Not Just a Skills Gap: Outdated Hiring Practices Screen Out Hidden Talent

The Rockefeller Foundation

Originally published on LinkedIn.
In this series, professionals describe the skills they’re building this year. Read the stories
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I’ve played tennis since I could hold a racket, but I’ve never stopped striving to perfect my backhand — maybe 2016 is my year. But in my experience a good leader isn’t just concerned with honing his or her own skills; we must be equally invested in identifying and nurturing the skills of our employees, present and future. That includes skills that aren’t always obvious from glancing at a resume or a CV, and identifying those attributes isn’t currently a “skill” of most employers. The real “gap” is actually one of perception.

This is particularly true in assessing the attributes of young people, who might not be able to demonstrate a long job history, but who are often as qualified for entry-level jobs as the more experienced workers who hold them. This generation of younger workers I think we can all agree is like no other – they have a completely different set of skills, ideas, and talents that infuse new energy and innovation into the workplace.

Yet, we are still using tools for assessing prospective candidates that don’t account for this breadth of abilities. And as a result, we’re overlooking not only future talent, but extremely well-qualified individuals who can better our companies and organizations today.

The good news is that there is a whole range of technologies being introduced to help companies better assess the skills of future employees as an indicator of success and more rigorously identify the attributes most relevant to job performance. For example, recruitment technology company Knack is using mobile games to test for a range of skills that traditional interview questions might miss. Using this approach, Knack studied the underlying traits and attributes of more than 600 youth compared to entry-level workers at a variety of companies that were employed in customer service, claims processing, restaurant service, or financial analysis. The findings were impressive—83 percent scored at or above the level of a company’s “average” performers, in one or more jobs.

The Knack assessment also looked at the relationship between educational attainment and cognitive abilities relevant for job performance and success, and found that education was not always the best proxy. In a study, it compared scores of 155 youth with some college experience to those of 430 youth with no college. The comparison showed that in no case were the scores of those with some college significantly different than those with no college. For example, 34 percent of youth with no college experience scored at least as high as the average of employees currently in a financial analyst role, versus 29 percent of the youth with some college.

This revelation could be a gamechanger for young people at a time when youth unemployment remains nearly twice as high as general unemployment. And it could have transformative implications for more vulnerable youth, who have less access to education and traditional job pathways, but who often bring an entirely different set of talents to the workplace, from balancing family finances to time management, that cannot be properly measured on a resume. And this can make all the difference in ensuring life-long income and security for them and their families.

I do not envy any young person looking for a job today: it’s a highly-competitive and dynamic market. My advice to young job seekers is to be creative with how you market yourself to potential employers. Help them see the unique skills you bring to the job. But my main advice goes to talent developers and CEOs: Don’t let key word searches or preconceived notions systemically blind you to the amazing talent that exists among young people today. The future of your business depends on it, and I have higher hopes for this than my backhand.