If you’ve ever hired someone, you know how the process starts. With your dream candidate in mind, you eagerly write out the job description. Master’s Degree. Ten years total work experience and five years in a similar field. Management experience. Strong track record of success in a similar role. The list goes on. When you’re finally done, you step back, read the description, and smile. This person would be awesome!
Of course they would. When has someone dreamed up a candidate that would be terrible in a role? So, what’s the problem with setting the bar so high? Simple. This candidate doesn’t exist. Or, if they do, you’re likely to have a very hard time finding them or not be able to afford them.
A manager’s most important role is hiring the right people for their team and placing them in the right roles. As a result, it’s tempting to be picky about everything. But, resist the temptation. You need to know what to be picky about, and what could be picked up in training. Many employers make one very huge mistake: they overvalue experience and undervalue training.
Know the Difference between a “Must-Have” and a “Nice-to-Have”
As I shared above, job descriptions are often written with the ideal candidate in mind. When this happens, it is an early indication of a lack of sufficient reflection or rigorous thought going into the hiring process. As a result, instead of clearly delineating the minimum requirements and listing the ideal requirements as preferred, the line between “must-have” and “nice-to-have” candidate qualities becomes blurred. This has significant consequences.
Creating unattainable “must-haves” often discourages great candidates from applying whom would have met the true requirements of the job role but now believe that they’re unqualified, thereby reducing the talent pool and causing a search to remain open longer than necessary. In addition, without rigorous thought and a clear vision of exactly what you should be looking for, it can be hard for a recruiter or a hiring manager to discern when a strong candidate is sitting right in front of them. Is the fact that they only have three years of experience truly a deal breaker? What if they have a track record of high performance and have demonstrated an ability to pick up new skills quickly? The reality is that there are certain non-negotiable attributes that a candidate must have regardless of the specific job role, including both organizational fit (aligned values, belief in the mission, alignment with work environment/structure, mindset, etc) and core skills necessary for the job (i.e. an accounting role must be filled by someone with the right accounting training). Beyond that, keep an open mind – great talent comes in unique packages.
What Must They Possess, and What Can They Learn?
Once an organization stops overvaluing past experience and begins to prioritize the outcome of training, mentoring, and on-the-job experience, candidates who were once dismissed become competitive options. Here’s a great example. I once worked with an education organization that was hiring a Director of Development. I found a great candidate for them with a track record of millions of dollars in sales in the private sector and a true passion for my client’s work. However, my client chose to not even interview the candidate because the candidate lacked fundraising experience. What my client missed, despite my repeated urging, was that the candidate had transferable experience, proven drive, and intellectual curiosity, all of which translated to a strong likelihood of developing the skills and organizational context necessary to be successful in the role. The candidate knew relationship-building and understood the importance of customer service; the rest were skills that could have been learned with time and experience on the job.
Employers must become experts in seeing potential in people, as it will allow them to access talent pools that others have passed over, hire candidates faster, and achieve better results. Plus, when organizations invest in their staff and provide them opportunities for growth, the staff are more likely to reward them with greater loyalty, stronger effort, and a better attitude. It’s essential for employers to begin asking questions such as, “Is this truly a must-have for day one?” or “Could I hire a more junior person for $10,000 less in salary and put that $10,000 savings towards top-notch training?”.
Consequences of Deciding Not to Train Strong Candidates
One of the greatest consequences I see when employers overvalue experience and undervalue training is that the hiring process takes forever; there aren’t enough applicants and the role stays open for far too long. For example, in my earlier story, instead of a great hire starting quickly and honing their skills through training and on-the-job support, the role sat vacant as the search went on for months. In my years in the education sector, I’ve seen this happen on numerous occasions. The ironic thing is that we work in a sector that is committed to the development of individuals in communities of great need, and yet it appears that we think that this development stops when a child finishes high school, and eventually college. We should take chances on individuals who are a great fit for our organizations but who are what many hiring managers might consider “rough around the edges”. We need to help them develop, grow, and build the skills they need to be successful. We need to invest in future employees. It makes business sense. It makes mission sense. And it’s the right thing to do.
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