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Does the customer service job you’re hiring for really require an undergraduate degree? Do you really need a candidate with 10-15 years of experience for a mid-level engineering position?

In recent years, employers have been missing out on quality talent by enforcing overly rigid sets of standard requirements. One possible culprit behind the trend? The rise of automated talent screening technology.

In his research, Wharton School professor Peter Cappelli found that “companies piled on job requirements, baked them into the applicant tracking software that sorted resumes according to binary decisions (yes, it has the key word; no, it doesn’t), and then found that virtually no applicants met all the criteria.”

Regardless of the cause, the fact remains that employers have been overreaching in their job requirements, thereby unnecessarily restricting their talent pools. Now, hiring managers and recruiters need to take a careful look at their job descriptions and ads to ensure they accurately reflect the truly necessary requirements of a role.

Job Ads Based on People, Not Requirements

Reviewing your job descriptions regularly and updating them as needed may be a time-consuming set of tasks, but it is absolutely necessary in today’s talent market. An overly demanding job description will cause a host of downstream issues, driving away skilled candidates and leading to overqualified hires who quickly grow unhappy in the role and leave.

So, what’s a better way to craft job descriptions and ads that really work? Instead of defaulting to an extensive list of requirements, think about the best employee currently doing the job and base the description on their traits and skills. And be sure to set clear expectations about what the role entails and the long-term growth opportunities it offers. This will help ensure the candidates who apply are candidates who will really be happy in the role, thereby curbing attrition.

Rethinking Candidate Potential

Given the supply and demand of today’s labor market, employers have to get creative about how they attract and retain talent. Loosening your requirements list is part of that — and so is adopting a more nuanced understanding of candidate potential.

Where they once recruited only candidates with extensive histories in their own industries, many companies are learning it’s necessary to cast wider nets today. Recruiters and hiring managers are learning that aptitude and ability matter more than exact experience — another reason why those long lists of requirements are self-defeating.

Of course, this raises a valuable question: How do you measure something like aptitude when you can’t just look at a candidate’s previous experience? Some companies have incorporated problem-solving assessments, math tests, and similar methods of evaluation into their hiring processes for this reason. Such assessments can give an employer insight into a candidate’s core skills, which can then be refined for the particular job at hand through training and development opportunities.

I’ve personally seen the success of this method myself in the medical device industry. While some employers might search for assemblers with years of experience, others have found they can hire less-experienced workers and train them on the necessary protocols to achieve the same levels of performance.

For more expert HR advice, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

Balancing Competing Recruitment Needs

While there are plenty of benefits to relaxing requirements and investing in potential, it’s important to note that employers have to balance the need to hire quickly with the need to hire the right person the first time, according to Aerotek Director Paul Robinson.

“If it takes too long to fill open positions, your current employees get overworked and start job hunting themselves,” he says. “Then you need to fill multiple positions instead of just one, exacerbating attrition instead of reducing it.”

But Paul also notes that if you make a quick hire without first ensuring a good fit, that can cause its own problems. This is particularly true if your list of stringent requirements leads to an overqualified hire. You may think this would mean higher-quality work done more quickly, but “if you hire someone who’s overqualified for the job, you will probably lose them,” Robinson warns. “They’ll feel underutilized because they’re not using their degree or their skills.”

Hire for Current Needs

One final consideration: Employers often fail to distinguish between current and future needs when hiring, and that can be a contributing factor in overly strict requirements lists.

“You may require all new hires to have an undergraduate degree because they’ll need it if they get promoted to management — but do all employees move up to management?” Robinson says. “You may be neglecting solid candidates for the current job by concentrating on a future that may or may not happen.”

And besides, Robinson notes, workers switch jobs more frequently these days. “Should you even be making assumptions about where every new hire will be in 5-10 years?” he asks.

If you do hire someone with a plan to move them into a higher-level role eventually, Robinson says, “make sure you let them know that timeline up front so they can make an informed decision” about whether this is the right career trajectory for them. It’s all about properly managing expectations.

If it has been a while since your company has assessed its standard job descriptions, now is the time to take a fresh look. Are you really hitting the mark with regard to the skills, experience, and education required? You may be surprised to find that eliminating non-critical requirements opens you up to a wider talent pool without compromising the quality of the employees you bring on board.

Luke Moran is a director at Aerotek.

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