Corporate America loves to “think outside the box.” But you can’t do that unless you understand the box you’re in, to begin with. We talk a lot about the future of work, without talking much about the future of hiring.
Today’s mismatch between the under-employed labor force and the millions of unfilled job positions is a real setback for the economic recovery, creating supply chain holdups, and pinching companies’ earnings—and the value of their stocks. It is also unfair to many perfectly capable and qualified job seekers, some of whom have given up entirely on finding a good job. FedEx spent an additional 450 million in job incentives, higher wages, and labor-shortage-related costs this last quarter, denting its profits.
Theoretically, the current job market favors employees. Yet employers are still doing some of the same things they were doing in the old job market where they had their pick of the litter. By not adapting to a different market, companies worldwide are suffering from “labor shortages,” when in fact, the potential candidates are right there, still looking for jobs right under their noses. So what is going on?
Competing for the same pool of industry workers, instead of considering strong workers from other industries
When the economy is expanding, many industries are growing their ranks simultaneously. Hiring managers who insist on hiring workers with training and/or experience in their specific Industry X will be competing with each other for the same pool of Industry X workers, thus bumping up wages and exacerbating the shortage in said industry. In economic expansion conditions, managers are better off considering workers from lateral industries—and then training them. They can expand their pool by picking jobseekers with generalizable skills from more economically depressed industries.
Many hiring managers are thinking squarely inside the box
Too many hiring managers are literally boxing themselves in by:
- the very job description they write;
- giving too much importance to the candidate’s resume;
- specifically, overweighing the candidate’s most recent job experience;
- letting recruiters (and in some cases AI algorithms) reject perfectly good candidates before they are even considered.
That’s for starters.
A resume is just a record of a person’s professional past, not a prediction about their future
Do you subscribe to the idea that the past is the absolute best predictor of the future? If so, we would all be able to predict the future perfectly, because the past is knowable, unlike the future. Yet that is exactly what employers are doing when they give the resume—past job history—too much importance in predicting a worker’s ability to perform in a future job. One way to think more openly is to ask yourself: are the jobs you personally held in the past the only jobs you can ever hold in the future? Of course, the answer is no. Because if that were the case, you personally would never be up for a promotion to a job with higher responsibilities. You are certainly capable of all kinds of jobs, and higher-level jobs than the one you are performing at present. So, if you are ready for a more challenging job—or a slightly different job—why shouldn’t all these other millions of applicants?
A resume is not a person’s fate for life
Hiring managers today seem to be more open to candidates who have changed their genders than those who have changed their careers. If we can change so many things about ourselves in this day and age, why are managers unfavorable to applicants who are trying to switch up their careers? Gone are the days of the salaryman staying in the same company for forty years. It has never been more possible and easy to change careers because people are now encouraged and empowered to do so. Education has never been so flexible, available, and cheap, with evening and online classes, dual degree programs, paid consultation and free courses offered to a worldwide audience, etc. We love to consume stories about janitors turned mathematicians (as in the movie Good Will Hunting) and mail clerks turned CEOs, so keep an open mind when you see resumes that show a curious candidate with the courage to retrain all over again to pursue a different career. This shows psychological strength, not weakness.
Hire the Black Sheep and Square Pegs: they can be super performers
Workers who come to your industry from different jobs or disciplines could be an asset to your team. First of all, they could have a wealth of maturity and experience, yet also have the newcomer’s enthusiasm for the new career they are pursuing. Someone who is willing to start all over in a new field is bound to be humble, and not afraid of the hard work it takes to learn something new from the ground up.
Written like a straitjacket, job descriptions can be barriers for entry for some dream workers
If your job description is overly specific and inflexible, it can be like the mosquito zapper that kills the butterflies.
When sifting through applications, hiring managers should not be looking for a clone of their last hire, but instead, ask themselves whether the real human being in front of them has the smarts and motivation to do the job at hand. Clearly, the applicant has read the job description and taken sometimes hours to fill out the job application, so they think they can do it. Maybe you should give them a chance to show that they can.
Don’t expect perfection, because you’ll be waiting forever
Sometimes the mismatch is some tiny bit of training or some certificate or skill that can be taught and learned in very little time—once the employee is already on the job. Consider offering that training or skill, instead of keeping out anybody who doesn’t have it already.
Job descriptions should have floors but not ceilings
Everybody understands why a job description should contain the minimum qualifications needed for the job. That said, a job description should not act as a ceiling, whereby a recruiter or hiring manager eliminates potential candidates simply because they look “overqualified” compared to the minimum or even the aspirational job requirements. In trying to capture a goldilocks candidate (who supposedly is so right for the job that they will hit the ground running and stay forever at this job) you may be eliminating the best possible candidates. And in a tight job market, you may never fill the position—or you may spend more time trying to fill it than training someone to do it.
Your job as a hiring manager is to decide who is qualified. “Overqualified” is a personal opinion, not a fact
It is up to the workers to decide what do to with their MBAs or PhDs, or their higher paid career of yesteryear. If you are ready to hire somebody who has the minimum qualifications, you should be willing to hire somebody who has the maximum qualifications. Some workers just want to continue to be challenged by different careers, instead of remaining in one their entire lives. Not everybody’s career trajectory is linear. Perhaps they chose the wrong career initially or were pressured into it by their parents or societal expectations.
Mothers and other caregivers often change to more flexible careers after they raise children. So, they may invariably look overqualified when they exchange a Wall Street career for a lesser-paid remote-work start-up job, for instance. We accept that veterans wish to come back into civilian jobs that often have less status and responsibility than their military careers. Change and compromise are part of everybody’s life.
Don’t let your recruiter—or your “black box” algorithm—reject half or most of your applicants before you even see them
Everyone knows recruiters are not perfect matchmakers. Indeed, many recruiters have such a big caseload and so little field experience, that they can’t possibly understand the exact nature of all the job descriptions they manage. They will often reject resumes of all those with insufficient past experience with this particular job—or industry. They may overlook a candidate simply because some keyword is missing, or they have four years instead of five years’ experience. Tell your recruiter you want to see every applicant, so that at least you can get a handle on his or her decision-making, by comparing what applicants are allowed through their filter, versus the ones the recruiter has deemed unfit for the job. Keep in mind that many algorithms used in hiring function in ways that are not as clear as you think, particularly if they are purchased as a proprietary service.
Don’t judge holes in resumes before you understand what they are
Holes in one’s resume are not necessarily “red flags.” Breaks in a person's work life can be signs of well-rounded people taking time off to accomplish normal human goals, like having and raising a child; dealing with a complicated pregnancy or infertility; taking care of a sick or disabled child, parent, spouse; taking care of a dying parent; retraining in a new career, or simply avoiding burnout, or getting a one-time opportunity to travel the world before running out of money. Holes in resumes can also be a sign of a greater, macro-economic mismatch between the person’s past training and old career—and the new needs of the labor market. Perfectly capable and smart workers have trained and worked in non-tech fields, for instance, and now want to shift into tech, because it is booming. The very mismatch between today’s labor force and openings can cause holes in the resumes of perfectly good candidates.
Do not hide salary ranges and other facts about the position
It’s a waste of everybody’s time. Before job seekers are expected to spend hours filling out every question on your specific online application, they deserve to know if the position will cover their rent and childcare. List your salary range based on experience. Then there are no surprises when you make the job offer.
Don’t post a full-time position with a well-known company, only to then offer the worker a freelance position with a third-party shell company with no benefits—sometimes an off-shore one based in a country that does not have the same employment protections as the US. That is false advertising, and will not help you fill your ranks in a tight job market. Being employed by these lesser-known third-party companies can come back to hurt employees later when they seek another job. Investors do not look kindly on companies that try to artificially minimize their perceived payroll burden by relying on these third-party employers.
As a psychologist, I’d be looking for these great traits when hiring: in defense of high “g”
Hiring managers seem to forget the vast intellectual abilities of Homo Sapiens. We didn’t evolve to only do job X for Company Y. We evolved to solve all the problems we could possibly face in a lifetime. So give intelligence a little more credit.
Someone with high “g” or high general intelligence can potentially learn the job in a few months—and possibly do it better than someone who’s been doing it for ten years. So relax and scan the resume for signs of smarts and problem-solving in other fields. Intelligence transfers.
If Skinner was able to teach pigeons to play ping pong, you can certainly train a smart, motivated worker to learn the tasks you need in a matter of weeks or months.
Smart managers surround themselves with equally smart or smarter people. Seasoned managers also know that they are rewarded on the basis of the performance of their team. Smart workers may actually save you and your job someday by stepping in to cover for you at the very moment when you can’t.
Hire for personality traits that correlate with high performance and great teamwork
Hire for conscientiousness, openness, flexibility, and adaptability. If a candidate demonstrates that they are hard-working in one industry or one job, they will be hard-working in any industry or position. That is exactly the basis and logic for promoting a high-performing worker in a low-level job to a higher-level job. Look at the people you know who have high work ethic. Notice that they tend to be conscientious in many fields, not just their microscopic job description. In fact, many excel even at their hobbies. Conscientiousness is a life-long personality trait that applies broadly to a person’s life, not just the one job. Similarly, openness to new experiences and being adaptable and flexible helps workers do well in teams and handle shifting challenges. The power of personality is often overlooked and could be more important than whether the worker held this particular job before.
Give enthusiasm and motivation some credit
Is the person motivated to learn and passionate about the job? Give me the enthusiasm to excel at the job any day over the person who’s been sleep-walking through it for ten years. A motivated worker is a happy and productive one, and perhaps a more creative one too.
When in doubt, ask yourself, if I had this resume, could I do this job?
Psychologists know that when drawing conclusions about our own abilities, we all tend to be more favorable, attributing our successes to our real traits and abilities, as opposed to chance, for instance. So, when scanning a resume, ask yourself, if I were the one to have accomplished these things and held these jobs, would I also be able to do the job I posted?
Do more research if you need to, but give people a chance
If you are taking a risk on someone who is new to the field or the job, go ahead, call their references, or give them a sample assignment, or other hoops and tests that will help you determine whether they can do this particular job before you hire them. But give them a chance.
Otherwise, you will be contributing to the mismatch by locking out great candidates from the workforce for months or years—while kneecapping your company’s ability to grow, earn, and boost its stock, not to mention the greater economy on which your own job depends.