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Are You Sabotaging Your Hiring Process by Setting Your Requirements Too High?

August 16, 2016

hiring_process-1.jpgOne of the strangest things I’ve seen organizations do (and there are certainly many weird things) is to set the minimum qualifications for a position much higher than is necessary. All this does is limit the number of potentially highly qualified candidates before they even review one resume or interview one candidate. Let me give you a quick example to highlight this.

Years ago I was working with a major medical device maker. We were planning the startup of a new facility and the room was filled with executives from the company. After we wrapped up our planning session they asked me if I could help them with a position they were having a hard time filling. I said, “sure!” They explained that they were having a really hard time hiring a Senior Balloon Engineer and wanted my suggestions.

First off, I had no idea what a balloon engineer did. Based on their explanation it has something to do with designing stents that are used for heart and vascular repair. I asked them what the requirements were for the position. They said it required a Ph.D. in balloon engineering, as well as 8 years of experience working on stent development.

I told them that it seemed like a pretty specialized area and 8 years was a pretty high experience threshold. Based on their analyses, there were only about 3 people in the country who actually fit that requirement and they already employed one of them! So, I naively asked them, why not consider dropping the requirement to 5 or 6 years? Or, maybe they should consider keeping the experience requirement the same, but lowering the education to a master’s degree.

They were frankly shocked that I would suggest such a thing. They insisted that the minimum qualifications they set were essential for success in the position in question. I asked them how long the position was open and they replied that it had been open for slightly over a year. I asked them how important the position was and they said it was absolutely critical. As politely as possible, I wished them luck and wrapped up the meeting.

MO-Quote.pngIn essence, what they were going to do was wait until someone with 6 years of experience gathered that experience, probably with a competitor, before hiring them. All the while a “critical position” stayed open. These were really bright people. Most of them had advanced degrees in technical fields that would make my head spin. But they were stuck in their paradigm. They were committed to ensuring that their senior balloon engineers had a Ph.D. and at least 8 years of experience, no matter what!

For the past 20 years, I’ve encouraged organizations to loosen the requirements at the top of the hiring funnel, while maintaining high standards at the bottom, i.e. in the final hiring decision. Experience and education can be extremely valuable. But not all experience is the same. One person might be able to gain the skills, knowledge, and wisdom in one year whereas it takes another person three years to gain the same amount. Some people might never get it. Focus your hiring process on accurately evaluating competence rather than preventing potentially qualified candidates from ever applying.

When setting your educational requirements, remember that Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates never finished college. For that matter, Richard Branson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Walt Disney didn’t even finish high school!

In an ever more competitive labor market, opening up the top of the hiring funnel while maintaining high standards at the bottom, makes all the sense in the world.

HR Analytics

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.