The Ideal Candidate Will …

01 Jul , 2014

Report CardThe US unemployment rate for the long term unemployed is 3.1 million (1). The field of higher education accounts for 452,0002 of the entire unemployed population (2).  It is economics. The supply is down. The underemployed displaced and terminated represent the Demand side. For the most part people are actively seeking employment. unfortunately for some it is out of field in any way and anywhere they can find it even if it means filling out an application at the local 711.employers, most employers anyway, are hard pressed to find the ideal candidate to fill a position because the search process can become quite costly. Some money are kept in the budget while the search is underway but it is too it is at someone’s expense. Traditionally the vacancy announcement is drawn up using a number of resources including an existing position description, individuals in the field represented on the search committee and input from human resources.no matter the field or position or constitution of the search committee certain verbiage remains a constant. The ideal candidate must possess the following: a Master's degree in ____ or related field (terminal degree preferred), x yrs experience working with Adobe, Excel and Blackboard or similar LMS.  

While such criteria are designed to set parameters for both the search committee/HR and the candidate, it has over time narrowed the spectrum of potentials for any given vacancy to the internal candidate, the friend of a friend, and the out-of-stater who possesses the preferred terminal degree, double the required years' experience and exposure to manipulatives that increase productivity.

The committee's choice is based primarily on the institution's desire to eliminate the need for extensive training: "We want someone who can join the ranks, hit the ground running, and get both feet wet, someone with the experience, credentials, and expertise."

The problem is, the committee’s selection is often lamented by at least the immediate supervisor who attempts to make the best of the working relationship with support from human resources.  The concern expressed on the 3-month and 6-month evaluation?  "Productivity is minimal. Requires an unusual amount of one-on-one assistance." How can that be?  The candidate confirmed during the interview he was not only familiar with Excel, blackboard and Adobe but that he was also adept at using spreadsheets creating graphs and mail merges. The other two finalists who would have been a “good fit” and who demonstrated leadership, were outscored on this point, experience and achievements. However, during the six-month evaluation, he credited his assistant (a full time grad student) with not only creating his reports but also analyzing the data used in those reports. He further acknowledged that they “partnered” in presenting findings at conferences, findings that garnered him state and national recognition.

The question is how many hiring supervisors, particularly those who are upper admin, will admit to experiencing this kind of issue? how many grin and bear it? how many simply invest monies from the budget that were ear marked for something else and divert it to additional training as a better alternative to returning to the drawing board? 

In defense of this newly hired employee it's likely he did have 9 years’ experience with Excel, Blackboard,  and Adobe Suite. The fact is he never spent enough time on a weekly or even monthly basis utilizing and really becoming familiar with this software. He dibbled and dabbled in it over a 6 year period. The description only asked that he had experience for a length of time. His graduate assistant only had 1 maybe 2 years’ experience but learned to master each area from online courses and training to software to actually manipulating analyzing importing and exporting data. But she would never have applied for the position because of the very parameters that got her boss hired.

SOLUTION: Are we really seeking to hire the best of the best? If so, it is time to rethink the hiring criteria. To do so, we must first adopt a working definition of ideal. I have worked with a number of employees – subordinates if you will – who possessed limited experience but outpaced the most seasoned of employees simply because they were willing, alert, quick and felt no sense of entitlement. The opposite of which is equal to lazy and unproductive. Because the resume and cover letter offer the first glimpse into the work life of an individual, these instruments must be dissected in slightly non-traditional ways. Rather than check the cover letter for key-word matches on your candidate checklist, consider both the immediate and long-term needs of your organization. Does the candidate with “not quite” the minimum number of years’ experience in-field offer something else that can be of greater use to you? For example, if the fourth candidate, the one not selected as a finalist, outlined a number of awards for successful launches, a keen ability to target, address and eliminate gaps and weaknesses in programming or organizational structure, and proven results orientation on a large scale, coupled with the less-than-required experiential grounding in Excel, Adobe and two non-blackboard software applications this person would have required little training just offered the new hire.

1. US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. July 2014 www.bls.gov

2. Khimm, Suzy. Will Congress give a boost to the long-term unemployed? MSNBC.