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Hiring in a pandemic: potential versus experience

It’s widely accepted that hard skills are what gets you a specific role at a company. But what would the workforce look like if we put more emphasis on soft skills and potential rather than experience?

An easy way to put this into perspective is by asking the question, “if Albert Einstein didn’t have access to books, would he ever have come up with the theory of relativity?” In short, the answer is no. But would he still have been a genius? Absolutely. The variable in this situation is opportunity, and without this, an employee can never be expected to realise their full potential.

Typically, the more experience a candidate has on their resume, the more likely they will be considered for an open position. However, this won’t always bring in the right candidates for a business. Those with the most experience can be preconditioned to industry norms that may not be conducive to bringing new ideas and out-of-the-box critical thinking.

A set of skills can always be taught, but motivation and ambition cannot. 

Employ a person, not a function

Recent academic findings demonstrate that a happy workplace where people feel valued can increase productivity and innovation and reduce unwanted outcomes like employee absenteeism, workplace grievances and staff turnover. 

As an employer, you may be used to going with your gut when hiring but consider how a data-driven approach could enable you to learn much more about the candidate than first impressions could ever tell you. Though personal qualities such as personality and motivation should still be factored into the decision-making process, standardised assessments provide a fairer and more reliable method of assessing these than going with your gut. Interviews should also be standardised to emit any personal bias however unconscious it may be. 

In reality, the concept of a ‘culture fit’ is immeasurable. It is an organisational-level concept but, in the context of hiring decisions, often reflects the values or perception of the culture of the individual making the decision. Without standardisation, this makes ‘culture fit’ a potential source of significant, individual bias. It is critical to remember that although employees who fit the culture or values of a company are usually more satisfied and stay longer with the company, there is little evidence to suggest they will be the top-performing employees. 

Broaden your reach

If the current skills gap crisis in Australia has taught us anything, it’s that the talent your business needs isn’t a renewable source. The pandemic has devastated industries indiscriminately, forcing recruiters and HR leaders to look overseas for remote workers to fill the gaps in the absence of on-the-ground talent. 

One way to broaden your reach is by considering the value of transferable skills. An ex-hospitality worker’s finely-tuned customer service skills could make them a great addition to a customer experience team at a tech company, for example, or a candidate whose background lies in personal training could make a motivational sales team leader. A great example of this was when, as a result of the reduction of domestic flights, Woolworths recognised the soft skills flight attendants could bring to their business and invited Qantas staff to apply for work while planes remained grounded. 

With the battle to fill roles well and truly ‘on’, businesses should be doing everything in their power to expand their candidate pool by looking beyond the CV and traditional industry-specific experience. If you hire based purely on experience, you could be limiting your candidate pool and overlooking the best fit for your company; remember, hard skills can be taught, but attitude can’t. 

Use tech to uncover hidden gems 

When all is said and done, hiring based on experience through the traditional interview process isn’t as easy as it seems. A candidate may be nervous face-to-face and could struggle to show you the ‘real’ them, or perhaps they are neurologically diverse and could demonstrate their potential better in a pre-recorded interview? 

Implementing HR technology such as game-based assessment is a prime example of how businesses can uncover hidden talent. These assessments can be designed as a series of short games developed to measure skills relevant to a specific job role. Just like video-based assessment, candidates can complete the games whenever and wherever they want. These games are explicitly designed to assess psychological traits and cognitive skills relevant to the workplace and high-performance work. They are based on decades of psychological research and mimic tasks successfully used in traditional assessments to predict job performance while eliminating bias. 

In a world where we can make real-time video calls to the other side of the world or search for the answer to almost any question in less than a second, the traditional interview feels archaic in comparison. Nearly 100 years since the official invention of the interview, the process is screaming for an upgrade. Luckily for us, technology has placed the power back in the hands of employers by enabling them to make data-driven decisions that not only assess whether a candidate is a good fit on paper but a good fit in the office too. After all, among the young talent in Australia impacted by the lockdowns, there could be tens of Einstein’s whose experience has been stunted by lack of opportunities. But it is up to us as a business community to ensure we set this generation up for success by giving them the opportunities they deserve – right from the very first interview. 

Read more: Hiring doesn’t stop with HR, leaders need to embrace their role in employee engagement too

Read more: Hiring gender bias exacerbated by algorithmic sorting models for CVs, new research finds

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