Instead of Complaining About a Talent Shortage, Let’s Expand the Definition of Talent

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Oct 10, 2018

Recruiting today misses talented people who may not directly fit the job description, or model of the “ideal hire.” Traditional hiring practices assess on experience (what you have done) rather than potential (what you are capable of), with a disproportionate focus on degree and pedigree.

Recruitment teams, then, are on par with the major record labels of a bygone era – of all the talent available, only a fraction is surfaced and hired, relegating the rest buried beneath, waiting to be discovered.

It’s like music. Pre-Internet — pre-file sharing — your choices were limited to whatever the record labels decided to sign: the good, the bad and the ugly. What you heard on the radio was extremely limited, lazily driven by Billboard’s top hits, old and new. Fans seeking deep tracks could dig through the music store to find a wider assortment — rare songs and “B” sides — if you knew which stores to go to.

But what about the tens of thousands of artists declined by the labels? As with writing and publishing houses, hoards of talent fell by the wayside, their work never seeing the light of day. Cast aside as “niche,” they became buried in the long-tail with no visibility to the public at large.

As we know, the Internet changed that. From Napster to Limewire to MySpace and YouTube, advances in technology democratized music; today, virtually anyone from anywhere can make their art accessible to the masses, and the masses can individually choose what they wish to listen to. A handful of producers and publishers shouldn’t determine what the world hears.

And when it comes to recruiting, keyword searches, “target schools,” age-old degree requirements, and other restrictive hiring practices shouldn’t determine who is a fit for the role.

From “Perfect Fit” to “Excellent Opportunity”

For all of the advances in recruitment technology in the past decade, organizations are still heavily reliant on fail-safes — selecting candidates who meet job and educational requirements to a tee, or employing referral programs to fill the gaps. In this world, the “non-traditional” job seeker is ignored, which generally includes those with:

  • “Irrelevant skills”/potential to do the job but lacking the specified education or experience
  • Disabilities
    • In 2017, 18.7 percent of persons with a disability were employed, versus those without a disability (65.7 percent).
    • The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 9.2 percent in 2017, more than twice that of those with no disability (4.2 percent).
  • Autism, Asperger’s, or spectrum-associated “limitations”
  • No degree or partial education
    • Only 30 percent of Americans have a four-year degree
  • Extended employment gaps (i.e. parents who left the workforce to raise families)
  • Military experience
    • Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation survey found that 44 percent of veterans left their first post-military job within a year — often because the veterans didn’t feel they were the right fit or because they struggled to find a sense of purpose in their job.
  • Senior citizens/retirees
    • Share of workers 65 and older who are working or looking for jobs has jumped from 12.5 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2018.
  • Prison records/ex-cons (ban-the-box policies have helped in this regard, but stigma remains) 

More Jobs Than People

We have more jobs than people in the U.S., with 6.7 million job openings and just 6.4 million available workers to fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When it comes to talent, organizations are fighting a losing battle, exacerbated by their seeming refusal to hire from “fringe” groups not central to their recruiting philosophy. The only way to better compete in today’s world is to widen the lens on talent — which we should be doing in the first place. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Potential Talent PoolFromToExample
“Irrelevant skills”Hasn’t done  / Hire on experience and performanceCapable of doing /hire on potentialFacebook


DisabilitiesRejecting based on perceived disabilityInclusive hiring and accommodatingMicrosoft disAbility Hiring



Autism / spectrumRejecting based on perceived inability to assimilateInclusive hiring and creating a safe space to workMicrosoft/JP Morgan Chase/Autism at Work Employer Roundtable
No degree/ partial education/ non-traditional education“Four-year degree required”“Equivalent practical experience or desire to learn”Companies no longer requiring degrees


Extended employment gaps (re-entrants to workforce)Questioning whyDesigning re-entry programs to train and assimilateBoeing’s Return Flight Program

Building Returnship Programs


This from a recent ERE conference

Military experience / veteransRejecting based on “non-transferable experience”Employing veterans to hire veterans and understanding how their skills translateLockheed Martin


Senior citizens/ retireesExclusion from considerationSenior internships and re-entry programsBon Secour’s St. Mary’s Hospital/Insurance Industry

Retired Brains

Prison Records / Ex-ConsRejecting based on fear, lack of understanding and laws / regulationsInclusive hiring and ban-the-box policy adoptionGreyston Bakery (65 percent of workforce has been incarcerated)

The ERE conference next April in San Diego (Mod Pizza’s Megan Hansen)






Four Tips to Finding Talent Faster

In summary:

Match on skills, capabilities and potential

  • JDs are not the holy grail

Throw out the “need experience to get experience” philosophy

  • Commit to grow versus buy
  • Stop relying on perfect matches

Expand your recruitment plan to new events / associations

  • Allocate time and resources to research new schools
  • Stop relying on feeder systems and historical actions

Employ diverse talent reflective of your target audiences to recruit them

  • Disabled, vets, etc.

This requires a mind shift across organizations — a partnership across TA, legal, and functions. We cannot keep filling roles with the same core groups — a critical change is warranted.

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