Struggling to Find the Perfect Job Candidate? How to Overcome the Vicious Circle of ‘Experience Inflation’

A survey of 90,000 jobs found that 61 percent of entry-level jobs required 3 years of experience. It’s no wonder that 700,000 IT jobs are unfilled.

Written by: Jeff Haden – Contributing Editor, Inc.

Published in: Inc.

Even though STEM programs have grown increasingly popular, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are more than 700,000 unfilled IT jobs in the U.S.

Partly that’s because over 60 percent of entry-level jobs require at least three years of experience. The resulting “experience inflation” creates a vicious circle: New college graduates need experience to get hired, but without getting hired, they can’t get the experience necessary to qualify.

That’s a problem Talent Path is working to solve.

Talent Path hires STEM grads who are struggling to land their first gig, identifies the gaps on their résumés, and connects them with technology and IT organizations so they can gain work experience.

But they don’t work for free; during the “consulting” phase grads are paid a salary by Talent Path — and, naturally, since the consulting phase is in effect a really long interview, are often hired by the tech company they are working for.

The Talent Path approach is a clever solution to a widespread problem. So I spoke with Jeff Frey, the managing director at Talent Path, to find out more — and to learn how you might apply a similar approach to your business.

I’ve worked with staffing companies before, but they always sent résumés for people they felt were “ready.” The idea of helping develop a potential candidate wasn’t on the table.

For higher-level positions, that makes sense. But while there is a huge client demand for entry-level talent, there is also a real shortage in terms of what employers look for.

Education only goes so far: Many bright students get bounced out of the hiring process simply because they don’t have experience.

So we’re in the middle: We find those individuals, hire them directly, and pay their full salary and benefits. Then their job is to learn: First we take them through our training program, then place them with a client … and then we stay in their lives for at least six months while we continue to mentor them.

Just throwing them into the pool after some lessons, and hoping they will swim, wouldn’t be such a great idea.

Mentoring is crucial. We can help them navigate workplace dynamics, develop any other skills they need …

Companies love it, if only because it’s extremely low risk: If for some reason they don’t fall in love with one of our folks, they can swap them out. And if they do fall in love with the person, they can hire them directly.

It’s very low risk with a potentially high reward.

Explain the business model.

Sometimes the people we train are coming out of school, sometimes they’re career changers or military veterans. We pay their full salary and benefits at a competitive rate, give them a laptop, provide training — basically, we go into debt. (Laughs.)

Then, when we place them with a firm, we charge the company a bill rate that is slightly more than what we pay the individual. If the client keeps that person long enough to reach the breakeven point, they can hire them directly. If they hire them earlier, we calculate the difference.

In short, we’re a for-profit company, but we feel a lot like a nonprofit. We get to help people launch their careers, and help companies find the talent they need.

But I suppose I could bring in a consultant; then I wouldn’t — at least in theory — have to worry about the learning curve.

Keep in mind the average consultant often makes twice as much as an employee. And if you like that person, their agreement with their consulting firm precludes you from hiring them.

In effect, a company can bring in two of our people for the same cost, invest in their development, and then hire them if they choose.

Clearly, it works: Over 90 percent of the companies who take in an individual later ask for at least one more. Nearly every company we work with is a “repeat buyer.”

Also keep in mind many companies aren’t well equipped to deal with entry-level talent, and to help them embrace the company’s culture. Our job is to find the right cultural fit, the right skills, provide the right training to bridge any gaps … That’s something tech and IT organizations, especially smaller ones, may not have the skills — or the time — to effectively do.

Which means your training has to be both core and bespoke.

True. Fortunately, we have enough client feedback, we know enough about the marketplace and trends and skills required, we know the foundational skills and attributes.

But then you have to look at what a company considers its ideal candidate: tech skills, business acumen, soft skills, and emotional intelligence.

All of that creates a clear line of sight from whom we get to what we do to how we place.

Is emotional intelligence a major gap?

Emotional intelligence is huge. Sometimes that means helping people adapt to the interpersonal dynamics of a particular workplace. And sometimes that means helping people understand their own wants and needs and how to adapt to a workplace.

I literally just had someone in my office today say, “This is my first real job, and this is what it’s like …” We often provide a shoulder to cry on or a little tough love. (Laughs.)

Plenty of longitudinal studies show emotional intelligence creates better outcomes for a business. So that is definitely part of our curriculum, both for the benefit of the company and the employee.

Unfortunately, none of that gets taught in school. So we place people in different situations so they don’t just learn about it but can experience it too.

So, if I’m a company that struggles to find entry-level employees?

Find ways to bridge the gap between what candidates can currently offer and what you need.

That’s not a new problem; it’s one staffing and placement agencies constantly struggle with. Sourcing may find an amazing individual, but that person may not align on the client side.

How do you bridge the gap between your needs and employee suitability? In most cases, those gaps won’t be skills-based. Determine what is missing — presentation skills, basic leadership skills, basic business acumen — and create a training plan to provide those skills.

That way you can hire great people who possess the talent you must have — and develop the ancillary skills they also need.

In effect, that’s what you already do — so make it a part of how you run your business.

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