Are Great Candidates Being Left Behind?

Great Candidates May Be Left Behind Hiring Best Practices Qualifying Employees Competencies Bench, Inc. Staffing Agency

“They need to be able to hit the ground running.” If we had a dollar for each time we heard that phrase uttered by a hiring manager, we’d have a mortgage payment in hand. Literally. Maybe two.

We live in the Age of Candidate Specialization. In this era, managers hire for a highly specific and exacting candidate toolbox of skills, and track records of key experiences. They want a 100% match, regardless of the length of listed job requirements. Managers no longer seem to hire for the potential an employee can bring to an organization. In this era of specialization, candidates are viewed almost entirely as immediate solutions to today’s staffing problems.

In 2015, technology and systems are so complex, so specific, that managers feel they must hire experience working only with that same exact system. And not just any experience, but three, five or 10+ years’ worth – whatever someone deems is the right number. Often only experience with that specific system will be satisfactory. We’re not talking about the tech equivalent of chocolate vs. vanilla, but more like the nuanced difference between Rocky Road and Super Fudge Chunk. Managers want the exact right flavor because when the candidate is hired, he or she has to “hit the ground running.” Meaning, jump in and deliver on the work that’s been piling up. No time for training, no time for settling into a new job. Be productive immediately.

It’s easy to think, “managers are under more pressure than ever; they’re entitled to want what they want.” That’s true, and maybe an expert on eating chocolate ice cream is exactly what the job requisition calls for. But what if a candidate comes along who is an expert on eating vanilla ice cream, but also has the competency equivalent of a superior ice cream maker, capable of making any flavor? Or what if there’s a chance to hire someone who has an outstanding ability to lead other ice cream eaters at work to higher levels of consumption? Could they also learn to eat chocolate ice cream and become an expert at that?

Obviously ice cream eating and mastering technical systems are worlds apart, but the point is there. Hiring managers might be overlooking strong candidates who may not have the exact job skills required, but with a little time can get up to speed and meet requirements. They may also add extra value through strong competencies such as problem-solving, analytics, leadership, judgment, or teambuilding to name a few.

What could be the cause for this Age of Candidate Specialization? There are many possible reasons. According to a recent national survey, 75% of hiring managers today would rather let a position go unfilled than to make a hiring mistake. This is supported by the fact that all during the recent recessionary years, some 4 million to 5 million jobs have been constantly open and available to working Americans across the country. Many recruiters also agree that hiring processes have slowed down considerably during this time – could it be that the lukewarm economy has created unprecedented hiring caution?

When asked about hiring manager behavior in the years before year 2000 in comparison to today, local senior recruiter Laura R. in the banking sector agrees that times have changed. “They do have to hit the ground running” she stated. “Managers are very specific about what they want… more than ever.”

Judy B., a veteran of agency staffing, agrees with her. Having worked in the field for 20+ years, Judy has seen a definite trend towards specialization. “Many clients insist on certain skills,” she shared. “And they also require assessments to prove the associate has the skill, and the right level of skill needed… My sense is that companies tend to be more streamlined now (compared to before 2000) and sometimes the issue is literally having the time and manpower to train.”

Whatever the reason – the pressure for profits, technological sophistication, a recessionary business climate, or a market imbalance of candidate supply vs. demand – it seems clear to many who recruit for a living that something is different from a couple of decades ago. Managers are far less likely to take a chance on an unproven but interesting candidate. There is little willingness to take on a developmental project that may offer bigger possibilities down the road. Whether real or imagined, there is currently no time to allow a new hire to grow into a role over time. Candidates with ready skills, with relevant, “right now” capabilities, are the order of the day. Others who are not close to a 100% match are being left behind.

Do they really need to hit the ground running? What if they show up on Day One jogging or just walking? When job requisitions are left open longer than expected, hiring managers may do well to consider the longer play. The candidate who may lack certain job-specific skills but clearly has the ability to learn and comes with a broad palate of competencies may also offer an organization even greater value tomorrow.

Recently our firm was engaged by a local financial institution to search for their next marketing director. Surprisingly, the hiring manager did not subscribe to the notion of the highly specialized candidate. “Prior banking experience is not only not required, a lack of it is actually preferred” he said. He then shared a list of competencies that he wanted in his next great employee. The emphasis was clearly on potential going forward, on being able to learn and to grow with the company over time. Wow!

Maybe a bit of the past still remains.