Why the Old Hiring Paradigm Needs Rethinking

You have critical job openings and you need to recruit quickly. Traditionally, you go to market for a top external candidate or look for an internal promotion or a horizontal move by a talented employee.  Continuing with time-tested HR approaches, your selection criteria focus on the candidate’s previous relevant experience, educational background and area of study.

More often than not, you recruit someone from outside the organization who doesn’t understand your mission and purpose, creates issues, and moves on, or you end up with an internal candidate more focused on the pay increase and job title than on meeting your organizational need.

Instead of relying on “definitional” employee characteristics, you should focus on whether they’re going to fit your organization, team, and the role’s goals and values.  Prioritizing alignment is what leading employers are doing to adapt to the complex realities of the post-pandemic job market.

For example, Southwest Airlines knows that a good sense of humor and friendly nature will make a team member successful, so it asks its job candidates to tell a joke. IKEA, true to its mission to help people “improve their home lives through sustainable living,” asks candidates to describe their vision of global sustainability. IKEA hiring managers know that those interviewees who value sustainability, collective thinking, and interdependent decision-making will thrive in its specific culture.

All these organizations understand who fits their culture and they hire carefully. The benefits of this purposeful approach make the investment of time and energy worthwhile. IKEA’s hiring processes have earned the brand a higher retention rate than Starbucks. And these organizations are not alone in downplaying the conventional attributes employers see as indicative of strong potential. Our research shows the highest-performing organizations no longer rely on job experience and college degrees to evaluate a candidate. They find better long-term results when looking for cognitive ability, ambition, passion, and fit, no matter what work the person pursued previously or what degrees and credentials the person has.

Look for Culture Alignment

Focusing on fit applies just as much to promotion as it does to recruitment. Traditionally, companies hire by reviewing a candidate’s job history, moving people up through the ranks with defined titles and levels, and paying people based on salary bands dictated by level and role. That might have worked in the past, but it now delivers stratified, rigid cultures where employees feel “owned” by managers while encouraging a fixation on job title and spot on the org chart rather than the job at hand.

I think we’re waking up to the fact that in a globalized, tech-enabled, hybrid, and artificial intelligence (AI)—and automation—changed workplace, internal mobility models don’t work anymore. We have put too much weight on college pedigree. Too many big companies rely on college recruiting and favor their executives’ alma maters. After deciding there was no correlation between GPA or degree and eventual job success, consulting leader EY now relies on preemployment simulations to evaluate candidates. A large insurance company I worked at carried out an equivalent study and found that college pedigree was less predictive of success in sales roles than factors such as likeability, personality, and hands-on job experience. In fact, community college graduates often outperformed their university-educated peers because they had more grit and entrepreneurial spirit than their university counterparts.

There’s undeniable historic precedence that ignoring educational credentials can help your company grow. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Apple hired engineers, designers, and production people with no college degree, instead focusing on people with passion, energy, design skills, and experience.

An emphasis on attitude and practical experience helped women, minorities, and people without degrees make meaningful contributions in key growth years, but the tech sector went backwards in the 1990s when Internet companies started to hire people with straight A’s from Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Berkeley. Google and Meta realized this was a mistake and have since expanded their data-driven recruitment program. They reduced the number of interviews, focusing more on passion and drive than on technical skills.

Focus on Attracting the Right People

Multinational consumer goods giant Unilever has adopted a new system for recruiting, using game-like assessments to judge math, writing, and thinking skills. This has improved its quality of hire, almost eliminating the role of educational credentials in the process. Unilever uses video interviews to assess working style, language, honesty, and personality, bringing candidates into the office for multicandidate working sessions to see how well people can solve problems and work in teams.

This process has enabled Unilever to eliminate education and degree bias and recruit a workforce that is far more diverse. It’s a lesson all employers should learn from. The best organizations have a strong sense of who they are, they understand what makes them successful, and they hire people who fit those characteristics.

Ignore the “qualification + direct experience = you’re hired” formula. Instead, focus on the right people, not what looks right on their résumé.

Josh Bersin is CEO of The Josh Bersin Company, a research and advisory company focused on HR and workforce strategies. He is also the author of a recently-published business book that explores the ideas expressed in this article in greater detail: Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of the World’s Most Enduring, Employee-Focused Organizations.