The perfect job candidate is getting harder and harder to find. Unemployment rates are at a historical low, and there are now more job openings in the US than there are available workers. This makes it exceptionally challenging for employers to find and attract the right talent for any given job opening. Whether the skills gap is to blame, or if companies are being unrealistically demanding with job requirements, the result is that many companies will need to make some compromises in order to fill their open positions.
Hiring a new person to your team is always a risky endeavor, but hiring someone who doesn’t quite have the right experience or skillset can feel even riskier. These “stretch candidates” are almost right for the job but they’re missing a few key skills or they're still unproven in that particular role or industry. While these candidates may not be able to hit the ground running as easily as your “perfect” candidate, they still have the potential to be a star employee. The key is being able to accurately identify that potential.
So how do you know when to take the plunge with an applicant who doesn’t quite check all the boxes? Consider taking a chance on that stretch candidate if:
Eagerness is a major indicator that your candidate wants this job and is prepared to put in the training required to get up to speed. This general enthusiasm for the job at hand can come across in many different ways – did the candidate apply with a personalized cover letter? Did the candidate express their willingness to take on the challenge of this role during the phone or in-person interview stage? When you ask the candidate about certain skills that they don’t have, do they express interest and eagerness to learn them? If the answer is yes, this candidate may have the potential to excel in the position after a little more upfront training.
They have transferable skills
While a stretch candidate may not come pre-packaged with all the exact skills you're looking for, chances are that the candidate does have some key transferable skills. These skills are those that are broadly applicable to a wide variety of settings, like communication skills, leadership ability, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking. Take a look at your candidates’ resumes to find connections between their seemingly unrelated experiences and the tasks they’ll be required to complete in this job. You can also gauge their ability to translate these skills into the job in the interview process.
They are critical thinkers
Speaking of transferable skills, critical thinking is one of the most important skills to look for when hiring a relatively inexperienced candidate. Critical thinking provides the framework that an employee can use to make judgments and improve within the role. While this “soft” skill can be hard to gauge in the hiring process, you can administer pre-hire assessments to get a more objective view of their critical thinking and problem solving ability. Cognitive aptitude tests, for example, provide a strong indication of a candidate’s critical thinking ability. Even more importantly, cognitive aptitude is a better predictor of job performance than many of the most common hiring criteria, including resumes, interviews, and education. Whether you’re hiring a stretch candidate or a candidate with years of relevant experience, common sense and logic are not to be overlooked.
They demonstrate learning ability
More than anything, a stretch candidate needs the ability to learn quickly on the job to make up for any of the skills they didn’t have at the start. While eagerness and enthusiasm can tell one part of the story of a candidate’s willingness to learn, cognitive aptitude tells the other half by providing an objective indicator of a candidate’s ability to learn quickly and process new information. The goal with any candidate is to get them up and running as soon as possible, and the faster an employee can pick up on training, the sooner they can be a full contributor.
Taking a chance on a stretch candidate may feel risky, but it shouldn’t feel as daunting if you have the right tools to help you identify the candidates with the most potential. With proper training and onboarding, these candidates have just as much potential to excel as any other!