Life-Long Learning

As recruiters, human resources professionals, or line managers, we are charged with developing a workforce with not only the skills to compete today but also the capabilities to compete in the future. It is a wonderful tagline and an even more admirable goal – but the real question is how do we do that? With the changing landscape from technologies to markets and no crystal ball to guide us, how do we know what knowledge, skills, and abilities our future workforce will need? Furthermore, how do we find people who fit that bill? What is Life-Long Learning? Enter the concept of Life-long Learners. It is an idea that is getting a great deal of press lately from corporate initiatives to promote it to recruiters wondering how to hire for it. Life-long Learning at its essence is the drive to continually develop and improve your skills and remain competitive. While it is something organizations can create programs around, it is a quality that your employees either have or they don’t. If they have the desire to keep learning and developing, they will take advantage of your programs and seek ways outside of work to achieve this goal. The people who are life-long learners will not be satisfied to utilize the skills and knowledge they currently possess. They will look for opportunities to enhance and expand the type and scope of knowledge, skills and abilities they have. By and large, these people are motivated not only by the results of their work but also by the very process of learning. Give them opportunities to learn and grow and you will create motivated and loyal employees who give your organization discretionary effort beyond what is expected of someone in their position. They will also apply what they learn to help you stay competitive in your chosen markets. How Do You Recognize This When You See It? Ask any candidate if he or she would describe himself or herself as a life-long learner and you will get a resounding “Yes”. So how do you know which candidates actually possess this important quality? The resume will be your first clue. You should see this person taking the opportunity to expand into new areas or further develop skills. This can be done through furthering their education through formal degree programs, certifications, or other types of training opportunities. If the candidate is active in professional organizations, see what kind of activities she or he is participating in. More than just paying dues, does the candidate hold an office in the organization or participate on committees? Remember to ask during the interview about attending conferences and networking opportunities through these organizations. Finally, read through the descriptions of past positions. Do the points emphasized imply fulfilling roles beyond the job descriptions. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> During the interview there are two ways to assess life-long learning initiative. First, delve into the points on the resume. Second, take a behavioral interview approach to find out what motivates the candidate and how active he or she is in development. Follow-up with what you learned on the resume. Find out why this candidate seeks out learning opportunities. In some organizations pursuing a degree is an expected part of the development goals of all employees. Some candidates make this choice in their own. Try to determine if there are learning opportunities which are left off the resume as well. The behavioral approach to interviewing will help you discern if this candidate exhibits the types of behaviors needed to be successful in your organization. This includes life-long learning behaviors. Ask questions such as the following:

  • Describe a time when there was an opportunity which interested you but you didn’t have the skills required. How did you handle that?
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  • Describe a project you sought to be a part of. What made you interested in working on that project?
  • Describe a project or period of time at work that you found to be most fulfilling. What aspects of the work contributed to your positive feelings.

Finally, in checking references add one simple question to your list. “Could you describe X’s approach to learning new skills?” Follow up with questions which give you information about how active the candidate’s approach is to developing his or her skills. These concept especially apply to college candidates. They are in the best position to seek out learning opportunities and expand what they bring to the table. Use the above suggestions to assess whether or not your candidates have taken full advantage of the learning opportunities afforded to them. Because they come in lacking the extensive work-place experience of some other types of candidates, finding college candidates who are willing to learn and seek out the chance to do so, will greatly improve the quality of the candidate on the job.

Maggie Ruvoldt (mer@FutureCollegeGrads.com) runs FutureCollegeGrads.com, a website devoted to helping students and employers find each other and to maximizing the internship and entry-level job experience for both. Ms. Ruvoldt also consults for organizations developing college recruiting and internship programs. Ms. Ruvoldt is also working towards completing the Masters Program in Human Resource Management at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. More information about her work, consulting services, and job listings can be found at FutureCollegeGrads.com.

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