Now that we’re into 2024, will hiring the talent your business needs become easier? Most likely not — unless you develop some new tactics. Robert Half’s 2024 Salary Guide finds that 93% of managers struggle to find the talent they need. Breaking it down further, over half of these leaders (55%) point to a scarcity of candidates with the necessary skills for the job.That last statistic prompts a critical question: Are you having trouble hiring because you’re focusing too narrowly on specific skill sets at the expense of overlooking broader potential? It’s time to consider whether candidates with adjacent skills — related but not exact matches — might be the untapped resource you need. This hiring-for-potential perspective could help both your hiring and internal talent development efforts through upskilling.
Adjacent skills are soft skills and industry-specific knowledge that are not an employee’s primary area of expertise but are closely related to them. This similarity means that a worker can likely learn a new skill relatively easily, given the opportunity. Examples of pairs of adjacent skills include:Communication skills and customer relationsProduct management and project managementGraphic design and illustration
Tapping into skill adjacencies in current employees and potential hires is a smart strategy to broaden your talent pool. It’s not just an effective way to plug skill gaps and address new requirements. It also lays the groundwork for future-proofing your organization by nurturing a culture that emphasizes continuous learning and development of new skills via training and upskilling.Consider, for example, your aim to beef up your digital marketing capabilities. Instead of looking outside, your existing team might already include some potential leaders for this new venture. Take content marketing professionals — their market research and strategic planning skills are closely related to those needed in digital marketing. These skill adjacencies make those with content marketing knowledge prime candidates for upskilling.
And, like all professionals you upskill instead of hire from the outside, these workers come with the advantage of being well-versed in your company’s ethos and operations. Knowing what you are getting as you consider known quantities for specific roles can help you avoid hiring mistakes and hire the right person for the job at the outset.This approach is also beneficial to your workforce. It offers your employees a golden opportunity to develop new skills and broaden their career horizons. This not only fuels their personal growth as they upskill, it also boosts engagement and job satisfaction, and that contributes to higher retention rates for your organization.
Looking to tap into a wider talent pool with the diverse skills you need now for specific roles? Robert Half can help.
Here are some practical tips to guide you in integrating awareness of adjacent skills into your hiring and upskilling processes. 1. Be flexible when reviewing applicationsIn your search, look for candidates (both internal and external) with skills and experience that complement their primary expertise, especially if they align with your pre-identified list of adjacent skills. The right candidate might not have the precise experience you’re looking for but could possess the potential to quickly develop the required skills.2. Dig deep during interviewsIncorporating situational or hypothetical questions is a particularly effective way to uncover adjacent skills. Ask candidates to describe scenarios where they applied skills not directly tied to their main role. For example, “Describe a situation where you had to solve a problem outside of your usual responsibilities,” or “Can you share an experience where you had to learn a new skill quickly for a project?” These questions can reveal a candidate’s adaptability and hidden talents relevant to the role.3. Help employees identify their adjacent skillsEngage with your team about their interests and career goals and use this information to encourage the development of adjacent skills. For instance, a technical writer interested in coding or an engineer keen on project management can be nudged toward these growth areas. Pay attention to their strengths and inform them about projects that could help them further develop these competencies.4. Focus on skills that add valueWhen considering the development of adjacent skills, prioritize capabilities that bring tangible value both to your organization and your staff. Encouraging employees to aim for skills that align with the needs of the business rather than those that are merely interesting or fashionable will serve you both. Workers can learn new skills that will help them advance at your company while at the same time building in competencies that don’t currently exist at your firm.Encourage your team to gain new certifications and provide company-paid programs if possible. Paving the way for your employees to add an accreditation after their name can enhance their perceived value when introducing them to your clients. It also supports your staff’s career advancement within the organization.5. Embrace cross-departmental collaborationPromote opportunities for employees to contribute to select projects of other departments. This exposes workers to different perspectives and skill sets, giving them a deeper understanding of various business functions and the challenges other colleagues face each day. It’s a practical way for team members to develop adjacent skills naturally while contributing to broader organizational goals.For example, a marketing team member could collaborate on a digital transformation project with the IT department, such as a mobile application or tailoring a department’s section on the company website or intranet. This experience would not only provide the marketing professional with insights into the technological aspects of the business but also equip them with tech skills relevant to their field.6. Promote diverse career pathsHelp your employees explore various career trajectories beyond the traditional linear path, focusing especially on people interested in venturing into different roles or departments. For instance, when looking to strengthen your cybersecurity team, consider potential candidates from your enterprise data team who are eager to broaden their skill set. You can’t afford to allow career development to come at the expense of a team member’s current workload, however. To help employees balance their new skill development with their current roles, design exploratory experiences that proceed at a pace that allows them to still pull their weight with their existing projects.By focusing on skill adjacencies, you can upskill, reskill and hire more effectively, giving you an all-important advantage in today’s challenging hiring market.
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