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5 tips for filling highly specialized roles.


Dr. Neil Morelli


Recruiters are tasked with filling virtually every position in a company. But unless recruiters have experience with the jobs they’re filling, it can be difficult for them to choose the best candidate.

This is especially true for highly specialized or low-volume roles, such as software engineers, HR managers, and executives. When interviewing for these roles, merely asking a candidate to share stories of how they solved a complex coding problem or chose the best benefits package is of little value when the interviewer can’t evaluate the accuracy of the candidate’s response.

But fear not. There are ways to vet candidates for highly specialized roles – even if you have little knowledge about the specifics of the job.

  1. Talk to the current team about the job. Ideally, there’s an existing individual or team currently performing the job who can help you define the job requirements.

    Ask these experts to help you outline the day-to-day activities, education, and experience needed to be successful, along with the hard and soft skills that are critical to the job. Soft skills are important to track, as even the most high-tech jobs require collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills to be effective.

    If you don’t have experts to turn to, reach out to your network, a relevant LinkedIn group, or a hiring consultant to help you craft a job description and hiring profile to fill the new role.
  2. Look for what high performers have in common. If you use pre-employment assessments, review past results of employees who’ve held the same or similar roles to see how they scored. Look specifically for traits that top performers have in common, and those that set them apart from their peers. At Berke, we ask questions such as: Are your high performers more assertive or adaptable? Do they have better spatial reasoning abilities or show exceptional problem-solving skills? These benchmarks can provide a quantitative tool to vet candidates.

    If you aren’t using assessments, consider interviewing high performers and their peers to understand what makes them stand out, what characteristics they have in common, and what leadership traits help them excel on the job. This process is more subjective, but it will help you paint a picture of what success in this role looks like.
  3. Think critically about job description qualifications. Most candidates will have some but not all of the desired attributes on your list, so ask your experts to think critically about minimum and preferred qualifications before including them in a job description.

    Is having a master’s degree essential to do the job at a minimally competent level? Or, is there an equivalent amount of relevant job experience that demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge and skill? Does a candidate need a specific piece of software or coding language on Day 1 or can these languages be trained? Do they have to have experience in your industry or can these skills cross-over?

    Clarifying qualifications on a job description accomplishes two things: it helps you avoid fixating on the wrong knock-out questions during the resume and initial phone screens; and it creates a rationale for what’s minimally required versus what’s preferred, which will drive better decision making at the top of your candidate funnel.
  4. Invite experts to act as technical interviewers. It’s always good to have another perspective when interviewing candidates. This is especially important when the skillset you are hiring for is beyond your level of expertise.

    Instead of vetting your shortlist then sending them to managers or team leaders to follow-up, set up a group discussion for early-round interviews. During these conversations, ask your experts to vet a candidate’s general responses, and to ask questions specific to the job. For example, ‘how would they tackle a certain coding challenge?’ or ‘how did they handle closing a difficult sales deal?

    Your experts will have a much better radar for who has true skills, and who’s trying to bluff their way into the job.
  5. Verify their skills with assessments or work samples. If the position requires specific skills, first test their abilities with an assessment, then ask them to generate a sample of their work.

    As a first step, assessments are scalable, easily automated tools to make first-round decisions and vet early applicants.

    For those who make the cut, ask the department that is doing the hiring to craft a short assignment. For example, the IT could set up a coding challenge, the marketing team could ask for a press release, or the sales team could set up a job-specific sales simulation with another team member. Be sure to create a standardized rubric to evaluate each candidate’s work, so you have a way to see who is above/below the bar and how they compare to others.

    Seeing candidates in action will give you and your experts the best insight into their abilities to perform, and where they may need additional training or support.

Hiring the right person for a highly specific role can be critical to a company’s ongoing success. Take the time upfront to define the role and identify high-performance characteristics, and involve experts in the interview process to ensure you make the best choice for your team.

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