Jan 22, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

On the way home from the diversity career fair, while writing job ads for the diversity publications, hiring the diversity consultants — while taking those positive steps forward you may, meanwhile, be doing things that cause you to take two steps back.

Some examples:

The Cliquishness

Some industries are notoriously exclusionary regarding anyone without existing experience from that same industry. That isn’t always a bad idea, but there are times candidates meeting all other criteria are overlooked based on that single factor. Unless industry experience is essential for particular positions, it seems short-sighted and unnecessarily limits the candidate pool for a company to be that rigid across the board.

Is there really anything so unique about the medical device industry that a vice president of finance, information technology director, public relations manager, or human resources specialist from the telecommunications industry would be lacking or incapable of figuring out in a short amount of time? When it comes to general business functions such as those listed, it is difficult to justify the industry experience requirement, yet that remains a common screening criteria in multiple sectors.

The Over-reliance on Your Own

Earlier in my career I worked for a company that almost exclusively promoted from within. Obviously, that ensures a career path for existing employees and serves to retain institutional knowledge, but it can also breed complacency. After moving around to different departments and gaining exposure to various areas of the operation, I felt maxed out, under-challenged, and dreaded the thought of spending my entire career surrounded by people that only knew as much as they needed to function in that atmosphere. Tenure was common, but tenacity to generate fresh ideas was rare.

A while later I found myself in a department at another organization that had a very stagnant, legacy crew. The level of mediocrity was palatable and painful. Despite inspirational, innovation-focused vision statement posters in the lobby, that place embodied the concept of employees quitting or retiring, but forgetting to actually leave. Far too many showed up, slid out of sight, and collected a paycheck out of some distorted sense of entitlement based on their longevity. Anyone who tried to show initiative was ostracized.

Recycling and reusing may be good for the environment, but stale talent typically begets bland business results. A well-rounded workforce planning platform should strive to balance progress with a blend of internal and external resources.

The Hunt for Peppy Personalities

As it was part of my routine intake process to ask hiring managers I supported what their must-haves and deal-breakers were, the reply one group constantly gave was “we want extroverts.” They were convinced that only extremely outgoing people could succeed in their roles. One time a solid resume came along and they insisted that I bring that person in as soon as possible. Even though the candidate spoke, looked and acted professionally and interviewed well, they decided against them.

When I asked what went wrong, they said the candidate seemed too serious. Ironically, that person seemed quite relaxed, warm, and charming during my interactions with them. Maybe they didn’t behave like a cheerleader, but it was a job interview for a business department head not a department store greeter.

All too often, people prematurely classify candidates on superficial characteristics rather than remaining objective throughout the evaluation process. Whether that means selecting the person that was a smooth talker during the interview or favoring the person that complimented their family photo on the desk, the likability factor can cloud judgment.

This Perfection Silliness

Another habitual practice of many employers is posting open position descriptions that require an exact number of years of experience as well as a specific degree major. While many occupations require someone to have studied a subject in depth, there are plenty of jobs that can be performed with or without formal education in that specialty. Beyond entry-level mastery, number of years of experience rarely proves competence or differentiates between superior performers or slackers.

Recently an acquaintance referred one of their former colleagues for an internal opening at their company. With a strong history of industry experience and demonstrable achievements including an earlier stint at that same employer, the hiring manager zeroed in on one area of their resume and decided they weren’t interested. The fact that the person lacked a degree disqualified them.

Haven’t we all been exposed to coworkers, bosses, or direct reports who missed the mark no matter how much education or experience they acquired? How about the perfect on paper, impressive interviewer and all-around top choice candidate who turned out to be a massive failure on the job? Using years of experience and educational pedigree as a filter is not a sure thing that the person will deliver as expected.

Preferring Passive Candidates

One of the incessant refrains of the recruiting industry is the quest for passive candidates. The moment the thought crosses the mind of any worker-bee to pursue a new opportunity, they immediately become undesirable.

Those searching for jobs in the current market have essentially contracted career leprosy. The stigma for actively seeking employment is far worse for those doing so out of necessity caused by the raging recession. Assorted unwarranted stereotypes plague this segment of the workforce.

By now most of us have encountered people who through no fault of their own have found themselves unemployed or underemployed. While they are willing, able, and determined to remain relevant, forces beyond their control have all but rendered them completely and permanently unemployable in the eyes of some recruiters or hiring authorities.

A person’s passive or active status is only a matter of timing and has nothing to do with their qualifications, ability to contribute, or performance potential. It is shameful to automatically dismiss these individuals as unworthy of future employment simply because they aren’t currently earning an income.

Combined with all of the other possible challenges listed above, these folks are in need of compassion and consideration more than ever. Let’s fix this.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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