By September this year, 1 in 3 Americans no longer worked for the same employer they started with at the beginning of 2020. Job markets are shifting beneath our feet, people are being catapulted into completely different industries, and it’s forcing us to take a hard look at what really matters when hiring. Notably: soft skills—or the ability to hit the ground running whether you’re an amateur or a pro, an industry vet or a complete newbie.
One of the problems contributing to this lack of soft skills is that our decades-old criteria for job applications are not working. The ways we acquire skills and experience are more versatile than ever, but still, we’re holding ourselves back by relying on an antiquated method: résumés. Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton once said that they don’t really require university qualifications for their job positions, but that box is there to help recruiters “weed through” their candidate pool.
That’s the problem of today’s job market. Employers are getting overwhelmed with résumés as people are unable to find work. Both are inevitably missing out. Recruiters will do anything just to narrow the pile, inadvertently throwing out some of the best candidates, while candidates are chained to a sheet of paper, which doesn’t let them flaunt their relevant skills and shine.
This means that talented job seekers are using this time to acquire skills, experience, and knowledge in unconventional ways—perhaps through informal apprenticeships, online courses, individualized projects, or freelancing.
Résumés don’t have the language or the space to encompass these “micro-learning” processes. Skilled candidates that don’t tick the prescribed boxes aren’t even let through the door. This means about 85% of skills potentially relevant to a role are not presented in résumés, according to research by our company, PitchMe.
Today’s best candidates—those adjusting quickly to the changing demands of employers—are doing this in nonlinear ways that most likely won’t be represented on a traditional résumé.
How to find potential hires
There’s a greater chance of people embellishing their résumés during times of high unemployment and job cuts. Moreover, candidates often stretch the truth or outright lie during interviews and when supplying references.
At my company, we advise employers not to rely on primary data sources where candidates are directly involved in pitching themselves, as in their résumé or LinkedIn profile. We don’t believe these are representative or transparent. A skills endorsement on LinkedIn is often an unspoken gesture of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
Instead, we suggest secondary sources. For developers, this can be their contributions to open source code, with appreciations and comments from the community. If their code is being used by other developers, it means the candidate isn’t faking it. If a person is running a blog with followers who engage with their posts, it’s objective proof that your candidate knows how to transmit ideas to audiences. These sources have already been validated by other stakeholders in the field who have no reason to be misleading.
So, consider the proof of skills candidates can provide on top of or instead of their résumés, such as portfolios, apps, or code sequences, written content, and peer reviews. Moreover, set up additional checks, such as internal tests and challenges (there are gamified challenges available for recruiters, such as Codingame for developers).
And get as creative as you like; if the candidate is up to it, this can be a sign they are adaptable to unconventional hurdles. If you are open to overhauling your process, give your applicants the freedom to provide whatever sources they consider relevant. For example, you can suggest sending in a one-minute animated video, writing a paragraph about themselves, or giving a short answer demonstrating their problem-solving capabilities. These alternatives all take the place of an ordinary cover letter.
This sort of screening method can prepare recruiters for a follow-up interview, when you will be able to scrutinize a candidate’s soft skills—for example, by preparing a “crisis” case study to observe how your candidate navigates their team out of a problem.
Narrowing the field to serious candidates
One of the main issues for recruiters is that it’s too easy to apply for jobs using résumés, and they’re flooded with half-hearted applications. Recruiting a single hire can rack up high costs for startups and take weeks. The process of screening résumés, checking references, and testing for skills take up the lion’s share of resources. Narrowing down the field using traditional HR tools and ATS (applicant tracking systems), which often reject a majority of job applications and disregard skills, can end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t screen candidates—you just have to base this on nontraditional criteria.
For example, products that look beyond résumés to filter your applicant pool include CodeSignal for real-world coding assessments for developers, and Ideal for talent screening that uses external evaluations. AI tools that can speed up the process without compromising on the quality of candidates include Codility, for live technical interviews and skills-based tests, and Vervoe, for merit-based assessments. Further, by simply demanding more thorough applicant material from the get-go, the more you can weed out nonserious candidates. Screening for skills will leave you with the best-quality candidates.
Moreover, consider that in traditional recruitment, only 70% of successful candidates actually accept the final job offer; the rejections end up being the most expensive stage for employers. However, when candidates know that the job role is designed to suit their skills, this rate rises significantly. For our company, our candidate acceptance rate is 90%.
You should also consider whether recruits match your company culture. We estimate that up to 30% of candidates drop out before the end of their trial period because they don’t fit their team. Why? This is owing to the fact that résumés are good at representing hard skills but can’t effectively transmit the soft skills and personality of candidates. With in-person hiring interactions more limited during the pandemic, this makes the situation even thornier.
A chance to bring on industry shifters
A lot of people are entering the job market, and as they do, they’re reassessing where they want to be over the next few years. Many are reskilling and shifting careers from badly hit sectors to more stable arenas.
First, you may be wondering why employers should be looking for “career shifters” when their standard candidate pool is arguably bigger than ever. Well, because this would be a missed opportunity to revitalize the company and brainstorm new solutions by turning to diverse employees. Recruiters are already realizing that unconventional candidates can prove to be better hires.
Hiring fresh can also benefit your bottom line. When people shift careers they know they need to downgrade their salary expectations and thus, prove more affordable.
Keep in mind, these “career shifters” are much harder to hire, since their potential is often lost on résumés. So be creative and open to embracing this diverse talent; pursue that unique attitude (and train your new employee for technical skills later). Good recruiters know it’s fine not to check off every box from the start. Your goal should be finding those people who can grow in step with your company and culture.
Dina Bayasanova, CEO and co-founder of PitchMe, a skills-based talent marketplace for career development and job search. PitchMe presents job profiles anonymously to let candidates’ skills and expertise do the talking, creating a fairer hiring process.