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Inflated job requirements are scaring away top talent

Published: 17 August 2022

Author: Julie Robinson

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Are you losing out on talented candidates because of your inflated job requirements? This is something employers should be asking themselves.

We hear a lot about the supposed “skills gap” in both the UK and Canada, and research finds that a majority of employers in both markets say they can’t find qualified workers and that a lack of skills is to blame, particularly in tech markets.

In a recent KPMG poll nearly 80% of the businesses surveyed said they need more workers with digital skills, and more than two thirds are having trouble finding them. Surely there’s validity to this but is it the whole truth? Are employers, perhaps, also becoming overly demanding with inflated job requirements while turning off and turning away perfectly good talent? 

According to the Toronto Star, Canadian workers, particularly younger ones, are better educated than ever. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that 58% of Canadian workers in 2018 held a tertiary qualification, the highest percentage in the world, and millions of skilled Canadians don’t get to use their skills at work. The article argues that “a shortage of jobs where they can apply those qualifications is the bigger brake on growth.” 

Inflated job requirements for “entry level” jobs

Job requirements are becoming increasingly inflated, and many argue that it’s getting out of hand. The BBC recently reported that an analysis of close to four million jobs posted on LinkedIn since late 2017 showed that 35% of postings for “entry-level” positions asked for years of prior relevant work experience and more than 60% of listings for entry-level software and IT jobs required three or more years of experience. This makes little sense, as someone with three years of experience is not going to be looking for an “entry level” job. Moreover, according to the Ladders, the amount of work experience required to get an entry level job has been steadily increasing at 2.8% per year. 

And it’s not just entry level roles that are seeing this experience inflation. There’s a common sentiment among job seekers that this is across the board. A classic example is found in a Twitter post from FastAPI creator, Sebastian Ramirez, who wrote: “I saw a job post the other day. It required 4+ years of experience in FastAPI. I couldn't apply as I only have 1.5+ years of experience since I created that thing. Maybe it's time to re-evaluate that "years of experience = skill level".”

Similar stories abound across social media, many focusing on low paid roles with ridiculously inflated job requirements and demands for years of experience with softwares that exceed the technology’s actual existence. 

Another from Twitter user Alisha Gonsalves reads: “Found a job opening that requires 8+ years of Swift experience. Swift is a programming language that came out 5 years ago.” You can find dozens more here

How to avoid the mistake of experience inflation?

What’s going on here? In many cases, hiring managers and HR may be building on an existing job description and editing what someone wrote last time, adding a shopping list to what was already there. Or the person who is currently in the role has evolved skills that they didn’t have when they took the job. They have now grown out of the role, which is why they are moving on, and if they were to apply for their one job with their original CV they wouldn’t be qualified, but the hiring manager is now looking for a carbon copy of who that person has become. 

How to avoid the pitfall of experience inflation

A front end developer might not actually need to know C++, C# and both machine learning and UX/UI design, and a copywriter probably doesn’t need a master’s degree in engineering. And if a company is advertising for an account manager who can also manage the company’s social media and marketing, host the monthly webinars, and develop a new app, what they’re looking for is three employees, not one. On top of that, a PhD holder is not looking for a $17/hr job.

These mistakes will cost a company. People are not going to apply for such roles unless they’re desperate, and you’re going to miss out on passive candidates and the truly great talent out there. This is why companies should be working with the best recruiters to define the true requirements of a job and how each of them will bring actual value to the organisation and contribute to its success.

Be realistic and  flexible

Define exactly what is required to do the job and encourage the employer to list only these requirements in the job posting and let candidates tell you what they can do above and beyond these qualifications. You might be surprised to learn what people have to offer and what they can bring to the table, and you won’t get this opportunity if you scare people away with requirements for multilingual data scientists with proficiency in 12 programming languages and several advanced degrees.   

Be flexible and know that the perfect candidate may bring skills to the table that you never even thought of. 

Hire for attitude, train for skills

You need job candidates to have certain skills to do the job. We’re not suggesting you hire an admin assistant to be VP of product management, but we are suggesting that there are times when attitude should trump skills.

This idea is commonly attributed to Herb Kelleher, Co-Founder of Southwest Airlines, who said, “We'll train you on whatever it is you have to do; but the one thing Southwest cannot change in people is inherent attitudes." He applied this principle across his company, and it surely contributed to the fact that Southwest has been one of the world’s most successful airlines for decades (though the carrier has struggled since the pandemic).

Kelleher reportedly believed that encouraging people with great attitudes increases customer satisfaction, operational smoothness, engagement, retention and ultimately profits.

Good leaders know that, when it comes down to two candidates, one with a great attitude who is missing a few of your required hard skills, and one with all the hard skills and a not so great attitude, you’re better off hiring the first person. Why? Because hard skills can be learned but attitude is forever, and candidate #1 will soon have all the required skills and a great attitude while candidate #2 will always have a bad attitude.

Craft a compelling job description that embodies exactly what you need, be realistic and flexible, hire for attitude. And don't forget that a great job description should very clearly state what you can offer the candidate and why they should want to work for you. Do these things, and you just might find you get what you need. 

If you’re a corporation looking for talent, a good recruiter can help you avoid these pitfalls. 

At Raymond George Agency, we help find the people who find the people who make your business a success. Get in touch today to learn how we can help. 

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