The hiring process has become very specialized – employers generally pursue candidates with a specific skillset or background, employers conduct assessments of candidates looking for the ideal personality, and hiring managers often make hiring decisions based on the candidate that will have the shortest learning curve.

I recently spoke with a client who hired a technology candidate who did not meet any of the standard requirements of the position:

  • The candidate did not graduate from a “top tier” university
  • The individual’s degree was in philosophy; not incredibly desirable for an IT Development role
  • The candidate did not have any prior work experience in the desired software programs
  • The individual’s prior work experience was primarily working in restaurants and customer service roles

The individual has now been working in the organization for nearly a year and has stood out in his ability to grasp concepts quickly, demonstrate a thorough understanding of many software programs and perform research of innovative technical concepts. The HR leader described this candidate as a “real diamond in the rough who has exceeded all expectations of the leadership team”.

Organizations with a high level of maturity in identifying, attracting and developing candidates have unusual success hiring these non-traditional candidates. In this particular situation, the client identified some unique characteristics in this candidate that helped them see his potential.

  • The individual was self-taught in several key software applications and had a high level of skill in two very complex programs
  • The individual is extremely entrepreneurial and willing to try new approaches to solve problems – this was a critical skill for developers in their organization
  • The candidate demonstrated a very strong work ethic; although the experience was in unskilled work areas, he showed a willingness to work 60-hour weeks while teaching himself new software programs
  • The individual took initiative to develop and market his own video game that he created
  • The individual showed a strong desire to take coaching and feedback to improve his performance

Within his first year of employment, the individual has demonstrated a thorough grasp of the technical nature of the work and has also showed potential to become a future leader in the organization. This experience has had an incredible impact on the organization – leaders have become open to hiring individuals with unique backgrounds and employees have recognized the ability to be rewarded for their knowledge and strong work ethic

The current labor market is forcing all companies to evaluate their approaches for identifying and attracting candidates to complete critical work. Innovative companies are using new approaches for hiring high-potential non-traditional candidates. This approach certainly does not come without risk –hiring non-traditional candidates often results in taking a higher level of risk. In an environment where hiring decisions are made based on long term probabilities, these risks are often met with resistance from hiring managers and HR leaders. Innovative leaders who are diligent in their evaluation of candidates and are objective in their selection process can realize long-term benefits by taking a calculated risk on a non-traditional candidate.