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LinkedIn’s top recruiter says experience doesn’t matter if you have these skills

Highly adaptable and transferable soft skills can often trump specific job experience.

LinkedIn’s top recruiter says experience doesn’t matter if you have these skills
[Photo: RyanMcGuire/Pixabay]

Can a security officer become an HR leader overnight? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Just ask Sean Kirlin, who parlayed his security job at The Hershey Company into a senior manager role in HR operations.

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While working for Hershey as a security officer, Kirlin was given the opportunity to help improve security planning. His data-backed solution, a staffing plan that accounted for historically busy periods, caught the eye of Hershey’s VP of global security, Matthew Ryan, who saw Kirlin’s ability to diagnose problems, identify and recommend solutions, and see them through to implementation. After learning of a new HR project, Ryan suggested Kirlin for the job, effectively launching Kirlin’s career in HR operations.

Kirlin’s existing skills, like his affinity for data, his aversion to ambiguity, and his institutional knowledge, transferred well into HR, ultimately leading to his current role as senior manager of HR operations and systems.

Today, jobs and roles change so quickly that career paths, like Kirlin’s, aren’t as clear as they once were. In fact, even after spending more than a decade in the workforce, nearly half (47%) of professionals between the ages of 35 and 44 aren’t sure what their career path should look like.

This career path ambiguity is happening in the midst of an incredibly tight labor market: Job openings have reached a high of 7.1 million, according to the latest from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To find the talent to fill open positions, employers might take a page from Hershey’s book and look beyond the resume to focus on a candidate’s skills and willingness to learn.

Skills are transferable

Given that many of today’s fastest-growing job categories didn’t even exist five years ago, it helps to remember that the skills needed for success in a particular role aren’t one-size-fits-all. When hiring managers take a closer look at the underlying skills needed for a role and then look for people with those skills, unique solutions often reveal themselves.

Say you’re looking for someone to take on a machine learning role. Given that machine learning is a fairly new specialty, chances are good that you’re not finding a ton of candidates with those skills. Try expanding your search. If you’re looking at the consulting industry, for instance, our data shows that by adding transferable skills like leadership, business intelligence, and data visualization to your search, you’ll broaden the pool of candidates, and they’ll be more likely to pivot to your company.

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Upskilling–it’s a thing

Having found that 57% of talent professionals and hiring managers surveyed said they turn to upskilling when they’re facing tough competition for in-demand talent, we’re following suit. Rather than limiting ourselves to rigorous technical requirements for all new hires on our Insights team at LinkedIn, our mantra is, “If you can’t hire them, upskill them.” We focus on building onboarding programs and ongoing trainings in some of our coding languages, so we can do more hiring for adaptability, drive, and intellectual curiosity. Not only are we finding the candidates we need, we’ve been able to diversify thinking and add new approaches into our teams.

A learning-based approach makes even more sense when you consider that even those who have the skills you need today might not have the skills you need tomorrow. In a recent study with CapGemini, we found that more than a quarter of employees surveyed are worried that their skills are already redundant, or will be in the next one to two years. And with 58% of employees willing to change jobs to a company with a better skill development initiative, employers need to put the right programs in place if they want to hang on to their talent.

Soft skills are here to stay

Soft skills may seem like a buzzword, but our research shows they actually account for the biggest skills gap today. In fact, 57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills.

Certain soft skills like intellectual curiosity, grit, and adaptability may help compensate for the more traditional experience employers are seeking in candidates. In Kirlin’s case, learning agility was key to his successful move to HR at Hershey.

Soft skills can impact the bottom line as well. In a study with Shadi Exports in India, researchers from the University of Michigan, Boston College, and Harvard University found that training in communication and problem-solving skills boosted productivity and retention by 12% and led to a 256% return on investment due to improvements in retention.

But how do you measure for soft skills when the standard interview format wasn’t designed to draw them out of candidates? Employers are looking to job auditions and soft skill assessments, which can help to get a sense of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, and understand how they’ll react to real-world situations.

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Ultimately, as hiring managers continue to embrace the idea of transferable skills, the perception of “nontraditional” talent will shift to be “the right” talent. We are starting to see companies (Forrester Research and Yahoo!) put people without HR backgrounds into top HR roles. At LinkedIn, we’ve found success seeking talent outside of Silicon Valley and beyond the tech industry because we want people with different experiences and different points of view on our team.

By readjusting the idea of “experience” and being open to nontraditional job candidates and career paths, companies can access a much bigger talent pool at a time when competition is fierce, and certain skills are hard to come by. Whether you seek talent with the drive to upskill, or with skills that are transferable, looking beyond traditional experience can help find the right candidates, often in unexpected places.


Brendan Browne is head of talent acquisition at LinkedIn.

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