Should You Adjust Your Hiring Criteria?

By Robert Half July 7, 2017 at 9:50pm

When I talk to hiring managers, I constantly hear about how hard it is to find the right candidate. They lament that they can’t find that perfect person who matches all their hiring criteria. My suggestion? Be more flexible.

As I explain in this post, loosening your hiring requirements can help you see the potential in candidates who, on paper, don’t quite fit the bill but could still make excellent hires. First, though, let’s review the latest jobs report data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to understand what’s happening in the employment market.

U.S. employers added 222,000 positions in June, which was above many analysts' expectations. Revised numbers from the BLS show that 47,000 more jobs were added in April and May than previously reported. That brings the total number of jobs created during the first half of 2017 to nearly 1.1 million, with job gains averaging about 180,000 per month since the start of the year.

Healthcare, professional and business services, and financial services were among the industries showing the most job growth last month.

The unemployment rate rose slightly in June to 4.4 percent, according to the BLS. That’s still near a 16-year low. Workers with specialized skills are in particularly short supply. The unemployment rate for college-degreed workers 25 and older was just 2.4 percent in June. And the unemployment rate for some jobs is minuscule — just 1.1 percent for computer programmers, for instance, and 2.1 percent for payroll clerks.

The BLS also recently released the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for April. According to the report, there were 6 million job openings in the United States at the end of April, a record high. 

Here’s what these numbers mean: Companies are in hiring mode at a time when job candidates — especially those at higher skill and experience levels — are becoming harder to find. If your firm is looking to add staff, you’re not alone. And the professionals you’re hoping to attract are the same handful of job seekers other organizations are likely targeting as well.

Lowering the bar doesn’t mean lowering your standards

If you’re struggling to staff open positions, my advice is to consider being more flexible with your hiring requirements.

Many hiring managers are reluctant to relax their hiring criteria because they think it means lowering the bar on the quality of talent they recruit. But few employers consider that they might have set the bar at an unreasonable height to begin with.

Think of the job ads you typically post. No doubt they include a hefty list of wants: several years of relevant experience, multiple professional certifications, knowledge of your industry, familiarity with the exact technologies your firm uses and maybe even a degree from a top-tier university, just for good measure. But have you also thought about how many candidates — if any — actually possess all the qualifications you’re asking for?

Setting the bar so high can turn your quest for the right hire into a needle-in-a-haystack situation. That’s risky. Because the longer you stick to a set of impossible-to-meet criteria, the longer your vacancy will remain open. And the more likely you are to overlook candidates who don’t quite fit the bill but would still make great hires for your business.

Adjusting your hiring criteria doesn’t mean lowering your standards. It means focusing on what’s truly most important for the role. As you consider the requirements for an open job, ask yourself the following questions:

What qualifications are essential to the job you’re trying staff? What does a candidate need to know, or be able to do, to hit the ground running on Day One and perform assigned tasks competently? Use that criteria as your baseline for identifying candidates with fundamental skills — the essential raw materials for success in the position you are trying to staff. If you’re recruiting a software developer, for example, proficiency in a particular programming language may be an absolute requirement.

A good fit with the workplace culture is also essential. In fact, it can be even more important than a person’s technical experience. Fit includes a strong affinity for your company values as well as the ability to work smoothly with your existing team, customers and other departments. Ultimately, a good fit with the workplace culture will determine whether a new hire will thrive in the job and remain with you.

Workers’ fit is largely determined by the quality of their soft skills, especially communication, flexibility, attention to detail and integrity. Gauging someone’s personality and fit with your workplace culture isn’t easy, though. When interviewing candidates, consider taking them out to coffee, lunch or another social event with a few of your team members. A temp-to-hire arrangement, which I discuss later in the blog, is ideal for helping to assess these skills.

What skills can a candidate learn on the job or with training? Applying the software developer example again, perhaps a candidate with the right fundamental skills — plus a passion for learning — could be trained quickly by colleagues to use the specific software development methodology favored by your IT department. Learning that methodology could even be designated as a milestone the person must reach during the onboarding process.

What skills and abilities are nice-to-haves? While you don’t want to set standards that are too high at the initial job-posting phase of the hiring process, there’s nothing wrong with later using your nice-to-have list to narrow down the number of contenders for a role and, ultimately, help you choose the person you want to hire. For instance, say you can’t decide between two highly trainable candidates who both have the right fundamental skills for the job. If one applicant has an additional certification, that person might become your top pick.

Don’t get hung up on the paper chase

While a candidate’s degrees or certifications might play a role in helping you to make a final hiring decision, I caution you not to place so much focus on credentials that you lose sight of the bigger picture. 

The hypothetical developer discussed in this post may not have a bachelor’s degree, for example. Perhaps she learned her skills through a resource like Udemy, by attending an online coding boot camp or by enrolling in an accredited course at a local community college. If she has the necessary fundamental skills and a willingness to learn new ones, interviewed well, and seems to be a good fit for your team, do you want to lose her just because she didn’t attend a four-year university? Probably not.

Try a temporary arrangement first

If you do decide that hiring a candidate who doesn’t meet all the criteria you originally had in mind is the way to go, you might consider a temp-to-hire arrangement. Under this situation, the candidate starts with your company on a temporary basis. You can see how the person performs in the job and what effect, if any, the adjustments you made to the hiring criteria have on his or her success. 

If things are not working out, you can tweak the hiring requirements and continue your search for the right candidate — all without having made a costly full-time hire. 

If the candidate is the right fit, you can quickly and easily transition the person from a temporary to full-time worker and pat yourself on the back for making an excellent hire.

June 2017 jobs report image

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