Should You Adjust Your Hiring Criteria?

By Robert Half July 7, 2017 at 9:00am

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. Loosening your requirements can help you see the potential in candidates who may not quite fit the bill on paper but could still make excellent hires.

One important thing to realize is that lowering the bar doesn’t mean lowering your standards. And few employers consider that they might have set the bar at an unreasonable level 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 remains open.

The key is to focus on what’s truly most important for the role. As you consider the requirements for an open job, ask yourself the following questions:

Criteria questions

What qualifications are essential to the job? What does a candidate need to know or be able to do to hit the ground running on Day One and competently perform assigned tasks? 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. A good fit with the workplace culture helps determine whether a new hire will thrive in the job and remain with you.

A worker’s 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 below, 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 in your job-posting, there’s nothing wrong with later using your list of nice-to-haves 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 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 they learned their skills by attending an online coding boot camp or enrolling in an accredited course at a local community college. If they have the necessary fundamental skills and a willingness to learn new ones, interviewed well, and seem to be a good fit for your team, do you want to lose them just because they 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 they perform in the job and what effect, if any, the adjustments you made to the hiring criteria have on their 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 hiring mistake.

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

Paul McDonald photograph
Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

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