All of my CEO members are having a tough time hiring. Here are a few ways to do it differently.

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has upended
many traditional business practices. When
it comes to recruiting, the crisis has not so
much disrupted as accelerated shifts in the
talent landscape that were already under
way, leaving many companies poorly served
by their current hiring practices. In a period
of steep unemployment, it might seem that
companies looking to add workers would be
in the driver’s seat. But job openings have
also been rising in recent months, meaning

that competition for top talent remains
keen—and in uncertain times, bringing
on the right people is more important
than ever.
A recent study from research and
advisory firm Gartner examines those
shifts in the workforce landscape and
lays out a road map for navigating the
new one. The researchers identified three
trends that are rendering traditional
recruitment tactics obsolete.
First, the skills needed in many roles
have an increasingly short shelf life,
owing in part to more-frequent and
disruptive technological breakthroughs.
A 2019 survey of 3,500 managers found
that only 29% of new hires have all the
skills required for their current roles, let
alone for future ones. The research finds
that in key functions such as finance,
IT, and sales, positions filled today will
require up to 10 new skills within 18

months. It also documents rising uncer-
tainty about what skills will be needed

in current and future jobs as the surge
in remote work sparks the redesign or
automation of many tasks.
Second, the talent pools recruiters
have routinely tapped are becoming
outmoded. Highly gifted candidates
can now be found outside traditional

talent clusters, such as leading univer-
sities and technical colleges. More and

more people are acquiring critical skills
informally on the job—or even in their
own basements. “Work lulls and layoffs
have driven a boom in virtual learning,

giving workers new autonomy in devel-
oping skills outside their day jobs,” the

researchers write.
Finally, candidates are increasingly
selective about whom they work for, so
firms need a compelling “employment

value proposition,” which might involve

anything from competitive compensa-
tion and benefits to career-development

opportunities and a reputation for stellar
management. Talented candidates,
particularly at high levels, are weighing
opportunities differently. Factors such
as meaningful work and proximity to
family have taken on added importance
during the pandemic. The freedom
(often the imperative) to work remotely
and to manage one’s own schedule has
increased employees’ expectations that
they can exert considerable control
over the design of their jobs. Especially
in a period of high unemployment,
the researchers say, when people are
reluctant to leave a secure position and
take a chance on a new one, companies
need to offer employee experiences that
candidates truly value.
To adjust to these trends and build the
workforces they need, companies should
focus on two key courses of action.

Hire for potential, not experience.
The first step in adjusting to the new
landscape is to stop thinking about
hiring as a matter of replacing specific
employees, the researchers say. When
looking to fill a vacancy, too often
managers simply put together a profile
mirroring that of the person who has left,

perhaps tacking on a few new require-
ments—the equivalent of saying, “I want

Sally plus these three other qualifica-
tions,” the researchers write. At best, this

yields candidates who are prepared for
yesterday’s challenges but probably not
ready for tomorrow’s.
Human resources leaders should
push hiring managers to look beyond
the immediate needs of their business
units and consider what skills the larger
organization must acquire to succeed in
the future. “The first question HR asks
a hiring manager shouldn’t be ‘Who do
you need?’ The better question is ‘What
do we need?’” says Dion Love, a vice

president in Gartner’s HR practice. “HR
executives are positioned to drive this
conversation because they should have
an understanding of long-term talent
gaps at the organizational level.”
Hiring for skills presents its own

challenges, of course, including design-
ing assessments that reliably identify

potential. “Employers are asking, ‘How
can I test for curiosity? For learning
agility?’” says Lauren Smith, also a

vice president in Gartner’s HR prac-
tice. “They are scanning résumés for

indicators such as success in a variety
of roles and for transportable rather
than industry-specific experience. It’s
no longer a question of ‘Is this person
credentialed?’”
When hiring managers place less

emphasis on academic degrees, certi-
fications, and formal experience, they

will naturally look beyond traditional
talent pools—the second course of
action. Recruiters should target the
“total skills market,” looking at in-house
talent with adjacent skills, candidates
whose skills are self-taught, and—
especially with the ubiquity of remote
work—people in different geographic

locations. Recruiting outside high-
priced talent clusters can reduce costs.

It should also boost diversity, because
nontraditional pools tend to contain
more women and people of color than
are found in the usual recruiting hot
spots.
Move beyond Ping-Pong and free
snacks. It’s critical that companies
understand how candidates view them,
the researchers say, and if necessary,
find ways to boost those perceptions.

Prospective hires are scrutinizing orga-
nizations’ responses to the pandemic

and looking to see how companies have

helped—or failed to help—their employ-
ees find a comfortable work/life balance.

In a survey of 2,800 job candidates
conducted as part of the research, 65%
reported halting the application process
because they found some aspects of the
job or the company unattractive. “The
increased scrutiny and workers’ demand
for more influence…make it difficult for

recruiters to rely on their usual incen-
tives,” the researchers write.

In managing their employee value
propositions, organizations might take
a page from the playbook of consumer

goods companies. “Firms must under-
stand candidates’ expectations” and

craft positions accordingly, “in the
same manner in which they tailor their
products to customers,” Love says. HR
departments at some leading companies
hold focus groups to assess job seekers’
expectations, benchmark their offerings
against those of competitors, and scour
social media and job-review sites such
as Glassdoor to understand how they are
viewed by current, past, and potential
employees.

The pandemic is challenging compa-
nies to rethink traditional ways of doing

business—thus providing an opportunity
to reform outdated recruiting practices.
“In my conversations with clients, I’ve
found that the pandemic has opened
their eyes,” Love says. “The world was
already transforming, but now the
changes are much easier to see.”

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