Hire the Potential, Not the Skills

recruiting it professionals

As organizations grow, it’s important that managers facilitate the professional development of their IT staff, in order to nurture the skills that employees will need to develop the business further. Perhaps more important, though, is the need to recruit IT professionals with the adequate level of skills and certification that the business requires.

But in the fast-changing world of technology, having the right skills isn’t necessarily enough now. What you’re really on the lookout for is whether or not employees or prospective employees have the ability to acquire the necessary skills quickly and effectively because whatever skills they have today, they’re going to need different skills tomorrow. There’s very limited long-term strategic value to a hire that works for a couple of months before basically the requirements of the role change and the person is no longer a good fit for the requirements. On the horizon is a potential shift in the need to identify people who are flexible and can acquire new skills as they are needed, rather than somebody who is nominally a “perfect match” for a particular job.

If you imagine the Wright Brothers looking for pilots to fly their planes, they’d find no one because they just didn’t exist. It was clear that in order to fly airplanes, you needed pilots, so what’s the solution? The answer was, of course, that they needed to identify people who had the capacity to become pilots.

If people don’t start changing the way they think about skills in a rapidly evolving environment, they’re going to find themselves in the equivalent of a stern chase—always chasing whatever the current skills are, only to find that by the time they get there, they are not the current skills that are needed any more. So the nature of what it is that needs to be identified in a prospective candidate shifts from somebody who knows how to use a certain version of a particular programming language, to somebody who has shown they can learn how to program effectively in any given programming language, over and over again. They have developed with the technology over time—they didn’t just stand still.

Of course, compared to 20 or 30 years ago, the recruiting process and professional social media networks mean HR departments and recruiters have access to a host of potential candidates. Sometimes, there may be too many. To a certain extent, the whole process needs to be automated because you really don’t want to bring people into the picture until the last minute, when you’re confident that the investment in time that will be made by both parties is going to pay off.

What’s required are a set of digital credentials that candidates can earn and that include the relevant metadata that shows when candidates acquired the skill, why they acquired it, and how long it took them to do it. It’s considered good practice for candidates to keep their CV regularly updated, but without automated certification in place that recognizes skills learned in real time, there is a limit to how much automation there can be in recruitment in the technology industry, for both time-poor candidates and recruiters alike.

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Len Fehskens
About Len Fehskens 2 Articles
Len Fehskens is vice president of skills and capabilities at The Open Group. He is responsible for all activities relating to enterprise architecture at The Open Group, including AOGEA, TOGAF, and the Architecture Forum. Prior to joining The Open Group, Len led the Worldwide Architecture Profession Office for HP Services at Hewlett-Packard. He majored in computer science at MIT and has almost forty years of experience in the IT business as both an individual contributor and a manager, within both product engineering and services business units. Len has worked for Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General Corporation, Prime Computer, Compaq, and Hewlett-Packard. He is the lead inventor on six software parents on the object-oriented management of distributed systems and was recently TOGAF 8 certified.