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Is the whole recruitment process broken?

Updated on February 28, 2012


In the current climate, it is incredibly difficult to get a new job, or to get back into work if you have been made redundant, or have taken a sabbatical. One of the biggest problems most people face is that "transferable skills" no longer seem to be considered as relevant, and these have been replaced with "specific experience". So, unless you have recently done almost the exact same job that is being advertised, you will not even be given an interview, let alone be given the job. This hub looks at this change of approach from hirers, and examines whether it is a good or a bad thing for companies, and for employees.

The history

No one ever started out in their first job with lots of experience. Everyone has learned by experience, and with training on the job, and has developed their skills in that way. In the past, companies looked for "trainability" as a key aptitude when they were recruiting employees, and were expecting to take on people without experience, and train them up. Those further advanced in their careers were expected to have "transferable skills", which they could bring from one job to the next, which enables them to adapt and learn quickly, and to bring new insights from other sectors or roles into their new job role.

What's happening now?

In the current climate, the above appears to count for nothing. As I said in the introduction, employers are looking for you to have done exactly the same in your last role, as you will do in the role you are applying for. They are not interested in training you, and they are not interested in you growing into the job. You have to hit the ground running, with all the skills and experience that you need. If you are not an exact match, they'll recruit someone else instead who is.

What are the consequences of this for the employee?

The consequences for the employee are that you are instantly pigeon-holed into whatever you did in your last role, as you cannot get a new role doing anything that is different. This stunts your ability to acquire new skills and experience, change sectors, explore different roles in areas where you want to grow strengths, get a new role which is better focussed on your strengths and the things you enjoy doing most, etc.

Longer term, this is going to be de-motivating for many people, whose only way out will be to leave the world of established companies and set up their own businesses. The alternative is to do the same old thing for the rest of their lives.

If you have a dynamic and forward-thinking management, then there are likely to be more opportunities for changing roles slightly by staying with the same company, and trying to move sideways to gain new skills and experiences before moving on to another company, but trying to change companies and role-type or sector simultaneously is already virtually impossible.

However, increasingly managers seem to be pigeon-holing their employees and narrowing their specialisms, rather than encouraging, or even allowing, the opposite.

What are the consequences for companies?

For companies, the consequences will be that they have an entire workforce of very narrowly-specialised staff, none of whom have any appreciation of, or ability to perform, any of the other roles in the company. This leaves the company vulnerable when people leave, as no one can cover them effectively whilst a replacement is found.

The workforce may become bored and demoralised, and feel trapped, and thus resentful. They cannot progress, gain new skills and experiences, and they can't leave. These are not going to be the most productive and engaged workers!

In addition, the MDs and CEOs of companies really should have a broad range of skills to be most effective, but how can they gain those skills in modern times, when they can only rise to the top through pursuing a narrow path of doing one type of role only. How effective will the boards of companies be if everyone on them is a narrow specialist, instead of consisting of a mix of broad generalists, and some specialists?

Past wisdom always was to broaden the range of skills and experiences of your employees as much as possible, as it then enables them to be more creative, more understanding of their colleagues, more useful in covering for absence and leavers, more flexible, etc.

I'm not aware that this attitude has changed in academic circles, but companies are not behaving in that way anymore, which, I believe, will be to their long term detriment.

So is the recruitment process broken?

I believe that it is. It is entirely geared up to recruiting on the basis of "specific recent experience", and, as we see from the words above, this neither benefits the employers nor the employees longer term.

Maybe it is a temporary situation, which will last whilst the global recession lasts, whilst applicants far outnumber job opportunities. If the balance were changed, and there were few applicants for many jobs, then employers could not be so picky about getting an exact match on specific experience, and market forces will dictate a change of approach.

However, in the interim, I don't see anything changing, and everyone loses as a result, with the short-term exception that companies can bring someone into a role, not have to pay to train them, and not have to pay them whilst they learn on the job. However, this is a very short-term benefit, which will come back to haunt them in the longer term.


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      *Voice_Of_Reason* 5 years ago

      charmike4, yes, it would seem that Australia is one place in the world at the moment where there are more jobs than applicants, so the experience there is probably the exact opposite of what I have written about.

      You do have to take people on who are not an exact match to a long list of requirements and train them up, or let them learn on the job, and you do value transferable skills.

      It's an interesting observation that you think people are sticking with the job they have, if they believe that it is relatively secure, rather than risk moving to a new job, where job security is an unknown.

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      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      I am finding that recruitment at these times is very difficult voiceofreason. Many candidates are not wanting to change jobs due to the insecurity in the economy and the talent pool of those actively looking is not as high as it used to be, at least in Australia. Recently I used a recruitment company that does not advertise, but approaches people who are already in roles and this has generally worked for me at an Executive level. Thanks for the very interesting hub & your thoughts.