Nontraditional Candidates: Hire the Unexpected

If you’ve been struggling to find hirable talent lately, you aren’t alone.


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Employers across the world are facing a talent shortage, with 45% of HR managers recently reporting a lack of qualified talent as a significant barrier to filling positions. This shortage is especially felt in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professions, which might strike you as surprising considering the ongoing chatter about how lucrative STEM majors can be.
But it seems like this chatter isn’t translating into careers. According to Boss Magazine, the United States posted roughly 3 million more STEM jobs than there were STEM jobseekers in 2016. Meanwhile, STEM jobs in Australia and the United Kingdom are taking longer than ever to fill—40 days per position, on average, which is a 50% increase over the past 2 years.
STEM programs might produce candidates with strong technical skills, but they often lack transferable ones. While it’s vital to know the technical ins and outs of the field, candidates without the ability to communicate efficiently, lead teams, or resolve conflicts are simply less desirable. For instance, costly communication blunders are a major reason new employees might be fired early on, and a lack of strong communication skills during the interview process might make candidates seem less qualified than they are.
But a lack of transferable skills in candidates isn’t the only reason HR professionals are struggling to fill positions. Sometimes, the problem is in the hiring process itself.

The Problem With Hiring

Most companies recruit externally when they can’t find a suitable internal option. And external hires can be a useful way to bring fresh, exciting perspectives to the workplace. The problem comes when recruiters start searching through résumés and LinkedIn for the perfect candidate but come up dry.
Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to match résumé language with recruiter expectations. With more than 170,000 words in the English language, even a computer can’t successfully identify the “right” candidates based on a select number of keywords among thousands of résumés. Each candidate might word his or her résumé slightly differently, perhaps listing his or her last role as a “supervisor” rather than a “lead” or “manager.” Technology can’t always pick up on those nuances, and it might weed out highly qualified candidates.
Plus, there are account embellishments on LinkedIn profiles that might hinder the selection of certain candidates—key qualifiers such as whether the candidate is currently interviewing don’t exist, but they do affect the hiring process. If someone is currently interviewing at another company, there can be a sense of urgency, or you might decide it’s not even worth pursuing that candidate.
One thing is clear: The traditional ways of seeking and hiring talent need a tune-up.

Instead: Hire the Unexpected

The shortage of hirable talent in STEM fields might be a pervasive problem right now, but it’s not impossible to solve. The trick is to start looking for ways to create a diverse group of talent and experience by dipping into untapped resources—such as nontraditional job candidates.
Nontraditional candidates might include those who had a delayed start in their degree program, attended an online university, or are entering the workforce for the first time after spending a lifetime in academia, such as PhD graduates. These candidates often have both the technical and the transferable skills necessary to thrive in a competitive job market. Thanks to their rigorous training in the realm of problem solving, these candidates are also able to learn new skills quickly, proving that looking outside traditional credentials can have a big payoff.
When recruiters hire from the same pool over and over, they inevitably create a team that has more similarities than differences. And a team that thinks the same way has the same blind spots, meaning that potential problems or solutions might go unnoticed. Bringing nontraditional students to the table means new perspectives, new problem-solving techniques, and new approaches to innovation—all of which can set you apart.
In part two of this article, we are going to look at precisely what you can do to hire the unexpected.

Isaiah Hankel, founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist, helps people with PhDs transition into meaningful, high-paying industry careers. Hankel is also a STEM PhD and an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant.

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