As a hiring manager, what do you do when you have an urgent requirement and the ideal candidate doesn’t seem to be available? One option is to simply wait. But you could be waiting indefinitely. And in business you can’t really afford to. The only other option is to compromise. But where?

Being able to make concessions in the right areas doesn’t necessarily mean all you can hope for is second best. In the long run, your hire may turn out to be the ideal candidate after all.

The ideal candidate to hire

For any organisation, the ideal candidate could be said to consist of four main components: experience, talent, cultural fit and realistic salary expectations.

It’s important to note, however, that in contrast to experience and salary expectations, talent and cultural fit are less tangible factors. Both are harder to articulate and share more similarities than differences (see figure 1). 

Broader vision of hiring

When operating in a finite pool of high-calibre candidates, if you aren’t in a position to pay well above the market rate or don’t have the luxury of limitless time to find the ideal candidate, then inevitably you are going to have to compromise. The question is: where do you cut your cloth?

At this juncture many organisations fall into the trap of sacrificing talent for experience. There are two main reasons for this common mistake.

Why companies hire experience instead of talent

First, within the financial sector there can exist a belief that there is no substitute for sector-specific experience, that the concept of ‘transferrable skills’ from another industry does not apply. This is not a particularly helpful – or even accurate – view to hold, especially when it concerns junior to mid-level roles.

For example, customer services experience within the retail sector can be an excellent training ground for acquiring outstanding client-focused skills. Find this in a talented individual with the right cultural fit and you have all the hallmarks of an excellent candidate.

The second reason many organisations sacrifice talent for experience is that when searching for and interviewing candidates, it is much easier to identify experience than it is to spot talent.

Even the most basic of CVs - simply through listing job history and professional qualifications - will indicate whether the candidate has the right amount of experience. Interviewing for talent, however, is much harder. But the difficult things are the ones worth doing.

Interviewing for talent

If you are engaging the services of a premium recruiter, before deciding whether to progress an applicant for interview, a brief telephone chat about the candidate can be invaluable.

The recruiter will have met the candidate before recommending them for interview, so they will be in a good position to advise you on qualities not immediately apparent in the CV.

Once you have selected candidates for interview, talent can be identified by investigating three main areas: education, extra-circular activities and ‘softer skills’.

a) Education

Is there a consistent track record of academic achievement? As well as obvious intellectual ability, this will demonstrate commitment, tenacity and a strong work ethic.

b) Outside interests

In what areas outside of work and education have they demonstrated achievement? This could include sport, music, charitable work, etc. Here you are looking for drive and energy beyond the corporate or academic environment.

c) Personal skills

Look at your own organisation’s star performers and what they demonstrate within the business on a day-to-day basis. These qualities may include: a positive, can-do attitude; an adaptive, flexible approach; a genuine team spirit, where they help, support and develop others; leadership skills, etc. Does the candidate share any of these?

Paraplanners: an example of recruiting talent

An excellent example of where talent trumps experience is highlighted in the current dearth of experienced paraplanners.

Currently many financial services companies are looking for the ideal paraplanner – Level 4 qualified with strong product knowledge that accompanies three-to-five years’ experience. 

This will be within IHT planning, investments and pensions, combined with proven research and report writing skills.

With the introduction of RDR, the demand for experienced paraplanners has surged. Given the competition in the market only the very highest payers are able to secure these candidates.

The only other satisfactory option for other organisations is to recruit someone with a modest level of experience, e.g. two years, and then train them up as they work towards becoming fully qualified.

The advantage of this approach is not merely pragmatic. It can be more cost-effective, and your employee is not just building up technical experience about the industry but also invaluable knowledge about the processes and products of your company.

All that is required is a little training, commitment and patience on the part of the individual and the organisation.

Ignore talented candidates at your own risk

Ultimately, if you put too much store in sector-specific experience, you may hire someone who is a cultural mismatch for your team, department or organisation.

Even worse, you may be employing someone who lacks genuine interest in the role, motivated only by the relatively high salary you are prepared to pay for this experience.

Such a move is not only expensive but it can disrupt your team’s salary structure and therefore breed wider discontent.

And remember: even ‘experienced’ candidates may not have the depth of knowledge specific to the company, its processes or particular products. Normally, such knowledge can only be acquired through working with the company.

Hire talent, train skills

Sector-specific experience is the most tangible and measurable component of the ideal candidate, but it is an area in which you need to be flexible if you are to hire well when the ideal candidate doesn’t exist.

With cultural fit becoming more and more important in today’s corporate environment, arguably it is better to employ talented individuals with less experience as opposed to experienced candidates who are not the right fit.

Talent cannot be trained, but experience can be gained.

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