April 3, 2015

How a More Open Mind Can Help Employers Find Star Talent

StarWith talent shortages looming across (almost) every industry, employers are looking for new and innovative ways to locate and attract talent. However, innovation means more than using the latest social media platforms or HR technologies — it means opening the mind and abandoning an outdated and perfectionist approach to the talent market. This dusty outlook can be highly intolerant of candidates who deviate from the norm or from the organization’s ideal candidate profile, but who could otherwise do the job with some grooming.

Innovation, as I am talking about it today, is about embracing a new, enlightened, and accepting attitude toward the modern, fragmented, diverse, chaotic candidate market. It is now full of rough diamonds and round pegs for square holes — and pretending otherwise will get employers nowhere.

Innovation requires that employers see candidates as works-in-progress that any good organization should be capable of molding into superstars.

Below, I have outlined several ways in which an open mind can help employers find great talent, no matter the shortages in the market.

1. Focus on Attitude More Than Skills

While job skills are important, one shouldn’t be too fixated on them. Studies show that a scant 11 percent of new hires fail because they lack job-specific skills. Most new hires that fail — 89 percent of them — fail because of poor attitudes — e.g., they have the wrong temperament, their emotional intelligence isn’t great, they aren’t sufficiently motivated, and/or they can’t take feedback.

By adopting a more attitude-based and skill-flexible approach, employers can immediately widen their talent pools without necessarily compromising new hire performance.

2. Don’t Demonize Job Hoppers

Another way to open the mind is to soften the traditionally hard stance that many employers take on job hoppers. Employers often see job hoppers as unstable, disloyal, and fundamentally unsound candidates. The truth is that short tenures have become the norm now for several reasons: employers are making increasing use of short-term contracts; more and more workers are looking to work in freelance/flexible capacities; the recent recession lead to massive layoffs; and many candidates now seek to develop new skills and experiences to advance their careers.

Job hopping is no longer a symptom of being unable to hold a steady job; it is simply the modern, positive, functional way that contemporary careers operate. In order to extract maximum value from the current candidate marketplace, then, employers should not demonize job hoppers; rather, they must accept job hoppers as valid and high-potential candidates.

3. Don’t Assume the Unemployed Have Lost Their Skills

Traditional, employers have carried quite a bit of antipathy toward unemployed job seekers. One of the most common themes underlying this antipathy is the belief that the unemployed have lost their skills and/or “edge” because they have been out of practice, in a sense.

If someone has been out of work for five years, it may be plausible to say that some of their skills have eroded, but it’s not realistic to think that someone who has been unemployed for 6-12 months has suffered significant skills erosion. It’s also possible that the unemployed may engaged in volunteer activities which have enabled them to practice existing skills or develop new ones.

By taking the more innovative viewpoint and seeing unemployed candidates as the valid, high-potential options they are, employers can take another step toward extracting maximum value from the modern candidate market.

4. Don’t Assume That Overqualified Candidates Won’t Be Able to ‘Step Down’ 

Overqualified candidates — especially older candidates — often face exclusion from employers’ short lists simply because of a very convenient and totally unproven belief that overqualified employees won’t be engaged if they take lower-status roles.

However, the fact is that many overqualified candidates applying for lower-level positions have chosen to dial down their careers – for any number of legitimate reasons. They have mentally prepared for the “step down,” and they are ready to be engaged. Sure, there may be some “growing pains” — or perhaps “shrinking pains” — but all candidates come with baggage.

In short, overqualified candidates can do the job just as well as — if not better than –qualified staff, so what’s the problem?

5. Freelancers Are Workers, Too

Many employers immediately discount freelancers when hiring, seeing them as a strange, wild, heretical breed of worker that can’t be controlled and/or is exceedingly expensive. Many employers prefer the certainty of a traditional employee.

The problem is that more and more workers — especially from the more entrepreneurial and millennial generation — are choosing to freelance. By ignoring freelancers, employers needlessly miss out on a thriving section of the talent market.

If employers want to extract full value from the candidate market, they need to take the most enlightened approach to sourcing talent and accept high-performing and affordable freelancers into the fold, alongside typical employees.

Read more in Recruiting Tips

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.