Selecting performing and growing talent: Best practices in graduate assessments

The need to attract and select the very best graduate talent is a strategic priority for most organizations. This challenge can seem daunting for talent and line managers alike, especially given the sharp increase in costs associated with hiring and recruitment.

In addition, employers are reporting a decrease in finding the right skills in graduate talent pools, along with an increased competition among competitors for those graduates who display high potential.

In this article, we discuss some of the best practices of graduate talent assessments, aligned with insights gained from research on contemporary graduate job seekers, and informed by TTS’s experience across a multitude of client companies within the graduate recruitment and selection space.

Graduate candidate attraction drivers

To begin with, talent professionals who want to hire the very best graduate candidates will need to understand what attracts such candidates to potential employers. Based on recent research by the South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA), graduate job-seekers are especially drawn to employers who:

  • Offer substantial training and development opportunities
  • Have a solid and attractive market brand in their specific industry
  • Offer competitive career prospects,
  • Offer job security, and
  • Create a friendly, user-centric culture and experience during recruitment and beyond

As such, talent professionals can do much to ensure a more efficient, engaging recruitment and selection process. This is especially important given the challenges employers experience when their recruitment and selection processes are not geared toward these needs.

Current employer challenges

When graduate recruitment and selection fails to select the right talent, costs can be substantial. SAGEA’s research suggests that hiring costs are increasing. For instance,

  • Median costs per graduate placement now run to R61,700
  • Median costs to train a new graduate run to R45,000

In addition, talent professionals involved in graduate selection are often overwhelmed by applicants. SAGEA’s research shows that there is often a median of 2,800 applicants per graduate program, and upward of 78 graduate applicants per individual vacancy!

In contrast, and perhaps surprisingly given the above statistics, only 15% of graduate applicants progress to their first interview and 13% renege on their employment contracts. The result? Nearly 38% of graduate vacancies are not filled.

Therefore, employers who want to improve the quality and efficiency of their graduate recruitment and selection processes have to rethink how to select the best graduate talent, not only for the short-term, but also with an eye toward hiring applicants who will stay the course.

Improving graduate recruitment and selection: The case for assessments

Despite the challenges mentioned in the previous sections, talent professionals in the graduate space have several potential resources at their disposal. Using best-of-breed objective talent assessments is a powerful antidote to inefficient and inaccurate selection processes. In contrast to the high costs of training and placement, the average selection costs using assessments often are only a fraction of such costs (e.g according to SAGEA research, around R6,700 per applicant).

But the benefits to graduate employers are multiple. Using assessments can often directly address common challenges that talent professionals face when working with graduate talent:

  • Efficiency. Using cost-effective, automated, and highly accurate objective assessments can directly reduce the workload on recruiters and talent specialists

  • Differentiation. By assessing for specific competencies, aligned to job requirements, assessment end-users can differentiate among large numbers of applicants per vacancy, and ensure the selection of candidates who best meet the requirements of success.

  • Accuracy. By using best-of-breed assessments and capability frameworks with proven track-records and solid, scientific foundations, graduate recruiters can minimize and vastly reduce low success rates and poor applicant quality.

  • Engagement. Using engaging, up-to-date assessment technology presents a sophisticated and engaging employer brand, and improves graduate applicant motivation.

  • Identification & decision-making. Using integrated reporting, along with algorithmic talent judgements ensure that graduate employers will almost always identify “hidden” talent, thus selecting  candidates who are high potential but may often be overlooked ny traditional CV screening and interview methods.

In our consultation with our clients, we have found that using best-of-breed, globally recognized assessments can go a long way toward bridging the gap between their desired outcome and the realities of the local graduate talent landscape.

Specifically, using assessments can address the very real need of talent professionals to identify future potential in graduate applicants, differentiate their organizations from their competitors, engage graduate applicants, and make the most efficient use of their time.

Using best practices when selecting graduate talent

Once assessments become part of the graduate recruitment and selection process, employers should carefully consider what their primary hiring requirements and eventual outcomes are.

For instance, TTS’s best-of-breed global assessment partner, Aon Assessments, had this to say about hiring early-stage talent:

“Above all the focus should be on hiring for the future. Our research reflects this: nearly 90% of organizations that hire early careers talent aspire to understand a candidate’s future potential by measuring growth mindset – that is their ability to thrive on challenge and to view opportunities as springboards for growth and development”

Taking this focus on future potential into consideration, as well as employers’ need to hire graduates who can evolve into new roles, TTS has devised a best-practice framework for graduate assessments that address both the business needs of graduate employers as well as the expectations of graduate applicants.

Composed of six capabilities that address growth and six that address performance, it is a comprehensive approach to the challenge of graduate selection:


This theme meets the need for selecting graduates that are able to perform right away, who are able to hit the ground running, and deliver on line manager expectations. The six capabilities measured include:

  1. Problem solving. Capacity for generating solutions and applying critical thinking.
  2. Data-driven decision making. Making sound decisions while following procedures and rules.
  3. Collaboration. Helping others reach common goals, and building trusting relationships.
  4. Communication: Networking and building rapport, communicating with impact.
  5. Drive to succeed: Being confident, taking initiative and responsibility.
  6. Business acumen: Identifying business opportunities, and focusing on customer needs.


This theme addresses the need to hire graduates that are able to grow, learn new skills, and evolve into emerging jobs that the hiring organization needs doing. The six capabilities measured include:

  1. Learnability: Dedication to self-improvement, seeking and being open to feedback.
  2. Agile curiosity: Shifting easily between activities, adapting to uncertainty and changing requirements.
  3. Emotional intelligence: Navigating difficult interpersonal situations, and interacting effectively with others.
  4. Resilience: Maintaining composure under pressure, dealing effectively with setbacks.
  5. Trustworthiness: Being considerate to others, and maintaining integrity in critical situations.
  6. Inclusive mindset: Building supportive relationships, valuing difference and diversity of perspective.

Measuring these vital graduate competencies can be accomplished with a variety of award-winning assessments such as Aon’s ADEPT-15 personality measure, engaging and gamified ability measures such as Aon’s gapChallenge and gridChallenge mobile-first assessments, and augmented by measures such as the Views motivational questionnaire.

In addition, clients may elect to further enrich their understanding of graduate applicants by including a structured recorded, one-way video interview using our RecRight video interviewing platform.

In addition, a more realistic candidate experience can be facilitated through the use of our global situation judgement test partner, Talogy, and their graduate dilemmas SJT solution.

Outcomes of using assessments in graduate selection

Our application of objective, award-winning assessment solutions to the graduate selection challenge can have profound benefits for clients.

Among others, using such assessments can result in:

  • A threefold increase in the prediction of in-role performance
  • 77% of candidate experience ratings as positive
  • 50% reduction in time-to-hire of graduate applicants
  • 250% cost savings overall (source: Aon assessments)

In this way, both hiring managers and talent professionals benefit from the use of quality assessments. Our clients commonly report some of the following benefits:

  • Improved and deeper insights into graduate applicants’ future potential, removing the need to rely on limited work experience histories or academic grades
  • Clear and easy-to-use talent metrics that speak to the inherent requirements of the role
  • Confidence in test results based on actual, observable performance and tenure of graduate talent
  • Overall improvements in time and cost savings

Apart from the business benefits, our clients have also observed substantial benefits that accrue to their graduate applicants:

  • Candidates are engaged with an efficient, professional assessment process that is smart-phone enabled and easy to complete
  • Assessments provide candidates with insights into the likely work scenarios they may face as well as the job requirements
  • Feedback to candidates becomes a vital part of planning their learning and onboarding journeys.

Final thoughts

The future of work is uncertain. While specific roles will disappear, others will be created. It is hard to predict the skills and knowledge needed.

With this uncertainty, coupled with an acceleration of change, hiring organizations will need to hire talent, especially in their graduate and early careers tracks, that feel comfortable with and embrace dynamic change.

Such qualities are described by the TTS graduate best practice solution, in that it goes beyond just academic achievement or subjective methods of talent selection, to deliver accuracy, efficiency, and long-term benefit to graduate talent decision-makers.

If you are interested in enhancing your graduate talent processes, why not reach out to us at: