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How—and Why—to Hire People Over Skills

How to Hire People Over Skills

The recruitment industry has evolved over the past decade, driven by evolving technology, market outlook and a seismic shift in what employees are looking for in a role. But what do employers want from new hires? In the past, it was all about the skills and experience, but these days it’s all about the person behind the application.

Despite what you may think, there are actually few industries where it’s genuinely vital that new hires display the skillset a job demands of them. Premiership footballers or heart surgeons both need to be able to be up and running from the get-go, and without essential skills like ball control or precision with a scalpel they’re not up to the job. But for the majority of sectors, a skillset isn’t everything when recruiting—which is just as well when you consider that we’re in the grip of a talent shortage.

ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey revealed that 50% of large businesses in the UK reported difficulty in recruiting. Exploring the main drivers of this talent drought, experience and hard skills make up 26% and 14% respectively, coming only behind a lack of applicants (30%). And the issue is no less apparent in the Life Sciences sector, according to Kelly Service’s whitepaper Talent in Science. It says: “Skills shortages are both industry-specific and generic across numerous industries, meaning that EU Life Sciences employers need a strong talent strategy to engage and retain talent.”

Why Hire People Over Skills?

That strategy could include taking a closer look at why people are recruited. If skill is all about what you do, then your attitude to work and mindset is all about what you perceive, think and believe. By hiring people over skills, you could build a far more productive team and minimize the risk of losing valuable members of staff who are disrupted by a poor fit.

When faced with a candidate at interview it can be easy to fall in the trap of zeroing in on their technical skills and giving little consideration to the impact they may have on an existing team. But, there is always the risk that you end up with a highly skilled employee who brings with them tension and a poor work attitude.

There is also evidence that suggests the most common recruitment methods are very poor indicators of how someone will perform on the job. Based on 85 years of research Frank Schmidt and John Hunter found that years of relevant experience predicted just three per cent of job success, and the normal unstructured interview process only 14 percent. So, years of relevant experience and the normal unstructured interview process amount to just a 17 percent chance that you can find the right person for the role you’re recruiting.

The Power of the Team

While teaching someone new skills can be achieved, changing someone’s personality is another matter. The nature of a team means you have a wide range of characters coexisting alongside each other who are expected to work well together.

In any given workplace you’ll find introverts sharing desk space with extroverts, high-energy workers sharing the staff cafeteria with data-driven employees and creatives attending brainstorming sessions alongside cautious workers. A new hire must be able to slot into the team seamlessly, showing respect and a civilized manner to their peers across the board.

And having a great team can transform its output too. According to Gallup research, close friendships at work can boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and having a best friend at work can lead to people being seven times more engaged in their roles.

Attitude is Everything

One three year study found that nearly half of all new hires (46%) failed within the first 18 months. But perhaps surprisingly the primary reason why new hires failed had nothing to do with their technical skills or aptitude for the job and everything to do with their interpersonal skills.

The Leadership IQ study found that 26 percent of hires failed because they couldn’t accept feedback, 23 percent because they couldn’t understand or manage their emotions, 17 percent lacked the necessary motivation and 15 percent possessed the wrong temperament for the position.

Attitude is everything for career success. If you can identify candidates who have the drive and determination to succeed, then you can teach them the necessary skills. There’s also the bonus that you can train them in the way you want them to perform on the job. Once poor work habits are formed they can be tough to change.

Time and Money

When it comes down to it, hiring the wrong person is not just about disrupting the team—it’s also about the time and money involved in the recruitment process. CEB analysis found that STEM roles take longer to fill in 2015 than they did in 2010, a trend that is still common. In 2010 the average length of time to fill a STEM vacancy was 43 days, by 2015 that had risen to 63 days. And for business-critical roles the impact is even worse: the length of time has grown from 49 days to 81 days in the same timeframe.

The reality is that hiring the wrong person for a role will see the consequences of recruitment delays intensified. Someone who isn’t right for the role is unlikely to remain in the position for as long as an engaged and happy worker and so the recruitment process—with all of its delays—must start again.

In financial terms, a study from CareerBuilder revealed that in the UK a bad hire can cost over £50,000. But you also need to factor in the damaged productivity of other workers; a higher burnout rate and disengagement for colleagues who have to compensate for the reduced workforce; and the time hiring managers spend on trying to fill the position. The overall cost to business is significant. Getting your hires right in the first instances can boost the bottom line.

The Problem with Highly Skilled Disruptive Workers

Negativity in the workplace can be extremely contagious and significantly damaging to a company. Employees who create tension, have major meltdowns, blow up in the face of adversity or criticism, or lack team spirit can all derail what was previously a highly capable team.

Often all it takes is one person’s negative attitude to bring a whole team down—and that can mean productivity suffers, the output is reduced, and stress levels are increased.

Recruiters and job seekers alike are both keen to open up lines of communication and find the role that is the right fit for them, not just their skills. As Confucius once said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Being happy in your work is as much about enjoying the role as it is the environment, the team and sharing a company’s ethos.

Culture Club

There’s a lot that has been written about culture, but when it comes to adding to a team, it really is vital that new hires are a good fit for both the company and the organization they’ll be working within.

Reed asked over 800 businesses to name the key traits they look for in job seekers and an overwhelming majority of 96 percent named mindset over skills as the essential element. Interestingly it’s not just for new hires where mindset matters; two-thirds of business owners said they’d fire someone with the perfect skillset over someone with fewer skills but the right attitude if they needed to reduce the workforce.

What Key Attributes are Highly Prized?

The Reed research identified five top traits that employers like to see in potential hires: accountability (75.12%); adaptability (75.12%); trustworthiness (90.93%); honesty (91.4%); and commitment (92.09%). A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management supported the idea that soft skills are highly desirable. Its findings ranked dependability and reliability (97%); integrity (87%); respect (84%) and teamwork (83%) as a top priority when assessing entry-level job seekers. None of this should be a surprise; hard skills can be taught, but attitude and ethics are ingrained.

How to Hire People Over Skills?

But how can you hire the right type of people? You’ll need to get creative with your hiring processes. Analyze the CVs you receive but remember with the proper support and training you can mold your ideal employee. That’s not to say you’ll want to hire a stream of cookie-cutter employers, but look to hire people for the potential they can bring to a role, whether that’s a sunny disposition, a bucket-load of enthusiasm or a great work ethic.

It’s far easier to assess candidates on their skill so you may need to carefully scrutinize CVs to look for indicators of the personality you’re after. Perhaps someone who has used their initiative to take training or who has worked within an organization for many years, or someone who has shown excellent progression.

Shake up the interview process: Interviewees will nearly always expect the traditional interview technique and come well prepared to ace it. To get the measure of your interviewees take them out of the interview room and have them perform some work-related tasks. Not only will you be able to assess whether they have any required technical skills but you’ll also get a feel for their work style and how they go about completing tasks. The Schmidt/Hunter research found that the best predictor of future job performance is doing the type of work involved in the job.

Team Talks: Instead of trying to understand someone’s work ethics and values from interview responses why not take them up to meet the team they’ll be working within. Make sure to get feedback from your current team members and do carefully consider any red flags that may be raised.

Collaborative hiring has slowly been creeping into the recruitment process and involves multiple people from an organization meeting potential employees and having a say in who’s hired. It’s beneficial for interviewees too. Research found that 66 percent of candidates felt interactions with current employees are the best way to gain insight into a company.

Recognize Potential: Always remember that the person applying for a role comes with limitless potential given the right environment. Consider the career development opportunities and the training programs you can offer, which given the right attitude can all help shape the best employee. Kelly research found that less than four in ten workers are actively looking at opportunities that employers are advertising.

The solution is that employers will need to identify and nurture prospective candidates from an early stage, sometimes with the hiring intention being in the longer term. Hand in hand with this is the need to find the right person for each role—and if you’re thinking long-term, then potential hires have the opportunity to gain skills in the interim period.

If they already possess the type of personality and ethics you’d like to see, then giving them time to develop the necessary skills means you can end up with the ideal team member.

Published: May 22, 2019

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