New Research Finds Only One in Five Employers Fully Confident in Current Entry-Level Job Applicant Screening Methods, More Objective Selection Methods Needed

Non-cognitive “soft” skills rated more important than cognitive skills, even with current focus on technological advances

NEW YORK--()--Only one-fifth of HR professionals are fully confident in their employers’ overall ability to effectively assess the skills of entry-level applicants despite the fact that the majority of these job applicants possess some of the most important skills employers value, including dependability and reliability, integrity, respect, and teamwork. These findings are according to the SHRM/Mercer Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey, a research collaboration between Mercer and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), funded by the Joyce Foundation.

Furthermore, employers are relying on longstanding methods of screening entry-level job candidates even though they have little confidence in the accuracy of some techniques. According to the SHRM/Mercer survey, most employers use in-person interviews (95%), application reviews (87%), and resume reviews (86%) – despite nearly one-half of HR professionals having little or no confidence in application and resume reviews. As a result, employers may be missing qualified and talented job candidates who in turn are losing out on opportunities for jobs for which they might be well-qualified.

“Since application and resume reviews are typically the first line of screening for job applicants, many candidates never even get to the interview,” said Barb Marder, Senior Partner in Mercer’s Career business. “For individuals who have historically encountered obstacles to entry-level employment there are even greater barriers in getting past resume and application reviews as these methods are based on subjective evaluations.”

Selection methods

The SHRM/Mercer survey findings indicate a need for new and more effective approaches to entry-level selection. According to the survey, less than half of companies use selection tests for entry-level hiring (42%), which scientific literature endorses as one of the most accurate predictors of performance, along with well-constructed interviews. Few organizations use personality tests (13%), cognitive ability tests (10%), or online simulations (2%) to select entry-level employees – methods supported by some of the strongest empirical research.

“Entry-level hiring is ripe for disruptive change, and companies that incorporate more objective methods with scientific support can reap solid gains,” said Sameer Gadkaree, Joyce Foundation Senior Program Officer, Employment and Joint Fund Programs. “This could benefit both employers and job applicants as more objectivity is incorporated into the hiring process.”

This need for more effective approaches to entry-level hiring also leaves the door open for innovative assessment approaches that take advantage of advanced technologies, such as machine learning algorithms, gamification, and high-fidelity simulations. These methods will most likely have a positive impact on the assessment and selection processes for applicants at all job levels going forward.

Career-related internships will also continue to be important gateways to employment for entry-level job applicants, especially as automation replaces low-skilled jobs. According to the SHRM/Mercer survey, about one-half (47%) of HR professionals indicate that the completion of a career-related internship by an entry-level applicant is extremely valuable in determining if the applicant is a strong candidate. Notably, having held a job outside of school is the second most valued experience (39%), suggesting that individuals unable to obtain official internships can still benefit from job experience.

The SHRM/Mercer Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey was administered in 2016 to a randomly selected sample of SHRM members who were significantly involved in their companies’ entry-level hiring processes. More than 520 HR professionals completed the survey. Multiple industries and organization sizes were represented in the sample, covering both the private and public sector.

For more information about the survey findings please contact Miriam Siscovick at

About Mercer

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and performance of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE:MMC), a global professional services firm offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With 60,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue exceeding $13 billion, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a global leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a leader in management consulting. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.


Miriam Siscovick, +1 206-356-8549

Release Summary

Non-cognitive “soft” skills rated more important than cognitive skills, even with current focus on technological advances.


Miriam Siscovick, +1 206-356-8549