Companies Hiring for Gen Y Attributes vs. Skills

Hiring managers used to assess candidates based on a laundry list of required skills. If the candidate wasn’t plug-and-play material, he or she wasn’t considered for the job. But things are changing. According to T.C. Whittaker, president and CEO of national recruiting firm 3P Staffing, now there’s a shift toward attribute-based hiring, where skill sets are less of a decision driver. Why? Because attributes such as the ability to self-motivate are showing up as top indicators of employee success, meaning that young, Gen Y professionals are holding their own while competing against industry veterans and those with more experience in the field.

I had the opportunity to interview Whittaker, who told me how this impacts organizational learning once these candidates are hired.

Explain the shift in hiring. Why focus on attributes before skills?

Whittaker: In the not-so-distant days of recruiting and talent acquisition, hiring managers assessed the candidate pool based on a laundry list of required skills. Meeting seven of 10 competencies tended to be the threshold for consideration, and if the candidate wasn’t plug-and-play material, they simply weren’t considered a viable choice. Now, we’re beginning to see a shift toward “attribute-based hiring,” where skill sets become less of a decision driver, mostly because job skills are changing so rapidly.

As a result, soft skills and attributes such as the ability to self-motivate are showing up as top indicators of employee success, meaning that young, Gen Y professionals are holding their own while competing against industry veterans and those with more experience in the field. Further, a company may be more willing to hire someone with fewer years of experience than originally targeted if they can demonstrate specific, solid and consistent problem-solving qualities in various scenarios. In this case, the thinking is that a manager can transfer the technical knowledge more easily than training for a natural problem-solving mindset.

What can the shift be attributed to?

Whittaker: The new in-demand jobs that are emerging — BYOD architect, mobile app developers and cloud engineers, for example — are so leading edge that there isn’t a specific degree that is required to successfully work in these fields. As a result, hiring managers and recruiters must look for other indicators that would make a professional a good fit with the position at hand. Some of those indicators are these attributes, as well as related studies and degrees, certifications and relevant experience.

In other cases, as job skills continuously change, it’s soft skills that are now garnering hard gains. This shift can be attributed to the workforce accommodating the idea that the optimal new hire is an “athlete candidate” — someone who possesses the willingness to self-motivate, capacity to learn quickly and a combination of specific core attributes that align with the company culture. In turn, a greater value is now being placed on the human element rather than skills, as they are thought to be more easily teachable.

How does this impact Gen Y looking for jobs?

Whittaker: For recent graduates — or even those that have two or three years of experience, but don’t have a significant amount of tangible results to show for their skills — this shift in hiring is a benefit. Perhaps the candidate doesn’t meet each criterion in the job description, but if they can relate how they were resourceful, overcame a roadblock or created efficiencies in an internship or co-op, these stories will add value during the interview, which goes beyond words on a resume.

It’s important for Gen Y professionals to walk into an interview prepared to talk about specific examples that prove their go-getter attributes that will enable them to learn the remaining skills on the job. If, for example, you worked as an intern in your college admissions office and you saw a need for a more efficient way to process applications — and you addressed or worked through the issue without being asked — that’s something employers will want to know. Or maybe you asked questions about the inefficiency and proposed new ideas to management — you don’t have to know everything, but you do need to be teachable, and that means not being afraid to ask questions. And above all, follow through.

On the other hand, this new hiring model isn’t very forgiving of those who don’t possess an adequate maturity level. At least some experience, real-world knowledge or EQ to IQ equivalence is required to take you past your college GPA. If you’re ill-prepared, late to an interview or have never had a role in which you learned how to be accountable for your work, this is inherently a bad sign as it speaks to your personality, and thus attributes.

How does it affect other generations?

Whittaker: Those who are further along in their careers will inevitably be more experienced; however, with this shift in hiring they can no longer rely on their skill set alone. If a candidate has 10 years of experience, but doesn’t display the required leadership attributes, a greener candidate can be selected for the job based on their established soft skills and then trained to further develop the specific industry know-how.

The benefit to more seasoned professionals is they should have a vast well of examples and experiences which better tells their story and gives them an opportunity to differentiate themselves. So it’s not, “I can do X, Y and Z,” but rather, “let me tell you how, with X, Y and Z, I was able to overcome this obstacle or solve this problem.” For some, this might be a hurdle as we’ve become so used to doing interviews in a different way. But, by crafting your story well, you can chronicle and articulate your experience in a meaningful way.

How does this impact corporate learning and development?

Whittaker: Because hiring managers and recruiters are taking more of a risk with this method of hiring, the focus during the interview process is now whether or not the candidate is teachable — and if that will accommodate a steeper learning curve. In these interviews, candidates are likely to be asked about what they enjoy doing in their free time or hobbies enjoyed outside of work. Professionals who develop their own video games or taught themselves a second language, for example, are frequently hired regardless of whether they have the skills because the hiring manager or recruiter knows they have a hunger to learn and are teachable.

Ongoing development can be a challenge for some, depending on the alignment of learning styles and training methods. Those who often are most successful in this type of hiring scenario are those who are essentially thrown into the fire. If you’re on the forefront of the newest technology, you’re learning as you go and there isn’t a large amount of ‘organized’ training that happens. The same is true for those sitting through classroom training sessions — you are technically learning, but it isn’t until you’re in the field that the real learning takes place.

By: Ladan Nikravan on February 7, 2014