Talent   //   August 8, 2022  ■  7 min read

To fill open jobs, find people who are curious and love learning

Here’s a not-so-novel idea that some recruiters are evangelizing: Instead of searching for an ideal candidate who checks all the skills boxes, build a talent pipeline of professionals who are curious, love learning and are motivated. 

With those personality traits, a job candidate is most likely to succeed no matter what role they’re filling. These candidates are also the ones who can be taught new skills every time a job transforms, which is an inevitability given the role technology plays at work.

This is not a new concept, but it is one that’s being revived given the talent shortage that’s unlikely to end soon. Today there are two jobs open for every one person looking for a new role, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while many job seekers are highly skilled, finding someone open to learning will likely pay off in the long run. 

“The longer that we are in this skills shortage, the more you are seeing a recognition that people aren’t going to come with 100% of the exact skills that match to a role,” said Stacey Force, ManpowerGroup’s innovation strategist and vp of product marketing. “We really need to find people that are a good cultural fit who are motivated to learn.”

It’s an investment with strong returns, she said. Employees who have been upskilled and trained by their employers tend to have longer tenures.

Changing attitudes

This mentality shift is being met with mixed reactions from employers, particularly among middle to small-sized businesses, since it takes infrastructure and resources to recruit this way. This type of recruitment requires hiring managers to conduct behavior-based interviews that ask candidates to share examples of times they were self-starters or displayed curiosity and problem-solving skills, instead of regurgitating what’s written on their resume. Personality tests are also useful tools for gleaning this information. 

To this end, Epignosis, an employee learning and development platform, revamped its interview process for entry-level sales and technology positions. The company scrapped screening calls in favor of asking sales candidates to shoot a three-minute video explaining why they should be hired in an effort to look for persuasiveness and presence. Once they make it past that round, candidates role play scenarios with hiring managers to get a sense of how quickly they learn and also the types of questions they ask.

For the tech roles, applicants take an assessment test — this doesn’t test for existing knowledge, rather for potential. 

The company has had to get creative since this is the “most difficult hiring market I’ve seen in my entire career,” said Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at Epignosis. 

Epignosis is building an in-house talent pipeline that includes three-month boot camps to teach candidates with high potential for tech and sales jobs all the necessary skills. Successful graduates are hired into entry-level, full-time positions. An advertising campaign directed at recent graduates and career switchers looking to make a transition has helped drive applications.

Skills for success 

Workforce consultancy ManpowerGroup highlights four personality traits that predict success across all roles and industries: likeability, brightness, curiosity and drive. The company finds these traits particularly powerful in young professionals, industries undergoing transition (think energy companies transitioning to greener practices) and career switchers. 

It’s also good business. 

“If you don’t change your mindset about how you’re assessing talent, you won’t succeed as a business,” said Mike Bergen, senior partner and head of North America at executive search firm Kingsley Gate Partners. “Fifty percent of all leaders fail. That’s an expensive proposition. We should be fixing talent assessments regardless of whether there’s enough talent.”

In many cases, bureaucracy blocks the way. Instead of putting up silos between recruiting and hiring, learning and development, and succession planning, those teams need to work together to identify and manage talent in-house and outside the company, Allyn Bailey, executive director of hiring success at enterprise recruitment software firm SmartRecruiters, advised. 

“If all three of those things aren’t connected, it makes it really hard for the hiring manager to leverage all these pieces necessary to put together a strategy that finds a person with potential, brings them onto the team, trains them and builds a career path to be a successful employee at the company,” Bailey said.

3 Questions with Ryan Ward, vp, business technology at software firm HubSpot

Explain how and why HubSpot is redesigning its 11 global offices for hybrid work.

Our hybrid strategy is about acknowledging that flexibility means something different to each person. Every “hybrid” interaction brings a different permutation of variables and scenarios to solve for. Legacy space design and conference room set-ups simply don’t yield a remarkable experience for many of those scenarios. Conversely, spaces that require manual, custom configuration are inefficient. We’re investing a lot of energy into striking a smart balance between remarkable experiences that are easy to operate and manage day-to-day. 

For us, that looks like redesigning our spaces for particular use cases; partnering closely with our technology vendors to describe the experiences we want for our employees and test new products; building experimental spaces leveraging state-of-the-art technology; and gathering employee feedback to guide future iterations.

What challenges do hybrid meetings create and what can tech and leadership do to address them?

Hybrid meetings create inequity which can impact the in-office or remote participants depending on the situation. Overcoming this challenge requires intense focus on the details. For example: How can everyone utilize chat alongside the discussion; how can everyone’s faces be seen; how can everyone’s audio be clear; and how can everyone participate in whiteboarding sessions?

We’re leaning into technology, space design and establishing behavioral norms to have all of our hybrid participants on equal footing. We’re testing new furniture configurations that match the latest camera software to auto-frame our onsite attendees’ faces. We’re enhancing room acoustics. We’re clarifying where people should chat and when people should adjust a camera’s zoom to show their face better. And we’re experimenting with technology to enable the best hybrid version of an in-person whiteboard session. 

What are the short and long-term stakes of failing to create proper meeting equity for businesses?

People are a company’s most valuable asset, and the stakes are very high for companies to attract and retain talent in a competitive environment. First, tech employees have high expectations for collaboration. If you have hybrid interactions with chronically poor experiences, they can become frustrated. 

Beyond that, organizations that don’t focus on equity could encounter more proximity bias. They could see in-office employees be selected to lead on projects more often than remote workers, and eventually be promoted faster. At the business level, without seamless collaboration and communication between employees, companies miss out on great ideas, decrease productivity and lead to higher attrition rates. Once employees experience a great hybrid culture, they won’t want to go backwards. — Jessica Davies.

By the numbers

  • 200: The number of corporate jobs Walmart has axed, in the face of rising inflation.
    [Source of data: New York Times.]
  • 528,000: Number of open jobs made available in the U.S. in July — returning payrolls to pre-pandemic levels. 
    [Source of data: CNBC.]

Quote of the week

What else we’ve covered

  • Eye-rolling or head-shaking on video calls is on the increase, while some have even given a colleague the figure or sworn in meetings. Research shows we’re treating each other less well at work since the pandemic.
  • Those weeks between offer acceptance and onboarding have become a crucial time for employers to build excitement, lay the foundation for team relationships and continue branding themselves as an employer. It’s called preboarding.
  • How does modern office architecture impact working relationships and decision making, and what does the optimum workspace look like for today’s cohort of hybrid workers?
  • Even in a sizzling job market, rejection is a very real thing. And it can leave job seekers losing confidence. Here’s how to turn it into a motivating experience.
  • People are quitting their jobs if there are no career advancement opportunities. Here’s how Chipotle, Dollar General, McDonald’s and Starbucks are upping educational empowerment for frontline workers.
  • New York-based JetRockets paid for flights, passports and accommodation support for 41 of its Russian team members and their families to leave the country, following the invasion of Ukraine in February.
  • Companies are reviving offsite events by providing employees with a choose-your-own-adventure itinerary rather than only one option.

What we’re reading

  • Spotify has claimed that its flexible working policy is the reason it is retaining more of its staff [Fortune.]
  • Restaurant chain Shake Shack’s business is suffering due to how few people have returned to the office [Bloomberg.]