Rethinking Recruiting: New Ideas to Take Your Hiring to the Next Level

Almost every week we see an article on the “war for talent.”

Companies need to hire people and can’t find the right skills. Recruiters rely heavily on sophisticated applicant tracking systems to do the initial resume sorting. Even if the system “OKs” a candidate, chances are slim this person will actually end up as a “perfect” match.

Instead of waiting for perfect candidates, why not take a step back and think about the type of actual, practical skills that are needed in a job — skills that actually show a person’s ability to perform? Quit focusing on degree type, name of university, college courses on a transcript and grades. There is a saying: To do the same thing over and over and expect different results is the definition of insanity. Recruiters need to rethink their approach to recruiting. Here are a few new ideas to consider:

1. Hire people without university degrees

As Eric Gaydos said in his recent TLNT article, in many high tech companies, management could care less if candidates have degrees or not.

The fact is, technology changes so rapidly that what students learn during a four-year degree program is obsolete by the time they graduate. In addition, there are some celebrated CEO’s that don’t have college degrees: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell to name a few.

Apple was founded and built by Steve Jobs, a college dropout who credited LSD and calligraphy with inspiring more of his product-design genius than anything he ever learned in school.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the head of Human Resources says he has trouble replacing his master problem-solvers. He has his pick from Harvard and MIT, but he found even though they were brilliant, they weren’t innovative in dealing with problems the way their predecessors were.

He realized that his best problem-solvers had been kids who were tinkerers, who built sand castles, who took computers apart with their friends so they could understand their guts. Degrees didn’t matter.

2. Use real-world projects in interviews

These are not the formal, concocted simulations that companies have used for years as part of interviews, but real-time projects. Most companies have learned the hard way that no amount of interviewing, reference checking and/or psychological testing is a substitute for actually working with a candidate on a real project.

Michael Schrage on HBR’s blog calls these projects “projectlications” (project applications) or “applijects” (application projects). The purpose is to see if a candidate can actually produce and work collaboratively with a project team.

“Can they  ‘help redesign a social media campaign, document a tricky bit of software, edit a Keynote presentation, produce a webinar, or peer review a CAD layout for a contract Chinese manufacturer?’ ”

Isn’t finding someone like that the whole point of recruiting? By working on a project with a team and coming up with solutions —- what more is necessary? These people ought to at least be considered.

3. Select people from different professions with the skills needed

In HR Examiner, Hank Stringer talks about IBM.

For instance, in the early days of IBM’s involvement in computers, programmers en masse didn’t exist. And there was no Internet to source, test and train prospective talent. What did IBM do? Well IBM considered the skills they needed, talent who could easily understand something akin to a binary language, who were creative and could sit at a keyboard for long periods of time. Guess what? Music majors who had been trained in composition (especially trained pianists) fit the bill. The program worked!”

Don’t laugh. Steve Jobs said that his best computer scientists had backgrounds as poets, artists, zoologists and historians.

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4. Hot jobs: data scientist?

There is a growing prediction that in 2013 and beyond, the hottest job will be “data scientist.”

Companies are rushing towards the use of big data. Data scientists will be able to bring structure to large quantities of formless data and make analysis possible. They will advise executives and product managers on the implications of the data for products, processes, and decisions.

There are no university programs offering degrees in data science yet — and when there are, the curriculum will likely become out-of-date before students graduate. Given this vacuum, recruiters are looking for people with strong data and computational focus. Thus far the best fields to recruit from seem to be experimental physics, astrophysics, ecology and systems biology.

What about HR?

What about hiring a person from another specialty area to work in HR?

What’s so “holy” about a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR? Or for that matter, an SPHR? How about someone from marketing or finance?

What marketing and finance types don’t know about HR, they can easily make up for it by bringing different kinds of value to the table. They would be able to bring expertise that HR desperately needs — research and analysis, market segmentation, the ability to understand company financials and ROI and how to set financial measurements for talent management programs.

We live in a changing world. Recruiting needs to change its search methods. It’s time for recruiters to tap into their creative, internal “maverick” and bring out that entrepreneurial spirit.

Go for it!

Jacque Vilet, president of Vilet International, has more than 20 years’ experience in international human resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor, and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. She has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at


7 Comments on “Rethinking Recruiting: New Ideas to Take Your Hiring to the Next Level

  1. A good coverage on topics.  I primarily recruiting for technical people and I have seen many great people hired who were not Computer Science majors.  I agree there are a lot of great software developers who have ties to music or the arts.  I will challenge the real-world example because many candidates could feel they are producing working projects without getting paid to do it.  I do like the idea just caution the use of that one in particular.  Even the made up examples I have used in the past make the candidates feel like they are delivering work the company hasn’t hired the candidate to do.  I do agree the data side is continuing to be the hot topic followed quickly by mobile and expect the two to blend together determining how to get the analytics on the mobile device with a great user experience.

  2. It baffles me that recruiters wouldn’t be focusing on skills in the first place. But you’re right — recruiting needs to change its search methods. To add to your suggestions, internal recruiters should hone in on their current employees more often in the hiring process. They should also focus on increasing internal referral rates, using social recruiting, or using more visuals and video in the job description.

  3. Honestly, when you put it that way it just makes sense. A refocusing of priorities to select the most able candidate, not the most, ‘qualified’. I think as a whole we have lost sight of the fact that degrees are meant to be indicators of having the ability to do the job. 

  4. Jacque, 

    This is great and it has to happen. The road-block I witnessed in corporate
    to accomplish this was…..senior management. 
    I had good latitude in corporate to select a variety of existing
    employees to enter a Technology Training Program.  I had a forward thinking VP (with the same
    last name..) who gave me the latitude, but if there happened to a shortcoming,
    I was pounced on for not sticking-to-the-traditional background

    Yet I had no failures, often times the less-traditional people would work 5X
    harder to be successful, and then could be assigned to an area of
    responsibility where they came from leading to additional success stories.  

    Companies need to follow your corollary; 
    Be slightly un-conventional in how HR selects talent.  The rewards are terrific.



  5. Emjoyed this article by Jacque very much. I’ve been a recruiter in a variety of disciplines for the past 20 years, currently I’m with NELSON Staffing and Recruiting Solutions. An amazing search firm with traditional ways of searching as well as innovative. Best of both worlds in the recruiting industry.

    I find in visiting with clients and always “listening” to their needsI pick up on their idea of the ideal candidate. And when visiting with my candidates and asking them to share with me what their “ideal” position would look like, not a job, I can assess the situation and truly present the best of the best to both my client/company and to my candidate.

    It is truly taking the time to look at a stiuation with “new possibilities”. I love this quote by Harvey MacKay’s, “The really big networking mistakes people make in their lives come from the risks they never take”.  Quote from Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty, by Harvey MacKay.

    So my hat is off to you Jacque Vilet for this article. Thank you for adddressing that possibility thinking is still alive and well.  Carol Ann, Executive Recruiter, Direct Hire

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