Thursday, December 09, 2004

Graduate management schemes and the questions candidates ask

Graduate training schemes typically fall into two broad categories - ones that aim to develop functional related skills, and those who seek to find potential future general managers for the firm. Of course there is overlap between the two - most typically that a functional scheme may also want to develop those who lead in that functional area (e.g. accountants who manage other accountants) and there are many instances of those on general management training schemes wanting to specialise in certain business areas following their rotations. The question that I will raise here is whether we can use information on information seeking as a guide on motivations of candidates without commercial experience.

Research on information seeking during the early months of employment shows that those candidates who wish to develop towards technical expertise will be most interested in exploring issues around employer support for development, training etc. and those with a more general management interest will typically be more interested in HR policies such as appraisal, performance measurement, career mapping etc. Also, surveys on what concerns employers points that those graded as high performers (generally with a desire towards developing as managers) are generally more interested in organisational issues - e.g.. performance of the organisation, belief in management - whereas others focus more on issues relating to their jobs and those around them.

Graduates without employment will often have a strong desire towards employment with a reputable and well regarded firm. Many will have some idea about which direction which the want to take their career, though this will develop and for a large number change over the first 24 months. Given the cost of development, and for general management schemes the degree to which value added by the graduate is biased towards the medium to long term, there is obviously a desire to recruit those with a deep desire towards management.

Candidates at all levels will tailor responses to fit what they believe the interviewer is looking for - 'the right answer'. This applies especially in the areas of motivation. What becomes telling though is what sorts of questions the candidates ask of the interviewer, or seek through the process.

Given that the candidate asks questions that they are interested in (instead of ones they think will impress the interviewer) classifying these questions can add an extra level of data to ensure fit with the role. One would expect that those with a natural desire towards management related work would be more interested in the mechanisms that will enable them to achieve promotion, and those with a natural desire to become functional experts will be interested more in how the company will support them develop skills.

Two ways of getting this information; first, after a generic presentation as part of the selection process (common amongst many firms during a selection day) or even by asking a generic question on 'what attracted them to apply' information can be gathered on motivations and areas of interest. This may be best as perceived smalltalk at the very beginning of the interview and as such should help the candidate relax.

The second is at the end of an interview during the candidates questions. It should be relatively easy for an experienced interview to classify the questions without the candidate feeling they are being scored.

As with any data identified during the selection process this should be validated with other ways of assessment, but the questions that a candidate asks might add considerably to your understanding of their potential fit to the scheme.