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On the surface, it’s easy to see IT hiring difficulties as a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 alone was an exercise in roller-coaster talent economics. But to place the blame solely on the pandemic obscures the fact that there’s been a consistent, widespread need for exceptional IT talent for years. As recently as 2019, organizations already struggled to find the right people for their IT positions.
At issue is the hiring process itself. Many recruitment efforts emphasize technical experience over soft skills, which are harder to measure but by no means less important. By narrowing their focus, potential employers limit their talent pool and leave little room for less traditional, more diverse applicants. What’s missing, it seems, is a focus on aptitude—the unstated skillset that breeds innovation and drives new ways of thinking.
Emphasizing aptitude rather than technical experience might seem counterintuitive for an industry that operates structurally on hard data. But that is exactly why candidates who display the right aptitude are more likely to challenge pervading views and offer diverse, distinctive, and unique perspectives.
If you’re looking to attract top-tier talent for your organization and build a dynamic and inclusive workforce, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Aptitude, in a hiring sense, doesn’t represent the technical experience that fills out a resume. Rather, it characterizes an underlying personality that is eager to learn and grow, committed to collaborative success, and undaunted in the face of disruption. These are powerful skills that are too often overlooked in recruiting strategies.
Attracting these candidates doesn’t happen by simply changing talent criteria (although this may be an important step to take; hiring managers should make sure they aren’t unintentionally ruling out strong candidates with overly restrictive application requirements). It starts by understanding how the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted as Gen Z and millennials grow into positions of leadership. Today’s generation of tech talent overwhelmingly values who they’re working with and the mission they’re contributing to. They want to see themselves within your organization’s culture, understand their growth path, and be excited about the people they’ll be learning from.
Therefore, it’s imperative to identify tech leaders who display the characteristics valued by ideal candidates—those who are charismatic, passionate team builders—and make them active participants in the recruitment process. This not only humanizes your organization, but also gets potential candidates invested in the possibility of working with someone they admire, respect, and see themselves in. That connection yields candidates who view your opportunity as a career, not just a job.
One way to identify aptitude is to make skills assessments part of the hiring process. Skills assessments allow organizations to look beyond a candidate’s resume, interview, and potential biases to measure actual real-world skills. When implemented appropriately and combined with other selection methods, these tests can be highly predictive of job performance. And they may open hiring managers’ eyes to unique strengths in potential candidates they wouldn’t pick up on in a typical interview.
It’s also imperative for hiring managers to keep an open mind when hiring for aptitude—the candidates may look different from the ones they’re accustomed to seeing, but, beneath the surface of their resumes, there could be a wealth of untapped potential.
For years, the culture of hiring put the power squarely in the hands of employers. Particularly early in their careers, applicants were encouraged to take what they could get for the sake of building a resume and collecting new experiences. It would have been unthinkable for an employee to leave their job if their employer required them to be in the office 5 days a week. Today, a majority are considering just that.
A confluence of factors—from the rise of remote and hybrid work environments to employees’ changing relationships to their careers—has flipped the script. Aptitude-driven candidates are being more careful in their decision making and are asking potential employers to more clearly demonstrate alignment with their values and priorities, such as workplace flexibility and personalized learning opportunities.
This shift reinforces the flawed nature of the technical-first hiring strategy, which does little to communicate to the candidate the subtle attributes that make your IT organization special and worth joining. Employers need to start doing the work.
That means changing the way interviewers and hiring managers position opportunities at large, including a deeper emphasis on long-term career mapping and goals. Rather than narrowly focusing job descriptions on day-to-day minutiae, finding the right talent should mean growing a community of like-minded professionals. Rewrite the narrative that speaks to the soft skills and attributes you want to see thrive in your department.
Given the long-term needs of both public and private institutions, the demand for exceptional IT talent will not abate anytime soon. In fact, with the Senate’s recent budget approval for an increase in technology spending, the shortage of talent will become even more acute given the scope of tech innovation the government is looking to implement. Recruiting the right people will increasingly hinge on balancing traditional technical competencies with the aptitudes, personalities, and traits that lead to excellence.
That journey, wherever it may begin, should lead to the development of a team that’s ready for tomorrow. Learn how you can use new approaches to IT recruiting to thrive with a 3D workforce—distributed, digital, and diverse—that enables your organization across multiple dimensions.
A version of this article first appeared on the Enterprisers Project website.