Recruiting in a war for talent? Consider competencies over experience

Written by Brett Gatesman, Consultant
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

With the current labor market, nearly all employers are having trouble filling their positions with qualified applicants. This puts hiring managers in a difficult place where they need to re-evaluate their hiring practices, and many look to the very beginning of their process: applicant flow. They might ask, “How can we get more people in the door?” It’s currently a “buyer’s market” for candidates, so the recruitment process can feel much like a sales pitch. If you consider, for a moment, recruitment as sales, then have you thought about whether your sales territory covers the full candidate market? Would it be possible to “sell” to candidates from seemingly unrelated backgrounds?

When sifting through applicant pools, traditional requirements such as experience and education are widely considered. However, strict use of them may be limiting the full view of your applicant pool, especially with entry level work. A stronger approach to analyzing candidates is by evaluating their competencies. Below you’ll find 2 ways to use your competency model to strengthen your talent strategy. Competencies can be defined as the combination of observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attributes that contribute to employee performance and ultimately result in organizational success. Examining the competencies required for a job and making them your focus while hiring may open your candidate pool. Note: if you are unsure about what competencies fall within the jobs you are recruiting for, the Department of Labor’s O*NET Online may provide a good, free starting point. 

If you have a good grasp on the competencies required for your positions to fill and you would like to open up the candidate pool, a potentially interesting exercise can be to compare the important competencies from two different positions. You may find that the specific background experiences of candidates are not overly important when they are applying for certain jobs. For example, wouldn’t it be nice if retail experience could translate into the manufacturing world? Just for fun, let’s compare Cashiers and Machine Operators for Metal or Plastic. Work styles are listed in order of importance according to O*NET, and shared work styles between the jobs are indicated with a green line.

work styles

In this instance, the ideal work styles (competencies) of these jobs have a large amount of overlap, even if they are ranked in a different order. Granted, this is an extreme example where the core responsibilities and work environments of each job is different; Cashiers will need more customer service skills and Machine Operators will need more mechanical knowledge. Even so, measurable, quantifiable competencies for both jobs are very similar, and those competencies can be accurately measured with a valid assessment.

This exercise will not apply to all jobs of course. Sometimes a certification or licensure is simply required. But for the high-churn positions that don’t require special credentials, you may want to look less at their prior experiences and more at how well a candidate fits your desired competency model. You are likely training all employees who take entry-level positions anyway, regardless of their prior experience and education, so does it matter if they come from a different work background?

No matter what your situation, truly understanding what is required for success on each job will only lead to better outcomes. There are several other ways to potentially increase applicant flow, but if a candidate shows proper interest in a trainable job, maybe give them a chance to function in a new line of work.

The continuing importance of competencies

Make better talent decisions now and for the future.

Today’s world of work is marked by continuous change, presenting a significant challenge for organizations when hiring and managing their most important resource: their people. Competencies provide a simple, clear, and observable way to measure performance and determine what good looks like in a job.

  • How do you know which competencies are important to focus on today?
  • How can you highlight key competencies for tomorrow’s workforce?
  • What’s the point? Are competencies still relevant?

Understand how a well-functioning, future-focused competency framework can provide clear, accurate insights for talent measurement – both for the current world of work, and for the changing demands of the future.

Find out how competencies are still critical to your hiring strategy – download the whitepaper now.

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