Typically recruiters are focused on specific hiring criteria. They are looking for the perfect candidate with the perfect pedigree of education, experience and qualifications. A deviation from the linear career path is a red flag thus those candidates who have taken a less customary path to learning are being ignored. With a decreased talent pool and the time taken to fill a position taking considerably longer, recruiters need to take into account a candidate’s potential and not their ability to tick a box.

These days a university education comes with quite a substantial price tag and three to four years of dedicated study. It is of no surprise that more and more of our candidates are growing their education through less traditional means. Online studies while working full-time, short term specialist courses and independent learning are all samples of how candidates are avoiding the barriers to a higher education to improve their skills and knowledge. Recruitment strategies though have been slow to adapt, opting instead to define those with unconventional educational backgrounds as undesirable candidates.

Let’s consider for a moment that you have three candidates for a graphic design role, each with a different scholastic background;

  • Ted, who has degree in Graphic Design, has recently graduated with honours from a prestigious university renowned for their arts disciplines;
  • Melissa has several years of working experience as a Graphic Designer, but no formal qualification; and
  • Chris has worked for twelve years in an unrelated industry, but with a passion for graphic design, has undertaken various short term online courses and built a portfolio of his own work.

Who do you hire? Ted, on paper, appears a superstar in the making, but Melissa has practical experience. Chris is highly driven and continuously seeks to grow his talent. Only one will tick the traditional criteria of a formal qualification, but what else do they bring to the table? If you have a team of cookie cutter graduates, should you consider bringing in a candidate with a non-traditional background to breathe fresh, innovative ideas into the work arena? Will your recruitment system even identify such a breadth of experience if it is geared to recognise an unbending ‘resume’ language?

If you’re a recruiter, continually vying for top talent who meets strict selection criteria, you will know that this type of talent is in hot demand by leading organisations that are willing to throw dollars at the candidate in order to secure their service. If you’re an astute recruiter, you will know that there is less demand for the non-traditional candidate, but that top talent resides in this largely overlooked pool of candidates. When you aren’t fixated on talent who fit the traditional mould, you expand your talent pool substantially, not to mention your ability to secure their services at a less competitive rate.

In many fields, our universities cannot graduate enough students fast enough to meet the demands of the workforce. McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, states that 40 per cent of companies worldwide are citing a lack of skill as the dominant reason for job vacancies. For those of you who understand that the linear career path is now outdated, you will know that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. So how do make your recruitment strategy less rigid to engage with candidates of a non-traditional background and open up your pool of skilled talent?

If a four year degree is not crucial, remove this standard from your job description immediately. Focus on the skills and potential of the candidate, not whether they have performed in a job that replicates the one you are seeking to fill – most candidates are looking to stretch their experiences, not seek a position that is a mirror image of their current role. Assess candidates in the interview stage to reveal the extent and quality of their skill set in a practical means. Seek to know if their core values match yours. Promote a culture that welcomes talents of different backgrounds. In short, throw away the stiff, old fashioned rule book and inspire your team to contemplate a non-conventional recruitment strategy to also attract the non-conventional candidate.

Educational centres have recognised the diverse needs of students and changed the higher education landscape accordingly. Improving access and flexibility, and connecting in more innovative ways, student enrolments and the quality of learning are now greatly enhanced. To keep pace with the potential of our learning and teaching resources, human resource managers need to reconsider their recruitment strategies or face an ‘apparent’ shortage of talent. The specialist needs of our ambitious academic population have clearly been recognised and met by our educational facilities, now it is time for employers to customise their approach to securing our emerging talent.

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