Career Building

What Every Employer Keeps Doing Wrong

Businesses spend lots of money upgrading technology, streamlining their operations, and making the workplace great. Over decades, these investments have radically improved these areas to the point they’re unrecognizable from the 1990s. We’ve even got corporate campuses, where employees can connect to one another virtually, and, as for operations, most organizations can instantly pinpoint inefficiencies. […]

by | Jun 29, 2022

Businesses spend lots of money upgrading technology, streamlining their operations, and making the workplace great. Over decades, these investments have radically improved these areas to the point they’re unrecognizable from the 1990s. We’ve even got corporate campuses, where employees can connect to one another virtually, and, as for operations, most organizations can instantly pinpoint inefficiencies.

But a few things are virtually unchanged: how we hire, and more damningly, who we hire.

Yes, you can use the internet to filter candidates globally, and interviews and assessments can be done online. But those ‘advancements’ haven’t improved retention; in fact, quite the opposite has occurred. In the age of the Great Resignation, workers quit more frequently than ever before in hot sectors like technology. It’s not uncommon to see one person list seven or eight jobs over ten years. Employers routinely list “talent acquisition” as a top challenge.

If employers aren’t satisfied and job seekers aren’t satisfied, doesn’t that mean that hiring, at least in the tech world, is broken? Why do we keep doing it this way? Furthermore, diversity and inclusion continue to be top priorities within the workforce realm, another sign of failure. When done correctly, hiring diverse candidates is an innate part of the recruiting process.

Recruiting: An Archaic Process

Hiring isn’t failing because of unclear goals. Companies are clear about who they want to hire. Look at this description of the “ideal candidate” found on any careers page… you’ve seen them all before:

  • We value our people for their individuality
  • Our employees bring their whole selves to work
  • We need creative and critical thinkers
  • We look for self-starters able to take feedback
  • Candidates need to collaborate closely with teammates
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to uphold and deliver work at the highest quality standard
  • Unafraid of complex challenges
  • Drive to push beyond “good enough”

These qualities sound great! Who wouldn’t want to build a company with people like this? If the requirements are clear, maybe it’s the process that’s screwed up. In the white-collar world, here’s how hiring works, with very minor variations:

  1. Search for candidates with key skills listed on their resume
  2. Use the internet’s most popular job boards to find lots of candidates
  3. Reduce the candidate list by filtering on the right college credentials and years of experience
  4. Administer an assessment to further limit the pool
  5. Have recruiters do an initial call to assess proper fit, salary expectations, and logistics
  6. Filter out non-standard applicants who do not meet logistical considerations such as standard 40-hour, five-day workweek
  7. Bring a few top candidates in for interviews
  8. Offer job to winning candidate determined by hiring manager(s) and recruiting/HR
  9. If candidate doesn’t accept, offer signing bonus, increase salary
  10. If candidate still doesn’t accept, go to step 1
  11. When employee quits, go to step 7 or restart process at step 1

Have any of these steps seen innovation? Well, to be fair, we’ve seen some “innovation” in step 7 (interviewing). Some companies have creative interviewing techniques (“draw a picture”). They may ask revealing questions (“why are manhole covers round?”). The really creative ones will even take you to a restaurant to see how you treat the wait staff.

With the fierce competition in the tech sector, there’s also been some evolution in step 2 (finding candidates). Clever recruiters stake out competitors’ offices or read Glassdoor reviews to help their poaching game. Step 6 (logistics) has also seen some change since many white-collar jobs can be performed remotely. At best, these are modest enhancements, leaving the main process essentially unchanged.

Rethinking the “Ideal” Candidate

Now that we’ve looked at the desired outcome and the process, do they match? Does the process meet the requirements? Let’s test it:

Try applying for a white-collar job without a college degree. Instead, tell your future employer that your degree is from a culinary school or that you spent eight years running a restaurant. If you assert that your experience demonstrates attention to detail, “self-starting” (whatever that is), individuality, creativity, and being unafraid of complex challenges, you’d be 100% correct. A culinary degree or running a restaurant absolutely exhibits all the listed qualities of the ideal candidate. Then, you’d get the bad news disguised as a vague rejection letter. The unfortunate, but rarely spoken, truth is that the company values conformity to the right credential (the right degree) and experience in doing the job previously. Where did the desire for the vaunted “individuality” quality go?

The problem in a nutshell: candidates who possess the listed qualities cannot prove they possess them. To be fully accurate, no one can prove they possess these qualities before they get hired. However, the immutable hiring process has decreed that the right college degree and job experience are the only valid proof that you are creative, a critical thinker, a self-starter, can collaborate, have attention to detail, can uphold a quality standard, are unafraid of complex challenges, and have a drive to push beyond “good enough.” Only college-educated experienced hires are the people we’ll give a chance to. How does this make sense?

For decades, this crude and discriminatory filter has ruined millions of lives, prevented valuable jobs from being filled, and has kept true diversity out of the workforce. It’s still happening today, more than ever.

More ridiculous, college knowledge evaporates rapidly. One study showed that people forget 90% of what they learned within the first month. Regardless of how steep the “forgetting curve” is, what possible benefit is there to filter people based on college degree (or lack of one)? Does any employer rely on the college knowledge of anyone whose diploma is more than two years old? Unless there’s a goal to brag that “our workforce is entirely college-educated” (sound elitist enough?), why would an employer do this?

Integrating Learning into Your Workplace

Now that we’ve shown that employers should immediately drop their college degree requirement and stop asking people what their major is, let’s look at the all-too-common demand of job experience as a hiring criterion.

Unlike everyone’s completely forgotten college degree, job experience is a relevant performance indicator to whether someone can do a job. Building quality software is proof that you can build more quality software. However, we all know that this requirement cannot be strictly enforced, or all new job entrants will be excluded. There must be some entry point for rookies on every team.

Employers who are genuine about growing a renewable workforce must aggressively hire trainees into the workplace, as a matter of universal practice. This has been built into the medicine and the legal professions for centuries. Every team should have at least one learner on it, and they should be paid. The rate at which skills are acquired in a real-world, paid environment vastly exceeds classroom learning speed. Our 12-year history at Exelaration has proved that learners routinely become fully productive within months, not years. Why are we fencing people out of workplaces who are desperate for people? The tired excuse of “we can’t afford to train new hires” doesn’t hold water when learning occurs best alongside experts who are already doing the job.

Communities should give incentives to businesses who hire learners as workers, provided there’s no degree requirement to be a learner. Since “diverse” hires are disproportionately without college degrees, diversity will skyrocket when we do this. Companies will stop spending funds on equity consultants because their new hiring process would have finally achieved a truly diverse workplace.

Until there’s significant change in how we hire and who we hire, we will continue to see millions of vacancies stay vacant while worthy uncredentialed people continue to be underemployed and marginalized.

We started Exelaration because we recognize that not every company can hire and oversee learners. Our clients turn their IT projects over to us, and we hire and oversee the learners while they get up to speed. If your company needs help bringing tech learners into your workplace, we’re here.

Email to get started or learn more about our internship and apprenticeship opportunities.

With over 30 years’ experience in technology consulting, Steve Cooper has founded three successful companies whose clients include Fortune 100 companies, leading federal agencies, and world-class non-profit organizations. Starting his career as one of the first relational database experts, Steve’s focus is helping individuals achieve exceptional careers, and helping leaders build organizations around them. He founded NextUp Solutions to focus on transformative learning for teams and individuals. Steve is a vocal leader in the effort to invite more diverse and abundant participants to the technology workplace through internships and experiential learning.

Related Posts