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The trouble with job titles.


Meredith Stack


When you are searching for candidates to fill key roles, don’t fall into the job title trap.

According to a podcast with Duke University professor Sharique Hasan, 40 percent of job descriptions with the exact same skill requirements have completely different titles. Conversely, research from BurningGlass technologies found that jobs with the same or similar titles often require dramatically different skills depending on the industry and location of the company. For example, the top three skills for a marketing manager in Chicago are budgeting, project management, and market strategy – the same job title in San Jose sought people with product marketing, product management, and project management experience.

This data illustrates a “language gap” in hiring that shows job titles are not reliable to use as measures of expertise or experience.

The skills gap exacerbates the language gap. This is especially true for evolving industries like technology, where high demand candidates with precise skill sets such as artificial intelligence, software engineering, and analytics are incredibly hard to find and even harder to find outside of the major tech hubs.

Both the language and skills gaps are forcing recruiters to rethink their recruiting strategies. To find great talent that is overlooked or falsely screened out by biased resume searching tools, start evaluating candidates in terms of their core skills rather than past job titles.

Focus on skills, not titles.

This new approach to recruiting should start by outlining what a specific role involves, and what skills an ideal hire will have on day one to ramp to productivity.

To do this, recruiters need to spend time with hiring managers to think about what attributes are required from the start for someone to thrive in the position, and what skills could be taught later on. Working with an assessment company or an I-O psychologist will allow you to validate whether the skills and traits identified are what’s required to succeed.

Once you know what skills and attributes to focus on, you can start mining your talent pools in new ways. This doesn’t just involve digging into candidates’ LinkedIn profiles to find a matching list of skills. Research tells us that people talk about their capabilities in different ways based on their experiences, culture, and training and that men tend to be overly confident in their expertise, whereas women are more likely to understate it.

Candidates may also be less likely to mention soft skills or human traits like leadership, communication, and problem-solving ability. These traits are becoming increasingly important, as companies look for leaders who can inspire technical experts to deliver innovation through collaboration. “Human skills can’t be replicated by artificial intelligence,” Hasan noted in the podcast.

As you look for new ways to identify candidates with the right skills beyond their job titles, assessments provide quantifiable insights into what a candidate can do – not just what they’ve done. Tools such as Berke objectively measure the core skills and competencies early in the hiring process, helping you understand their baseline traits and motivations, and – perhaps more importantly – their ability to close existing skill gaps through training and mentoring. Berke’s Job Fit Report summarizes how well their personality traits and cognitive abilities will align with the position and your company culture.

There are great candidates out there. You just need to look for them differently. Rely less on old approaches, and leverage new strategies and assessments tools, and you will uncover valuable sources of talent to occupy those hard-to-fill roles.

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