We don’t have a skills gap, we have a thinking gap.
In a recent survey, 95% of over 4,700 fully-employed and passive candidates said they’d be willing to have a serious discussion about a better career opportunity. Another smaller survey earlier this year, indicated that more than 75% of these same people would take a modest increase in compensation for a significant career move. Unfortunately, it’s hard to ever have the discussion, since recruiters and candidates alike both establish inflexible conditions (e.g., compensation, title, company, location, skills) before the serious career discussion can ever begin.
At its core, the problem is the continued use of traditional skills-infested job descriptions as the de facto barrier-to-entry. Companies, at least HR folks, are reluctant to give these up, thinking they’re set in stone. They’re not. To put my neck on the line, I asked one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S. from Littler Mendelson (recognized as the #1 US labor law firm), if the Performance-based Hiring process described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, was valid, appropriate and in compliance. Not only did he give two thumbs up, he also prepared a white paper (it’s now public), contending that the process described was more legally sound, in full compliance, and more likely to attract stronger people. The process described below incorporates this process.
What’s Needed to Have a Serious Career Discussion
Step 1: Put the job description in the trash basket. Most job descriptions aren’t job descriptions at all, they’re people descriptions. If you’re uncomfortable with the trash bin, just scratch out everything listed on the job description that defines what a person taking the job needs to have. We’ll get back to this in Step 4.
Step 2: Ask, “What are the big things the person needs to do during the first year in order to be considered highly successful?” Job success can usually be defined by two or three big performance objectives and two or three sub-steps. For example, a big objective for a distribution manager could be, “By Q4 upgrade the cross-docking system to enable 24-hour delivery.” This is much better than, “Must have a BS and 7-10 years supply chain experience in the consumer products industry.” Subtle point: if the person can do the work, they have exactly the skills and experience necessary.
Step 3: Ask, “What would the person do in the first 30-90 days to ensure that the performance objectives described in step one are likely to be achieved?” Most strong people start a job by evaluating the situation, developing potential solutions to the big problems, putting plans together, and then implementing the solutions. For the distribution manager one of these first steps might be, “Within the first 30 days, evaluate the current cross-docking process and develop alternatives to achieve the 24-hour objective.”
Step 4: Convert HAVING to DOING. Retrieve the job description from the trash and determine if there any skills listed that are not captured in the performance objectives created above. For example, assume the job description included the requirement that the person “must have excellent communication skills.” If so, simply ask, “What does this look like on the job?” Something like, “Lead weekly conference calls with the global operations team,” would suffice. This is a great way to convert any skill into a measurable and non-subjective performance objective.
Step 5: Put the list of 5-6 performance objectives in priority order based on real job needs. Since most performance objectives require 3-4 different skills in order to be a achieved, a job can be fully represented by only 5-6 performance objectives. It’s also far easier to put these objectives into priority order than a list of skills and experiences. This step alone dramatically increases the focus on what the person in the job needs to do to be successful.
Step 6: Determine the Employee Value Proposition. Ask, “Why would an outstanding, fully-employed person with multiple opportunities want this job for only a modest increase in compensation?” Ask your most highly motivated people for some clues. Caution: don’t begin looking for people until you can answer this question.
Step 7: Engage in a career conversation, not a two-way box-checking session. When talking to candidates eliminate the preconditions, instead have a discussion about what the job entails and what the candidate has done. If the gap is too big the candidate is too light. If the gap is too small or non-existent, the job is a lateral transfer. But if there is some short-term stretch combined with long term growth, the job might just be a great career move and worth more discussion.
Eliminate skills-based job descriptions. Eliminate preconditions. Stay open-minded. Go slower. Then don’t be surprised that with more career discussions about performance, growth and opportunity, the skills gap people are talking about somehow disappears. From what I can tell, we don’t have a skills gap, we have a thinking gap.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the creator of Performance-based Hiring and the author of the Amazon Top 10 business best-seller, Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007). His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, (Workbench, 2013) has recently been published. Feel free to join Lou’s LinkedIn group and follow his Wisdom About Work series on Facebook.