Time To Change Your Focus When Hiring

It takes just 7.4 seconds to reject an applicant based on skills listed on a resume. According to an eye-tracking study, recruiters use those 7.4 seconds on rudimentary “pattern matching”— that is, hunting for keywords that match the open role. Imagine now that your keywords include only hardline technical requirements such as software programs and specific technology, ignoring transferable soft skills like the ability to learn, leadership, and accountability.* This is a fast way to narrow an already competitive job pool and end up with a poor culture-add to your organization.

Soft Skills Matter

Many assume that intangibles like maturity, discipline, and accountability are more or less equal across candidates, while specialized hard skills are difficult and time-consuming to train. Not true. Soft skills and experience are mutually exclusive and individually developed. And no matter how niche a role is, hard skills can be trained. Character traits, on the other hand, are much more difficult to teach. Think of the doctor who graduated top of his class but has no bedside manner, the lawyer who graduated Ivy League but lacks the E.Q. to read a courtroom, or the professor with a pile of peer-reviewed publications and no idea how to coach students. Hire for character, and the skill gap will dissolve.

Don’t have the time and resources to invest in a lengthy training process? You’ll certainly want a hire with the drive, initiative, and energy to hit the ground running.

Shift Your Hiring Paradigm

If you want to broaden qualifications and increase the pool of available candidates, transferable skills trump required experience. In fact, no experience hiring, or “down skilling,” is a growing trend among companies interested in attracting and retaining top talent, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal and Burning Glass Technologies.

Take this sample job description:

We are seeking a Field Service Representative experienced in the maintenance and repair of high technology, high production machinery. The position does require extensive travel to customers locations throughout the week.

Problems: First, this is not doing much to sell the position, but that’s another post for another day. The language of experience—”high technology, high production machinery”—says very little about the expectations of the person in this role.  Even a light touch of intangible requirements shows what success looks like in the position:

Seeking a technician, electro-mechanically skilled, expected to plan, perform, document and catalog predictive maintenance on our equipment at our customer’s facility. Candidate will be evaluated on their organizational ability, accuracy of maintenance and customer service skills related to the professional representation of our brand and our focus on a positive customer experience.

The second job description is much more likely to land you the talent your organization needs to do the job and do it right.

If you aren’t willing to totally drop experience requirements just yet, consider a slight shift in focus toward the transferable skills that veteran applicants have in spades. This will give your hiring team the opportunity to access the broader skills that are necessary for success, uncover unique performance areas not previously recognized, and ultimately bring in the talent that will add top value to your organization.


by Janie Young


*the top three traits Google looks for in new hires, based on an algorithm of their own creation rating the top eight most important qualities of their top performers. STEM expertise is dead last on the list.