Screening, Assessment, Interviewing

Don’t Just Look for Experience in Your Next Hire—Look for Speed of Learning

Not too long ago, jobs were more difficult to come by and hiring managers had the pick of the litter. Now, thanks to the continuing talent shortage, it’s a job hunter’s market, and businesses everywhere are struggling to fill vacancies with qualified candidates.


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The good news is that the number of job listings with unreasonable requirements is on the decline. Based on an analysis of 15 million online job postings by Burning Glass Technologies, the percentage of entry-level jobs that require 3 or more years of experience has declined from 29% in 2012 to 23% in 2018. However, what should remain mandatory in the eyes of hiring managers is the ability to learn quickly and adapt to changes.

Deloitte research indicates that hiring someone costs an average of $4,000, and the cost is even higher if the new employee turns out to be less adept than his or her résumé led you to believe. Candidates with extensive industry experience and a proven track record of success are difficult to find, but that doesn’t mean businesses should lower their standards.

Instead, hiring managers need to adjust their criteria to find qualified candidates, starting with these three steps:

1. Choose an Appropriate Candidate Pool

The talent shortage is real, and it’s affecting companies across all industries. In fact, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of CEOs found that 93% reported they needed new methods of attracting talent, but 61% had yet to make any effort toward that goal.

One of the most promising places to look for new hires is in the highest levels of academia. While basic degrees give graduates surface-level knowledge of a certain subject, candidates with high-level degrees have had to become innovators in their field. This process takes trial and error, and it produces people who are uniquely equipped to handle an intellectually demanding workplace.

2. Don’t Guess—Test

You might not have time to give each candidate a comprehensive test, but you can introduce candidates to new software and see how long it takes them to execute certain basic tasks like setting up a new project.

Certain candidates will adapt to the new experience much more quickly than others, and those are the most promising hires. Your business is unique, so customize prehire assessments to reflect the unique demands of working there. The results of this effort are often visible on a new hire’s very first day on the job.

3. Prioritize Innovation

When you have a team of innovative employees, it’s easier to be first to market and gain a greater market share. Consider Amazon and the Echo smart speaker. As the first mover, Amazon’s various smart speaker models represent 63% of the total number of smart speakers in use today.

For evidence of innovative performance, look to candidates with degrees such as PhDs. In order to earn a PhD, a candidate must advance his or her field in some way, which requires creating new information instead of regurgitating what’s already out there. These are the individuals you want on your payroll.

There’s no denying that the job market is changing, and certain jobs that exist today will probably disappear in the next decade. Your business will also need to deal with fluctuating job requirements, so a wealth of industry experience is no longer your best bet for new hires.

Instead, stay ahead of the curve by hiring employees who know how to learn quickly and effectively, and you’ll be able to count on them no matter what changes sweep through your industry.

Isaiah Hankel, founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist, helps people with PhDs transition into meaningful, high-paying industry careers. Hankel is also a STEM PhD and an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant.