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Why are Early Careers such a test for HR teams?



Designing and implementing effective Early Careers programmes is tough.


In our experience it is one of the toughest deliverables for the HR function as it tests everything.

It requires the whole system to work together.


Even though the roles are junior the complexity and challenge is high.

So what makes Early Careers so hard?

There are lots of reasons why Early Careers test an HR function’s ability to deliver.


We see these 10 challenges coming up across all types of organisations.

1. Aligning stakeholders top to bottom

2. Predicting future skills

3. Getting a decent website that works

4. Getting overwhelmed by applicants

5. Selecting for potential with limited track record

6. Onboarding people new to work

7. Having engaged line managers

8. Getting performance management to work

9. Designing accelerated learning experiences

10. Getting the end to end HR model to work

Early Careers needs you to align stakeholders, top to bottom.

Everyone in the organisation has a strong view on how Early Careers should work.


Early Careers requires getting alignment from the corner office, through to the front line and every person in-between.


In our experience, the CEO always has a strong opinion. Too many initiatives stall at the last minute because the CEO has not been consulted.


Very often this is based on their own personal experience rather than any deep insight into what will work.


The challenge is how to get input from senior executives at the right time for what is, often, a low priority agenda item.

Predicting future skills at a usable level with headcount.

Early Careers involves having a clear and agreed view of the future.


It is trying to answer the question of


“What do we anticipate will be the skills that will drive competitive advantage in future?”


This means having a future workforce plan, with a clear view on future demand and supply gaps.

The plan needs detail around locations, numbers and of course headcount.


The challenge is workforce planning is more talked about than seen, especially at this level of detail.

Getting a decent Early Careers recruitment website that does what you need it to do.

For Early Careers the digital presence needs to be unified, attractive and simple.


Someone looking to join you will come to your website to see what is available. They will judge you by your website and the application process.


They need to know what the roles in the organisation are, what they involve, why join you and how to apply.


They can’t apply, or think about applying, if they can not find the roles available.


But in most organisations changing the website or the application process is almost impossible, so it stays not good

Avoiding getting overwhelmed by applicants you can’t process.

If you have any kind of brand, it is easy to attract 1000’s of applicants if you go to market in an unthought out way.


There are a huge number of people in the market looking for a first job.


If applying is too easy, 1000's will apply, often within hours.


Not only does processing 1000's take effort and cost but you still have to find the diamonds you actually want.


More applicants quickly moves from more choice which is good, to more noise in the system which is bad.


Designing opt out recruitment campaigns is different, it is more than posting a role.

How to select people for potential not track record.

With Early Careers you are hiring people without clear track records or skills.


This is hard as you can not rely on a competency based interviews. This is 95% of hiring managers default approach.


You need a clear view on the potential you are hiring for. Potential for what?


And you need to be clear how you are measuring it. Indicators of potential.


Otherwise you end up with hiring managers hiring people who they like and you miss out on the top candidates. It becomes an expensive lottery.


Selecting Early Careers is hard. Be wary of the false claims of what is possible.

How to onboard people with potential but who don’t know how to work.

Early Careers talent are typically new to work as well as to their role.


At the start they are high potential but low in capability.


You have to teach these people how to work, what work is and how work works.

Above all this takes manager time. At the start lots of time!


And this is a different skill set for most managers. Made harder by hybrid working with less time spent together.


The onboarding process needs to be different and be more intense. 2 days on a Zoom call doesn’t cut it.

Early Careers needs engaged line managers to be effective.

Early Careers needs the time and energy of engaged line managers.


They need managers’ time to create the right level of supervision, learning and support.


But Early talent typically do not have fixed jobs. They are on deployments, projects or rotations or looking to move onwards fast.


Which means they don’t have line managers who are committed to them.


It is too easy for Early Careers to float. For managers to put off essential feedback as they know their Early Talent will move on.


Great line management is always a challenge, for Early Careers this is more

How to make performance management work for people who keep moving

The Early Career recruitment cycle doesn’t match the internal performance cycle.


The typical goal based performance cycle with 6 or 12 monthly reviews does not work for Early Careers talent.


They don’t have well defined performance goals “in the system”.


They move more frequently than the performance cycle.


So Early Career talent end up as “too soon to tell” in the performance system.


So just at the point where a new starters need most feedback, they get nothing useful.

Delivering accelerated learning for complex skills.

We hire talent so they can develop the rare and valuable skills that add value.


This brings the challenge of designing experiences that accelerate learning and build these skills.


Experiences that get people up to scratch and productive as quickly as possible for the specific type of skills they need to learn.


Experiences which have in-built stretch, challenge, feedback and milestones.


Experiences that work for the line managers.


Designing programs like this is an art. And the default rotation programme is typically NOT the best answer.

All of this means the HR operating model has to work seamlessly end to end!

Early Careers involves aligning the entire HR operating model.


Early Careers need business partners in market to work with talent partners to work with learning and development and with talent acquisition, with recruitment marketing, the website team, the assessment team, the HR systems, mobility, reward etc.


All of these teams have the relationships, decision rights and resources that Early Careers need to succeed.


But often Early Careers is not their priority. They need to be involved but they have no time or resource.

Early Careers are a great test of how mature an HR function is.

In theory, Early Careers should be about combining all of the existing capabilities that exist in the HR function to assemble solutions.


Our experience is that this rarely happens. It is just too hard to align everyone and it ends up as a series of ineffective compromises.


When the CEO asks HR to create something new, the accelerator doesn’t link to the engine.

But it is solvable.


We have a proven approach that helps HR organisations solve this problem and get where they want to be. Delivering sustainable value.


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