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Can better job descriptions close the IT skills gap?

Sharon Florentine | July 30, 2015
It seems the debate about the IT skills gap has reached a consensus -- both IT leaders and IT workers believe the IT skills gap exists and that it negatively impacts IT operations.

Sarah Nahm, CEO of Lever, an application-based sourcing, recruiting, hiring and ATS solution, says her company has removed requirements from any of the firm's job descriptions. Instead, Lever focuses on how candidates will grow within the role, and how closely they match up with the firm's mission and values.

"You should emphasize the opportunity for the job seeker, and how they can grow, rather than just 'have a job.' This is much more effective than having a checklist against which people have to match themselves -- and you end up with candidates whose strengths and accomplishments are a better fit for your firm," Nahm says.

What does success look like?

When you're writing these types of descriptions for your careers site, focus on what a candidate will accomplish within the first three, six, nine and 12 months on the job -- what success will look like and how they can contribute to that. This is especially important when trying to attract passive candidates, according to Nahm saying, "We've heard a lot that people saw our jobs page and they weren't even looking for another job, they weren't even seriously considering applying, but because of the way we presented the opportunity, it made them want to apply."

Nahm adds that collaboration between the hiring manager, supervisors and the recruiting partner can help develop a powerful, attractive job description that defines the most important priorities of the company and the role. So make sure you're looking at exactly what the priorities are, what's interesting and promising about your company, the role and the business," she says.

Focus on culture

"Legendary Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach used to say of basketball players, 'You can't teach height,' and that is analogous with IT in that you can't teach culture or personality -- so hire for what you can't teach and focus on education and training for the rest. How ambitious is this candidate? How dedicated? What's their willingness to learn? Focus on what their innate skills are, rather than matching a laundry list of requirements," says Hayman.

This approach works especially well at the entry-level and lower-level positions where exact skill matches aren't as critical, he says. "If you're regularly passing up candidates that are a great fit but who maybe don't have five specific certifications, or that have 10 years of experience instead of the 12 you stated in the job description -- that's paralysis by analysis. You're deliberately limiting your hiring pool," Hayman says.

Think long-term

This does require a shift in mind-set to focus less on the immediate term and more on the long-term, since you'll most likely have to do some training -- but the results can be well worth it. "Sometimes, you have to make the commitment to invest now, knowing that your strategy might not see ROI for five years. Starting with the job description, can shift everything that happens after that, from partnerships between IT and HR, developing a talent pipeline, new training and education opportunities," Hayman says.


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