Evaluating Job Candidates: The Value of Zeroing in on Must-Have Skills
July 31, 2017 | Business and Careers
If you were hiring for a new position on your team, you’d probably write a job description that includes everything you could possibly need in the role. You’d prepare a list of best-case-scenario qualifications that, if met in their entirety, would reveal your ideal candidate. Right? It’s human nature to say, “I want it all!” But realistically, how often does someone come along who checks every box on the list of job requirements?
In a recent Society for Human Resources Management article, Adam Lawrence, vice president of talent acquisition at pharmaceutical firm McKesson, said he thinks most companies over-hire by 50 percent of what they really need to do the job. “Companies may be better off focusing more on the traits that organizations will increasingly need, such as agility, the ability to lead through change and collaboration.”
Indeed, some companies are getting better at saying, “These are the three essential job competencies for all new hires.” In a presentation at a Talent Connect conference, Google’s former head of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, said the company assesses candidates on four criteria: cognitive ability, leadership, intellectual humility and role-related knowledge. Surprisingly, perhaps, he said role-related knowledge was the least important. “If you have the other three attributes, you’ll figure out the rest.”
And I agree. In a tightening labor market, hiring managers may be better off zeroing in on a short list of absolute must-have skills or job competencies, freeing themselves to let go of the nonessentials.
For example, if I were hiring for an HR position today, I’d readily give up industry knowledge if the person has shown he or she can grow, learn and contribute new ideas. I’d also be willing to overlook a gap in technical expertise if the applicant were a committed lifelong learner. After all, technical expertise is only relevant for a period of time, so the ability to learn new things is more important.
Taking this further, I’d even be willing to overlook one of the must-have criteria if I knew the skill or expertise could be found elsewhere within the organization. In fact, I did this several years ago when I created a strategy and portfolio management role on my HR team. At that time, I thought that previous HR experience was a must-have, but I ended up hiring a lifelong IT professional who brought great strategic perspective and portfolio management skills – and she was amazingly successful.
What would you be willing to live without? Or, conversely, what are the must-have qualifications for people you hire? If you’ve never tried zeroing in on the handful of skills or characteristics you’d consider essential, try this: Think about your best performers. What makes them so successful? If you can capture and put into words the skills or behaviors that make them exceptional contributors, you’ll be well on your way to identifying the candidate characteristics you won’t want to do without.
If you conclude that what sets apart your top performers are their soft skills—such as the ability to communicate clearly or partner with others in solving problems—you’d be in good company. In a 2014 CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers and HR professionals, 77 percent said soft skills were as important as hard skills when evaluating a candidate for a job, and 16 percent said soft skills were more important.
Whether you happen to place more weight on attitude or aptitude, the important thing is this: The next time you get ready to fill a position, make a short list of must-have and nice-to-have job competencies. Then zero in on the skills that are essential, and allow yourself to let go of the ones that are not.