Best practices for graduate & early stage talent selection and recruitment

Graduate or early career talent selection is a perennial challenge for all organizations but changes in technology, the expectations of graduates, and recent shifts in virtual working have all contributed to its complexity.

For instance, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, organizations had to suspend face-to-face job fairs at universities and instead focused their recruitment drives on virtual, online channels.  As the pandemic receded, those innovations remained, and have now become part of business-as-usual for talent functions tasked with graduate selections.

TTS’s global best-of-breed product partner, Aon Assessments, recently examined their own recruitment and selection practices against best practice standards, and in this article, we review some of them as well as suggestions Aon has made on how to improve organizations’ graduate talent processes.

The nature of the graduate challenge

The nature of the graduate talent selection challenge is threefold:

  1. How to select graduate or early-stage talent in a way that best matches the organization’s talent requirements?
  2. How to ensure that graduate applicants have a realistic and accurate understanding of what will be expected of them should they be successful in their applications?
  3. How to make this entire process of selection user-friendly, efficient, and likely to have a positive brand impact for the hiring organization?

In addition to the above factors, new generations of early career talent also have unique experiences growing up that will have shaped their expectations. For instance, hiring organizations are now beginning to see the first intake of graduates who are entirely “digitally native”, in other words, they have never known a world that did not contain digital aspects such as social media, virtual personas, or online working in one form or another.

In the following sections of this article, we discuss how Aon created a world-leading graduate talent process, based on more than 10 million assessment data points, along with guidelines on how these lessons may be applied to your organization’s early career talent selection.

Immersive early career experiences as key

A key learning that Aon uncovered in their work with graduates is the need to create an immersive selection experience for all applicants.

This translates into using a variety of assessments and other tools to ensure that applicants have multiple opportunities to interact with their potential employer’s culture, skills requirements, and success expectations during the selection process.

There are several reasons why an immersive experience is so essential to success in graduate processes:

  • Most graduate applicants have very limited experience of the world of work and therefore need more information and experience of an employer’s culture, environment, and expectations if they are to succeed.
  • Given the above lack of knowledge, graduates also need greater guidance about how they might fit into the organizations, and how their abilities and skills may match various job requirements.
  • Even if successful, a graduate applicant will need greater support and development to ensure that they may hit the ground running, and feel fully engaged in their team.

Given the importance of immersive career experiences, how can organizations create these while also ensuring that the hiring team gains the necessary information to make a considered, scientifically sound selection decision?

Aon recommends four pre-decision steps along with a fifth step that occurs post-hiring decision.

Step 1: Opportunity immersion

The first step in the immersive career experience ought to enable graduate applicants to get a more accurate understanding of the potential careers available to them. In addition, this step can contain employer expectations and likely working environment details.

From an assessment perspective, this stage involves the use of realistic job previews as well as interest and motivational measures. These work well as self-assessments that allow applicants to gauge their own suitability for the position and company they are applying to.

Once completed, such job previews and interest measures can feed back to candidates about which job opportunities best match their responses.

In addition to the self-selection that such a stage contributes to the entire process, opportunity immersion ensures that candidates gain insights into job opportunities they may not have known about, therefore educating graduate applicants about the nature of work in the employer’s industry or field.

In Aon’s research of best practices, they have also found that hiring managers support opportunity immersion because it gives them confidence that applicants have made informed choices when selecting their most preferred positions, thus translating into more engaged employees if successful.

Step 2: Statement of interest

Once candidates have picked their preferred positions, they can move forward to the official application process. In this process, the organization can also communicate specific expectations and requirements for the preferred job.

For instance, in Aon’s own online application process, they use the application form not only to capture details about the applicant but also to screen out candidates who do not qualify based on gross negative disqualifiers relevant to specific jobs or regions (e.g. the ability to work in various regions). At the same time, this step in the process allows the employer to communicate the following to applicants:

  • Core role activities
  • Relevant skills and qualifications
  • What the role’s benefits are
  • Next steps in the selection process

Step 3: Culture immersion and further assessments

In this vital step, graduate applicants who have self-selected and who have been screened for minimum requirements can now take part in formal assessments aimed at achieving two goals:

  1. To select the best available talent for given job openings
  2. To ensure that candidates have a realistic and accurate understanding of the job’s requirements, organizational culture, and working conditions.

To achieve these aims, Aon has found a multimodal assessment strategy to be best suited:

  • For instance, to ensure that candidates are assessed for judgment and an ideal fit to a specific role and that they, in turn, understand their working environment better, a Situational Judgement Test can be developed aimed at graduate-level careers.
  • In addition, top talent can be selected, in part, by focusing on key abilities known to predict graduate success. For Aon, this meant assessing their early career talent for multi-tasking and sustained concentration, using gamified assessments from the Aon aptitude suite of tests.

An important component of this step is to provide applicants with sufficient feedback: not only on their test results, but on how each of the stages of assessment tie into the work they will be doing, the teams they will be working within, and the company culture as a whole.

Not only does feedback ensure high test-taker motivation, but Aon has also found that it translates into long-term engagement benefits for successful applicants.

Step 4: Role immersion

Once a shortlist of applicants has been created, the final pre-employment step of career immersion is to help graduates understand more about the roles they are likely to enter, using the power of assessment technologies available.

The nature of specific assessments used at this stage may vary, but they all have a central theme: Irrespective of the measure, it should contain interactions with not only the tasks and actions required by the job applied for but also interactions with hiring team members.

For instance, if assessment centers or job samples are used at this stage, applicants will not only be immersed in a realistic job simulation but also get to interact with hiring managers or potential team members to better understand their working environment.

In the same way, structured video interviewing can be utilized to achieve similar ends.

Aon has found that if this step is well crafted, using digitally sophisticated technologies and relevant assessments, it can dramatically increase applicants’ likelihood of accepting employment offers.

Step 5: Skills immersion (post-employment)

Once applicants have been successfully screened and selected, and they have accepted an offer for employment, the work of the talent professional does not end. Instead, the career immersion approach becomes valuable for post-employment skills immersion.

In this step, the data gathered in the preceding assessment steps of the graduate selection process now forms the basis for development and learning.

For instance, Aon uses the results from its graduate assessment process to build a roadmap of skills development, personal development, and organizational experiences that best suit each candidate’s unique development areas and strengths.

Constructing such development plans has multiple benefits:

  • They maintain the engagement and enthusiasm created by the career immersion selection process well into onboarding and beyond.
  • Successful graduates are socialized into organizational culture and practices more rapidly.
  • The notion of evidence and data-based decision-making is emphasized as early career hires see the connection between their assessment results and the onboarding process.
  • Productivity is enhanced because new hires take less time to get on their feet, understand organizational expectations, and integrate with fellow team members.

Final thoughts

Aon’s research suggests that there is an increasing shift toward graduate and early career selection that emphasizes not only accurate talent decisions but also stronger candidate engagement and presenting the brand proposition of an employer earlier in the recruitment and selection process.

Given the unique variables that graduate talent brings to the table, this shift in focus seems justified and practically useful: Aon’s research suggests that if graduate talent can be engaged from the beginning, recruitment metrics such as time-to-hire are very likely to decrease.

In addition, hiring managers and talent professionals will be enabled by having better quality graduate talent to work with and onboard, thus increasing productivity and reducing the opportunity costs of hiring poor fits to the roles they manage.

If you are interested in how TTS can help you improve your graduate and early career selection processes, why not reach out to us at:


Aon, (2022). Creating an immersive candidate experience for early stage talent.