There Is No Ideal Candidate

Shaking hands

In an era where the proliferation of job boards and social media dominate the job market for what Human Resources fondly refers to the search for the best possible talent has led many a job hunter down the path of diminishing returns -- if one can borrow an expression from economics. The fact is only about 10% of job hunters relying on job boards, sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media get interviews and ultimately job offers this way.

Now, that’s not to say that if you as a job hunter see that “job to kill for” on one of the major job boards, or the same job flashes across your profile on LinkedIn, that you shouldn’t apply for it. It’s the old saying “you’ve got to be in it to win it” that comes into play here since most companies will need your online application to make it all official. The deal is to be very selective in applying for jobs online and then work like crazy to network your way into the company.

So, why so hard to get jobs this way? As I began to read more about the current job market, at least in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area, part of this trend for companies to post jobs with very aggressive job requirements is two-fold:

  • Following the “great recession” of 2008, and the many layoffs and downsizings that followed, companies learned to cope with less staff, thus were not in a rush to fill new jobs once the job market started “loosening up.” In other words they could be very “choosey” whom they hire.

  • Being in a buyers’ market companies had the luxury of finding the best possible talent to fill their jobs. Plus, all you read about these days is the dearth of talent companies are faced with in their recruiting efforts.

To lend some humor to this trend one of my clients received this email telling her why she didn’t get the job for which she had interviewed: “We have made the difficult decision to continue our search for the ideal candidate and will not be making a final offer to you. We do wish you the best in your future endeavors.” As a former corporate HR recruiter who considers himself good at smoothing things over I can’t even come up with something better than that!

If there is an oxymoron component to this trend, it’s that companies contend they are looking for the best possible talent by posting jobs that are loaded with requirements that even the best talent can’t satisfy.

To give one such example a recent client of mine whom we’ll call Tom applied online for an IT position at a major pharmaceutical company in the greater New York/New Jersey area. A big part of Tom’s frustration in applying for this, as well as other jobs online, was he never quite met all the requirements or qualifications of the posted positions. In this case there were some technical areas in which Tom felt he was not qualified for.

The solution for Tom, along with applying for jobs online, was to start tapping into his network of contacts and use these connections to get meetings directly with hiring managers in his targeted companies. Eventually, Tom connected with a contact at the pharmaceutical company who knew the hiring manager of the position Tom had applied for. (Tom at an earlier job had been an IT consultant to this company thus knowing the contact).

In Tom’s case using his contact as an introduction got an interview with the hiring manager who absolutely loved Tom’s background (after all Tom knew something of the company from his previous consulting role), and he knew Tom could solve his most pressing problems. For the hiring manager, Tom not having some of the technical skills required of the posted job was of little consequence given everything else he could bring to the table. More often than not, if hiring managers think a person is the right fit for their jobs they won’t turn away someone just because he or she doesn’t fit all the qualifications in the posted job description.

As Tom shared his frustration with me it became evident that many of my other clients were having the same experience of being a skill, certificate or other credential short of what the posting was requiring. As I further explored this trend I started to hear comments such as “they must be looking for the world based on their job description” or “I consider myself a very accomplished professional in my field, but I could never satisfy all the requirements of the positions I see posted.”

And this trend is nothing new to Human Resources. Even they refer to looking for the “ideal candidate” as chasing the “purple squirrel” or that time honored “unicorn” which we know just doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, the job market will continue to lose out on very good people. In his book “Why Good People Can’t Get Hired” author Peter Cappelli takes on the so-called skills gap justification for companies passing on otherwise very talented and productive job applicants.

The conundrum for Cappelli is that companies look for the ideal candidate, but find most, if not all those who apply for posted positions, fall short by a requirement or two. The companies are reluctant to provide the training that would qualify these same applicants in a reasonably short period of time. (Or, alternatively, invite the new hire to apply initiative and undertake the training to improve their skills and qualifications.) In either case, the hire is made, work gets underway, the professional grows in knowledge and skills, and both parties win.

So, until this riddle of how to source and identify otherwise qualified people is solved by companies, applying online for positions will be important, but insufficient for job hunting success. Take Tom’s approach, which in any job market is the best way to land interviews and jobs, and use your network to reach out directly to those in your targeted companies who can influence or make hiring decisions. For most hiring managers, the decision is not who most completely matches all of the position’s posted requirements, but who is the best fit for the job based on the applicant’s experiences, accomplishments and skills. In other words, the professional who is willing to take the initiative and can best satisfy the manager’s real needs.

Companies looking to hire the best talent would be well advised to take multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s advice that “it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong!”

If you’ve been faced with falling short a requirement or two in your recent quest for a new position, but feel you were otherwise fully qualified to perform the responsibilities of the position, please share your approach to this dilemma.

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