There’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we hire today. The result is that we’re searching for a checklist or unicorn candidate within strict parameters of what we think a role needs, and not considering the full potential that a candidate can bring to the role, team, or greater organization.
There’s no way to soften the fact that it’s a mistake to dismiss viable candidates because they don’t exactly match a checklist. Looking at lateral skills can help you find a candidate who actually meets your company’s core values and brings a lot more to the table if you’re willing to look up from your checklist and return to making recruitment a people-science rather than an auditing process.
A checklist has its place, to provide a guideline of parameters necessary for the role, but it should not be an access code to unlock an interview for the job. The job checklist was often developed to find people to match the person who previously owned the role or to match the background and personality of the hiring manager. This can be a fast-track to create blind spots and knowledge gaps, which can restrict a team from progressing to the next level. This is where a lateral skill set can bring unexpected and added value to a team dynamic.
I’ve been a full-time professional musician for the past decade. I also worked in tech as an occasional side-hustle in between gigs. But Covid-19 devastated the arts community. Performing artists and creative professionals are looking down the barrel of at least 1-2 years of no work as we struggle to navigate our new normal. This means recruiters have a unique opportunity to access this wide pool of talent if they’re open to considering lateral skills as an answer to staffing needs.
The gig economy has forced people to learn a wider and more varied skill set and to develop abilities that aren’t traditionally measurable, like learning new tasks or programs quickly, anticipating risk, and time management. Many times, an artist’s “day job” resume looks dismissible to recruiters- with gaps in time, short contracts, and temp work.
How can you look at these types of resumes and see the positive, or discern what might translate into a lateral skill?
As a professional opera singer, I started taking tech gigs in between opera contracts in order to survive. Being a musician requires constant repetition, the ability to analyze and optimize, discipline, and consistency. Quality Assurance in software development requires the exact same skills.
As a working performer, I can take criticism and learn from it. I can see how teams interact and assess risk – producing an opera requires many teams of artists and technicians to come together to create art under incredibly strict deadlines, and opening night cannot be postponed because of scope creep or thrashing. This background has been incredibly helpful as I transitioned further into Scrum and Project Management.
In my current role in tech, one of my responsibilities has been developing a recruiting strategy, onboarding an Applicant Tracking System, training recruiters and hiring managers, and personally screening applicants. Across this time I’ve found that platform proficiency is something that can be trained if the candidate has shown themselves as a quick learner. But how do I assess in a short screening if a candidate can handle a tricky client interaction, or has the discipline to work remotely?
Some of our biggest success stories and highest performing employees have come from backgrounds outside of digital media.
A great example is a candidate we hired who listed one of his employers as his family farm. While his actual digital media experience was less than the current requisition requirement, I knew immediately he had the ability to repeat tasks, work independently, and be proactive. His discipline and business acumen from his time on the family farm made him a natural at adapting his skillset and additional digital experience to a client’s needs. He’s been a client and coworker favorite for these traits and is a great example of our company’s core values.
One of our Associate Client Directors has a background in social work, and consistently receives incredible client feedback about her superb relationship management. Other incredibly successful employees from non-media backgrounds are a Lead Associate with a background in video game development, a member of our executive team who started in Neuroscience, and one of our recruiters who also owns a clothing boutique. These team members have brought vast experience and richness to our business that we would not have accessed if we had been recruiting for a checklist alone.
So how do I actually assess lateral skills?
First, I look at what “soft skills” a requisition requires. Will there be client interaction? Someone with a customer service or service industry background will know how to speak to people, assess a client’s needs by reading between the lines, and how to de-escalate a conflict.
Does the requisition require repetition? A dancer, musician, or athlete is used to repeating the same movement until it is perfect, or someone with a science background might be used to conducting consistent experimentation. There are many detailed oriented job seekers perfectly suited to roles that require accuracy, quality assurance, and repeatable processes -which is a unique and often overlooked skillset in media. Matching these candidates with the right role will pay fast dividends for the client and will enable the candidate to thrive in their career, thus reducing risk of churn.
The value of a training investment will go a long way.
At WorkReduce, when we find a candidate who matches our core values and has the lateral skills for a requisition, we don’t hesitate to make the investment in any additional training that they may require. It’s often just a missing or outdated certification or increased knowledge of a particular platform. This upfront investment has paid off without fail.
Right now employers have a unique opportunity to access a diverse talent pool hungry to train, and eager to learn, with backgrounds that are completely transferable. Looking at a candidate as a whole person instead of a checklist of skills might take a few more moments in the recruiting process, but it will pay off enormously in the long run.
By Sarah-Nicole Ruddy, Sales & Marketing Operations Manager, WorkReduce