As a leadership keynote speaker, I am often asked, “What’s your secret to finding great employees?” And to this question I always respond, “An open mind.” Just two years ago, nearly eight million Americans were unemployed and looking for work—while an estimated six million jobs were left unfilled. Today, thanks to a much-needed systematic departure from its historical reliance on educational degrees and industry-specific experience, the U.S. is gradually beginning to close this so called “skills gap.”
Skills-Based Hiring: Why Is it Important?
According to studies conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, hundreds of thousands of employees have been replaced by technology or robotics in the past 20 years; research conducted by Oxford University predicts that 47% of American jobs could be at risk due over the next 20. For displaced workers, lifelong learning will be essential to remain employable. But because these new skills won’t necessarily appear on resumes as HR staff are accustomed to seeing them—as “official” educational degrees or professional certifications—a major shift in hiring practices is currently underway.
As I often tell my leadership keynote speaker clients, many applicants possess real skills that may not be reflected in their professional history or educational experience. If we continue to rely on the old models for hiring, we may be overlooking “diamonds in the rough” that could have a dramatic positive impact on our teams and enterprises. I’m lucky to have learned this lesson very early in my career, and taken those learnings forward—both in my travels as a leadership keynote speaker and as a leader outright.
Case Study: Louise Ditches Strollers for Sedans
Long before I joined the leadership keynote speaker circuit, I was just stepping into a leadership role within my family’s multi-million-dollar car dealership business when my mentor, Frank, suddenly fired one of my most experienced sales people for having an attitude problem. I didn’t disagree with Frank’s decision, but it was a heat-of-the-moment occurrence that caught me off guard—and left me without a key revenue driver.
The following week, my wife was out shopping for a stroller for our first child when she called me at work, asking her to meet me at the shop. “I want you to meet Louise,” she said. “She has a great attitude, and I think you’ll like her.” Louise was, in fact, a class act. She spent the next half hour asking us qualifying questions about our lifestyle. Then, once she had the information she needed, Louise launched into a brilliant sales demonstration of various strollers and related products. I was impressed.
My wife and I spent over $1,000 in the shop that day, and it was an absolute pleasure dealing with Louise. I was particularly impressed by her enthusiasm, her energy and her ability to listen intently to what we were telling her—and then repeat this information back to us when closing the sale. Too many sales people believe that selling is about talking, when in reality is it about listening to your customers so you can truly understand their needs…and ultimately, deliver on those needs.
A few days later, I went back to the stroller shop and offered Louise a job. I’m not sure that selling cars had been part of her career plan, but to her credit, she took a risk and joined us the following month. Initially, she struggled a bit; after all, she had no product knowledge, no customer base and was the only woman on a sales team of 30 people. However, Frank and I continued to support her—and eventually, with a combination of hard work and positive attitude, she started to do very well.
By the end of the following year, Louise had sold nearly 300 cars (retail), helping to transform the profitability of the New Car Sales Department. In addition, Louise had a huge positive impact on the sales force as a whole. After they got over the shock of the Mr. Bad Attitude’s departure, the remaining sales staff experienced a visible wave of relief—and for the first time, began to work as a team. The net result: our sales increased across the board, along with our margins and our customer satisfaction levels.
Ultimately, when I am hiring, I look FIRST for people with a great attitude and transferable skills. I believe (and Louise is an incredible testament to this) that a positive outlook and solid work ethic can’t be taught—but that with the right training and support in place, almost everything else can.
Download My Foolproof 7-Step Hiring System
If you’re familiar with the concept of skill-based hiring, you may already be aware of Topgrading, a hiring system designed to weed out low-performing, dishonest candidates before hiring managers waste valuable time on the interview process—leaving behind only the most honest, motivated high performers. Over the years, I have gradually built a streamlined 7-step system for hiring A-players, loosely based on the Topgrading model. Sign up here for my quarterly newsletter to gain access to this foolproof system; as I tell my leadership keynote speaker clients, it hasn’t failed me yet!
Check out my Vlog for additional information: https://vimeo.com/298436995