Talent Acquisition

Do Applicants Lack Skills or Experience?

The latest survey from Forde HR Cloud reveals that a large proportion of businesses are unable to pick and choose the perfect candidates when recruiting. In fact, as many as two in three business managers admitted to struggling to recruit the staff they ideally want. Small businesses listed a variety of reasons, the biggest being a “lack of skills and experience” among applicants (50%).


The reality then, is that at some stage, most hiring managers are going to face the decision of whether to settle or keep on searching for the “perfect” candidate. But are these skills gaps a fair representation of the shape of the current workforce?

Skills Gaps: Truth or Perception?

The fact that 50% of small businesses believe their new recruits should come to the role with the necessary tools to do the job is understandable. Training and development requires staff time and investment, two things small businesses don’t always have in abundance.

Juxtapose that with the fact that graduation season is upon us, bringing with it an annual influx of eager, well-educated young professionals. Despite unfilled roles in businesses up and down the country, 1 in 10 of these skilled graduates will remain unemployed 6 months after they’ve thrown the mortarboard in the air.

So, are recruiters missing an opportunity to plug this skills gap? Graduates do, after all, represent a skilled workforce. Generally speaking, their acquired skills may not be aligned exactly to the vacancy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do the job.

It’s been reported that only half of graduates end up in careers directly aligned to their studies. That means that a considerable chunk of the workforce are doing jobs for which they may not have exactly trained for.

The key to navigating this skills gap then is to look for transferable skills that can be applied to the role.

Experience Gaps: Truth or Perception?

It would be too simplistic to look only at the disparity between skill sets and role requirements. The perceived lack of relevant experience in candidate pools is another hiring challenge for small businesses

Experience is often viewed as a black and white issue, either applicants tick the box or they don’t. Instead, could the problem lie in the historical emphasis we place on experience as a prerequisite to proving capability?

For example, when applicants specify three years’ experience in a certain role, how do we measure the difference between three years of compounding skill and improvement versus the equivalent bad experience, repeated for three years? The fact is, we can’t.

Experience level is one of the most traditional hiring metrics and yet it can be replaced by things like personality or attitude assessments to find a good cultural fit.

Of course, there are many jobs that require very specific skill sets for which there simply is no alternative. But there are equally as many roles that don’t need to be so constrained.

CVs: What to look for beyond skills and experience

So, if you are prepared to look beyond the bullet point checklist of skills and experience, what key characteristics should you be looking for within a CV, that will signal an applicant has potential?

The first port of call should be transferable skills – those that can be applied across industries and roles. These are usually things like literacy, computer skills, initiative, team working or entrepreneurship; intangible skills that tend to be unique to a candidate and take time to nurture.

But there are other transferable qualities to be found within job-specific skills too.

So, for example, someone with nursing experience may apply to a non-nursing role, but the transferable skills inferred include anything from interpersonal skills, working under pressure and high levels of a team working aptitude.

A candidate’s attitude is the one area that can’t be changed by training so it’s crucial to hire for this as a fit for the business from the outset. Adaptive skills listed on a CV can reveal attributes such as loyalty, tenacity, and self-reliance.

Even the way in which the CV has been designed and written can expose adaptive skills like presentation, attention to detail and creativity, without them having been explicitly described.

CVs: Warning signs that really matter

While there are plenty of positive attributes to be gleaned from a closer CV inspection, there can be warning signs in there, too. So, what elements should flag a concern?

Obviously, context is everything and it depends on the role. If a role requires serious attention to detail, then simple errors in terms of grammar or spelling could pose a challenge. When hiring a technical employee, a CVs that leans too heavily on fluffy language and experience may be covering a lack of qualifications or formal training.

Generally, inaccurate dates or periods of time that seem to be missing from the employment record could denote a candidate who moves jobs regularly or highlight an underlying issue. Or it could mean they are hiding an incident, like being dismissed from a role.

A subtle warning sign to look for is when applicants focus heavily on listing generic job duties as opposed to their individual contribution. This could represent a lack of value the candidate actually brought to a business in terms of outcomes.

Graduate recruitment

As noted above, graduates can provide a good pool of talent. Armed with enthusiasm and qualifications, some 60,000 of them will be unable to secure professional employment, meaning those given an opportunity will likely seize it with both hands.

As the Forde HR Cloud survey found, 25% of SMEs attribute recruitment success to the training and development they offer to new employees.

The research suggests there is room for other small businesses to adopt a similar strategy and overcome their recruitment issues. If your business struggles to attract applicants with role-specific skills, consider adopting the approach: “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Should we prize skills and experience above attitude?

While most businesses will require a core foundation of skills and experience across its workforce, limiting recruitment exercises to only these two areas can make the hiring process challenging, to the point where many roles remain unfilled for too long.

When candidates apply who meet the skill and experience criteria, hire them and, if they become solid members of your team, nurture them to stay with you.

However, be aware that meeting the criteria is not a guarantee that the candidate will be the perfect person for the job or company culture.

Training may require resources, but offering a foot up the ladder to career beginners can bring to your business staff who are energetic, quick to learn, grateful for the opportunity and amiable to moulding to fit your company culture.

So, look beyond the CV bullet points and consider the value that the candidate brings beyond the criteria checklist.

About the Author: Jerome Forde is an HR and employee relations specialist with almost 30 years’ senior-level experience in complex public, private and not-for-profit organisations. Jerome founded FordeCloud, a RIT platform that uses the most advanced cloud technology to bring a virtual HR office to start-ups and SMEs.

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