Why is it that talent is difficult to find? We always hear that there is always a shortage of good talent. This comment is like talking about the economy, inflation or weather, with no license is required to pass a judgement! I believe that a lot of the issues are self-created. We want to be specific, but find comfort in being generic. This mentality gets ingrained right from school days. If you want to teach history of India, you tend to cover everything from Mohenjo-daro to Modern India. Everything has to be crammed. If the student does not remember some portions, and if he/she gets questions from that section, the judgement is that the student is “No good”. The emphasis is on testing what the student does not know, rather than what he/ she does know. Let me show how this tendency reflects in our hiring practices:
Vague and verbose job descriptions
Someone in the past must have written a verbose piece about the job and subsequently generations have copied and modified from this historical piece! Take a standard line that can be seen in most job descriptions – “Must have good communication skills” – is this not something that is a given? Will any applicant concede that he/ she has poor communication skills? What is meant here is that the potential incumbent must be able to effectively communicate his/ her thoughts & ideas. However, when recruiters/ interviewers see the requirement for communication skills, they assess the accent/ style and pass a judgement on the candidate. Moreover, most of the statements in a typical job description tend to be vague (“Cover Your Ass” types) and not objective and measurable.
The next step is the interview process. In the guise of involving the “team” in the hiring process, and to ensure that there is acceptability of the incumbent, the number of interviewers invariably is large. In many cases, the interviewers have just a little more experience than the interviewee and have not been trained in interviewing techniques. These sub-optimal interviewers feel the need to impress the candidate with a display of their own knowledge. For this, they end up posing questions from their own domains of strength. If the quality of answers does not match with the interviewer’s knowledge, the candidate is judged as not suitable. From my experience over the last 25 years, I have seen that most organizations do not have a proper framework for assessment. The interviewer would rather “fail” the candidate than risk approving a candidate who ends up not being good enough. Moreover, some under-experienced interviewers may not even have the maturity to acknowledge that the candidate is smarter than himself.
Looking for relevant experience rather than relevant skills
Recruiters almost always focus on hiring people who have ‘relevant experience’. So if the need is for a sales manager in a technology company, anyone from a non-IT background is screened out. Of course this is contextual but often, it is the softer attributes that are more relevant than things like industry or product, which can easily be learnt. For the sales manager, it is often skills like selling, presentation, communication & negotiation that are harder to find. By identifying the core requirements of the job and then looking at those skills that are fungible, you can expand your prospective talent pool and improve your chances of getting the right people. In fact, people coming from a different industry may actually bring in fresh perspectives and creativity.
Not leveraging interns enough
Most companies tend to hire interns for 2 specific reasons – to maintain connect with specific educational institutes from an employer branding perspective and to get specific (sometimes low skills) projects executed through relatively low cost resources. This leads to situations where they miss out some very good talent simply because they have under-invested time in assessing the interns’ abilities or have under-utilized their capabilities. This is especially true in the case where interns are hired from an employer branding standpoint. In my opinion, internship is a great opportunity to closely assess potential employees, before hiring them. My hypothesis is that the primary intent behind providing internships should be to look for potential recruits.
Advice to start ups:
At an early stage startup, every new hire is critical – both in terms of expected contribution and the impact on the bottom line. So make sure that you are sure of what specific skills you are looking for and then devote your personal time for interviews. Moreover, always hire for attitude, sincerity and core values. If you get this right, skills can always be built. Anyway, one needs to re-skill on a regular basis to meet the changing market needs. Attitude is the most critical thing. There are people who work only for monetary rewards and others who require a lot of ego massage. In the startup phase stay clear of hiring such people. Their attitude tends to percolates through the system and damage company culture. No doubt that rejection on the basis of these factors may delay the company in product launches or in the take off phase, but it is worth it. Focusing only on skills/ capability at this stage might look rational, but is the seed for tempting founders to bend rules or negotiate on values. Once these are traded, you will lose credibility in front of your employees.