A solid majority of U.S. hiring managers — 93% — responding to a recent Robert Half survey said they’re facing tough challenges finding skilled talent. It’s not simply that job candidates are scarce. For many managers, the problem is the lack of available talent active in the job market who possess the skills and experience needed to excel in the advertised role. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reframe this issue. Are employers thinking about qualifications with an outdated mindset? Are high-potential professionals being overlooked or dismissed too soon in the hiring process because they don’t have specific credentials? Maybe it’s time to consider “nontraditional” candidates. If you’re having trouble finding candidates who meet the requirements of the jobs you’re advertising, you may want to consider flexing your criteria. In this post, learn about the upside of considering nontraditional candidates. What is a nontraditional candidate? Job candidates can be called “nontraditional” for various reasons. But for this discussion, we’re referring to professionals who lack the qualifications or prior experience outlined in the job description and posting. If you’re evaluating job applicants based on inflexible criteria, you risk missing out on skilled, motivated people who, despite not having every desired attribute, may have the potential to succeed in your open role and add value to your business. Looking for a specific candidate profile means you’re competing against many other organizations for the same few people — a tactic that extends your search and makes the overall process more costly. Many candidates who may not check every box still have valuable skills that can benefit the business in different ways. Take, for example, placing a candidate from the technology sector into a digital marketing role. That professional’s knowledge of digital platforms could lead to the discovery of untapped marketing opportunities or better utilization of current channels. Relaxing some of your requirements, like prior experience in the same role, opens the door to candidates who may have transferable skills — and the determination needed to succeed. Here’s a look at some best practices for hiring nontraditional candidates. 1. Refresh your job descriptions Go through your existing cache of job descriptions and decide which qualifications are a nice-to-have as opposed to a must-have. Then adjust the language. For example, instead of  listing “bachelor’s degree in communications” as a requirement, you could say, “bachelor’s degree in communications preferred, but exceptions will be made for outstanding candidates with other relevant experience.” Also, be sure to underscore in the job posting that your business welcomes applications from candidates considering a new career or rejoining the workforce after a pause. 2. Use referrals to source nontraditional candidates Tap into your employees’ networks by asking them for referrals, either casually or through a formal employee referral program. This approach can help you discover candidates who may not have actively applied to your open positions but have been identified as promising prospects by people who understand your company’s culture and values. 3. Focus on skills over credentials in interviews Ask interview questions that will help you get a better sense of the candidate’s skills, abilities and work ethic rather than their employment history or education. For example: Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a boss or colleague and how you handled the situation? Can you share an example of when you had to prioritize multiple tasks or projects with competing deadlines? How did you manage your time and resources to meet those deadlines? Tell me about a situation where you faced a frustrating obstacle or setback. How did you handle it? 4. Map the road ahead Not all aspects of a job can be replaced with transferable skills. If a candidate is entering a new sector without years of built-up knowledge or returning to a fast-changing industry, they’ll likely face a learning curve. Be upfront about that during interviews, and let candidates know you’ll provide the resources and training they’ll need. You’ll not only be helping them to get up to speed, but also providing support to those with a strong commitment to professional growth. To staff critical roles in a tough hiring market, you may need to rethink assumptions about qualifications and experience and start assessing candidates primarily on skills and potential. And through that approach, you’ll likely find an ample supply of diamonds in the rough just waiting to be discovered.
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