring, onboarding, and development with the broader organizational needs of what is needed for future leaders is crucial. For graduates, competencies like the potential to learn quickly, the ability to adapt, and demonstrate resilience have come to the forefront in assessments to meet this need.

Also, the timing of graduate hiring is continuously being moved forward—six or seven years ago most graduate hiring (in the UK & Ireland) was in May and June, but now many assessment centers take place at the start of the year and some customers run them from November the year before as they were finding it difficult to attract the best early career talent.

The unique aspect of graduate hiring is the long wait between someone accepting an offer and starting work so candidates can drop out during this time. Keeping candidates engaged post-offer is critical and those having the most success keep in touch with their candidates, invite them to events, send regular communications and give them opportunities to meet colleagues to maintain the relationship.

You work with customers on graduate assessment centers, what are the main challenges organizations are faced?

Engagement is always a challenge—more so now that a lot of the assessment process has moved to virtual delivery. The psychological contract, effort, and commitment to attend an in-person assessment event means candidates are more engaged so drop-out rates for in-person assessments tend to be lower than virtual assessment centers.

For organizations, the challenge is to find the right balance between getting the cost and time efficiencies along with the wider net that they can attract online and an in-person element to embed the candidate more in the culture and values of the company and meet future colleagues face to face. They also need to be mindful of candidates that prefer the flexibility of online processes and may be hesitant to apply to roles demanding time to attend in person.

We are seeing more organizations use online processes to cover psychometrics such as ability, situational judgment, and behavioral assessments with a hurdle in place. If minimum requirements are met then a smaller pool of candidates would be invited to meet in person for teamwork exercises and simulations that are harder to replicate online—and provide stakeholders have a chance to interview candidates in person.

Keeping candidates engaged post-offer is critical and those having the most success keep in touch with their candidates.

How does SHL help with these challenges?

We have invested in our SHL experiences enabling organizations to replicate benefits that typically needed to be in-person but in a virtual manner such as realistic job previews, video interviews with relevant existing employees, and interactive content which we have seen boost engagement.

We gather data at every stage of the process to show engagement, completion rates, and drop-outs to help customers continuously optimize their processes. From our research, we know one of the biggest candidate bugbears is that they spend a lot of time undertaking assessments and often do not get a response. Personalized video feedback gives automated feedback with actionable insights and so even if they are not successful, they have a positive experience.

Our job-focused assessments are increasingly popular as they combine behavioral and ability tests, helping to streamline the candidate experience. They are weighted in a way where the overall score is not impacted and is proven to not discriminate against ethnicity, socio-economic background, etc. Our science teams are always researching improvements to ensure our tests are fully inclusive so someone who may be dyslexic or have autism, for example, can still take part in a fair process.

From a technology viewpoint, how do you see hiring evolving in the future?

I think there will continue to be a faster move towards a single system to hold and track all information. Many organizations have their own applicant tracking systems (ATS) but for candidates, it can be frustrating to apply on a company’s website and then repeat a lot of the same information when being assessed. Integrations between the ATS and the platform doing assessments will become essential to make quicker and more efficient hiring decisions.

Also, I think the traditional CV could be dead in the not-too-distant future. There is a trend towards focusing on skills and qualifications that are measurable and transferable. For example, when applying, candidates could share their digital passports with prospective employers via a QR code to show assessments, verified skills, and courses that have been completed. This could be integrated with a learning management system to identify best-fit jobs, learning paths, and more which would be much more efficient for both the candidate and employer.

Contact us to see how we can help you succeed in your early career hiring process and find the best early career talent with our Graduate solution! 

headshot karen mcloughlin


Karen McLoughlin

Karen has over 15 years of consulting experience spanning across the talent management lifecycle from design and delivery of Early Careers talent acquisition and onboarding solutions through to assessment and development initiatives to support Restructure, Succession Planning, Executive Hire, and Development Activities. Karen’s particular interest in Early Careers recruitment is borne out of her experience working with a diverse range of clients across EMEA to help solve a range of talent attraction, recruitment, and retention issues, supporting organizations to create high-performing, inclusive workforces from the ground up. Away from work, she enjoys traveling, hanging out with her two young daughters, and running.

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