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Skill Set Based Recruiting Is Not Always Relevant

Currently, skill set based recruiting is held up as the gold standard in a world where the demand for specific skills change and become irrelevant as often as the wind.  And key words within these job descriptions are used to attract appropriate candidates even though the contents rarely describe what the actual job is today let alone what the job will be tomorrow.

I no longer use job descriptions.  Instead, I look for three characteristics: mindset, adaptability, and transferrable skills, even when filling technical roles.  Skill sets come and go but hiring for mindset, adaptability, and transferrable skills is the only way for an organization to thrive in times of rapidly changing culture and technology.

If a candidate has the ability to learn how to follow a methodology, like Agile or Waterfall or to code using .Net, C++ or whatever language they currently use, they have the ability to learn almost any technical language or methodology. The learning pathways and habits are there already- this candidate has a foundation in place that has allowed him/her to learn and understand technical concepts in a short period of time. If he/she has the correct mindset, he/she will be able to adapt and learn new skills moving forward.

The more practical reason to throw out skill set based recruiting is because it’s expensive, time consuming and inhuman. As one skill set becomes less desirable and a new skill set is more desirable, some organizations get rid of a proven performer and waste time (and resources) to perform a desperate search for a candidate in high demand who may or may not want to join your organization.  After months of searching, and lots of late nights at work, the perfect candidate is found for the job and hired into the organization. Perfect. Now the two technical employees (one existing, one new) happily sling the technical jargon du jour back and forth at each other as if coding was the only purpose for hiring technical employees. It is not!

I was reminded of this yesterday when talking to a frustrated senior director at a management consulting firm who, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, took his first computer programming class in 9th grade, fell in love with the possibilities of the industry, learned it by living, eating, and breathing it full time and never looked back. He learned the initial concepts, several programming languages throughout the years and was promoted; no longer coding day-to-day and instead managing technical resources and advising Fortune 500 clients wanting to implement new technologies.  

His frustration? Trying to converse with a junior technical colleague who had no idea what the application actually needed to do for a user and yet spoke condescendingly to the senior director when they needed to resolve a client issue. Why? Because he knew that the senior director wasn’t currently coding and assumed that the senior director couldn’t resolve the issue because the senior director wasn’t as technical as he was. The junior colleague completely ignored the technical skills the senior director had honed over 30 years in the business, and became an expert software/solutions architect who understood the business objectives a client was trying to achieve.

This is why I believe skill set based recruiting is irrelevant. I do not use them to recruit for my clients yet still manage to fill the majority of job openings by presenting my clients with only one or two candidates for a particular role.  I must be doing something right. Unless I’m a genius. (I assure you, I am not!)