I recently referred an acquaintance to senior leadership for a job on our team. I thought he’d be a good fit, despite the fact that his experience was not exactly on point. I knew him to have good analytical skills and good project management experience. But my bosses rejected him immediately because his experience was in a different industry. It’s so frustrating. We’ve had too much turnover to turn away non-traditional candidates. How do I convince senior leadership to reconsider?
That is very frustrating, especially when you can see the benefits of hiring this person and you took the time to make a personal referral.
As you probably know, it’s not going to be easy to convince senior leadership to reconsider; however, times are changing in the hiring and recruiting world. There’s a big push on for employers to consider candidates with non-traditional backgrounds. That might include someone who lacks a related degree or direct experience or perhaps has a gap in employment history.
While many employers agree with the desire to consider non-traditional candidates, there is still a lot of hesitation about doing that in actual practice. For many managers, considering someone with a non-traditional background can feel like a high-risk proposition. “Not everyone from a non-traditional background will be a great fit for your company,” writes Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture, a New York company that helps people with job placements.
“However, I would venture to guess that most companies overlook many such candidates because they aren’t sure what skills to look for from someone with little to no ‘traditional experience.’”
His suggestion: “Stop competing with the big fish for traditional qualifications. Instead, focus on top performers who are looking to break into your industry. That is your best chance of scoring a high caliber candidate.”
It might not be easy, but hiring non-traditional candidates will become more critical in the future because organizations are facing historic challenges in a highly competitive talent landscape with an exhausted workforce and ongoing pressures to control costs, according to a study by the research firm, Gartner, in its Dec. 2022 “9 Future of Work Trends for 2023” report.
“It’s more urgent than ever to rethink outdated assumptions about qualifications,” Gartner researchers wrote. “To fill critical roles in 2023, organizations will need to become more comfortable assessing candidates solely on their ability to perform in the role, not their credentials and prior experience.”
For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of diversifying talent pipelines, researchers said. “Now it’s time to back up those words with actions.”
Two key trends emerged from the report:
Indeed, more employers are rethinking their approaches to sourcing talent to fill critical needs and to diversify their workforces. More are embracing “skills-based” hiring, rather than focusing on traditional degrees and changing the prerequisites for a job and eliminating degree requirements or years of experience. “If traditional credentials are your top priority when it comes to hiring, you are missing out on some of the best available talent,” Belcak says.
Panelists at a federal-government-sponsored event last year described the work of OneTen, an executive coalition that focuses on closing opportunity gaps for Black talent in the U.S. The organization partnered with a healthcare employer and succeeded in rebuilding and resetting all its positions utilizing a “skills-first” perspective. The company wound up redesigning some 3,000 jobs.
What made the difference, though, said OneTen’s Chief Executive Officer Maurice Jones, was the role that senior leadership had in putting together the vision for resetting the jobs. “It took the senior C-suite folks, hiring managers and people managers to say, ‘You Know what? We should have been doing this years ago.’”
The increase in the popularity of flexible work has helped with recruitment of non-traditional candidates and allowed more companies to expand recruitment nationwide. Even if the talent pool is wider, however, there still can be problems with how the talent is screened. Companies that officially decide to eliminate four-year degree requirements might still prioritize those who have the degree when screenings occur. “A four-year degree was the gold standard of telling them that this person can learn,” Jones said during the panel discussion. “It was a real, flawed mindset with respect to that particular credential.”
Some hiring technology platforms automatically screen out candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, requiring employers to perform additional analyses or work with their service providers. And in other cases, candidates read job descriptions and get discouraged when they realize they don’t meet all the requirements.
A new Rochester startup company called “Uprove,” is trying to introduce a new alternative to the traditional application-screening platform. Co-founder Christian Kaduc told the RBJ recently that his experience in previous jobs showed him that there was a “disconnect” between employers failing to find skilled workers and talented candidates trying to get hired.
His Uprove startup offers a platform that can “facilitate and manage skills-based exercises” for candidates to complete as part of their applications. This helps employers vet candidates, reduce the risk of bad hires, and potentially hire more candidates with non-traditional backgrounds.
In his blog, Belcak offered some additional thoughts on identifying non-traditional top performers. Look for indications that they are investing their personal resources into making a change. That might include attending a bootcamp or other program, providing a freelance portfolio that “leverages skills outside of their current industry” or taking courses aimed at picking up the skills they need to be successful.
“If a candidate is investing heavily in themselves, chances are good that your investment in them will have a high return,” he says.
Also, watch for the candidate who goes “above and beyond” to show interest in your company in some way, he says, perhaps by researching a potential issue your company is facing and coming up with a suggested solution. Another sign of a top-performing non-traditional candidate will also embrace the fact that their background is different and will be upfront in discussing it.
“The next time you see a non-traditional resume come across your desk, think twice before dismissing it. You might just be looking at your next top performer.”
Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by email at [email protected]a