Why Relaxing Your Job Requirements Can Help You Beat the Talent Shortage

August 30, 2018

The talent shortage is already making it tough to find skilled workers in certain industries—and it’s expected to drive hiring costs through the roof. The Korn Ferry Institute predicts that, globally, companies will spend an extra $2.5 trillion to secure talent by 2030.

To combat this shortage, nearly a third (32%) of companies are offering additional perks to attract candidates—from egg-freezing to pet insurance to tuition reimbursement. Target, meanwhile, is rethinking its strict approach to criminal background checks amidst concerns about both talent shortages and potential bias.

Others are taking a different approach to remove hiring barriers: significantly relaxing their job requirements for open roles. This is part of a wider creative effort to find great candidates in unexpected places—without lowering standards.

Here’s why some major companies are rethinking job requirements to widen their talent pool, and how you can successfully adopt this approach.

With fewer active candidates, tight job requirements make it harder to hire

In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, when long-term unemployment in the U.S. reached an all-time high, many employers bumped up the requirements in their job posts. Jobs that once required three years of relevant experience suddenly required five—and a bachelor’s degree on top of that.

Flash-forward to 2018, when U.S. unemployment is at its lowest rate since 2000, and those additional requirements are rapidly being rolled back.

Data from labor market research firm Burning Glass Technologies, reported in the Wall Street Journal, reveals that in the first half of 2018, only 30% of job posts required a college degree—compared to 34% in 2012. And only 23% of entry-level jobs asked for three or more years of experience, compared to 29% in 2012. That might not sound like a huge change‚ but in reality, it represents a difference of 1.2 million jobs.

This relaxing of job requirements also seems to be increasing employment opportunities for candidates without a high school degree. In July, unemployment among this group fell to a record low.

With fewer candidates actively looking for work, a demanding list of requirements on your job posts puts you at a serious competitive disadvantage—shutting out skilled applicants who lack formal experience or education. And as more and more companies adjust their requirements, those who don’t may be missing out big time.

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Related: Writing Job Descriptions: 6 Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Required vs. preferred: Hasbro, IBM, and others are rethinking job requirements and even splitting jobs up

For some companies, relaxing job requirements means rethinking what is actually a requirement, and what’s just an added bonus.

Bank of America currently has 7,500 job openings around the world, fewer than 10% of which require a college degree. This includes roles like bank teller and customer service representatives, which can be filled by nongraduates. The company also plans to hire 10,000 people from low- and moderate-income communities over the next five years, regardless of college degrees.

Terminix, one of the largest pest control companies in the world, recently reversed it’s recession-era decision that required a two-year or bachelor’s degree for pest-control branch- and service-manager positions. Today, degrees are “preferred,” but they’re not required to land the job.

This approach has also been adopted by Penguin Random House, a major publishing house, for both its U.K. and U.S. arms. With the exception of a few select positions, degree requirements are no longer mandatory for landing a job with the publishing house, and the company has removed the degree filter entirely from its recruitment systems. The company says it’s found no evidence to suggest that a degree can predict future job performance.

Relaxing job requirements can also provide opportunities to source candidates from untapped talent pools. IBM and GitHub are hiring more candidates out of coding boot camps. These candidates often lack prestigious tech experience or a relevant bachelor’s degree, but make up for it in skills and enthusiasm.

Other companies are taking a totally different approach: “down skilling.” This involves breaking down a single complex job into a number of less complex jobs which, together, perform the same function.

Toy maker Hasbro employed this technique by splitting four marketing jobs that required M.B.A.s into eight lower-level positions, including retail-planning analyst and trade merchandiser. Each role is designed to support higher-level employees by performing more routine tasks. This approach makes the jobs accessible to entry-level employees, even if they don’t have a degree. Hasbro says it received over 100 applications for the positions.

Unexpected benefits: relaxing your job requirements can help you increase diversity at your company

One of the key reasons why companies are relaxing their job requirements is to attract more entry-level candidates who will hopefully remain with the company, learn new skills along the way, and gradually rise through the ranks. Wal-Mart, for example, says that 75% of its store managers joined the company as entry-level employees, and can earn $170,000 a year when they rise to manager level (without needing a college degree to get there).

But there are other advantages to this approach.

For one, having fewer job requirements may encourage more candidates with unconventional backgrounds to apply. This includes applicants who are self-taught, fresh from bootcamps, or have spent time in the military. Despite having the right technical and soft skills, they may previously have been overlooked by employers because they didn’t meet the (often arbitrary) job requirements. Others may never have applied in the first place because they didn’t think they’d be considered.

There’s also evidence to suggest that fewer job requirements can boost gender diversity. Research shows that men will apply for jobs even if they only meet 60% of the requirements, while women won’t apply unless they meet 100% of them.

When asked why they didn’t apply, the most common reason women gave was the belief that they didn’t meet the requirements to be hired at all, regardless of whether or not they thought they could do the job well. That means that overly demanding job requirements can actively discourage women from applying for jobs that they could actually excel in.

By limiting your job requirements to things that are actually requirements (i.e. essential to doing the job right), you can make your job posts more inclusive and potentially encourage more talented women to apply.

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Related: 5 Must-Do’s for Writing Inclusive Job Descriptions

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Relaxing your job requirements, not your standards

At a time when the skills gap is widening and jobs are staying open longer, there’s never been a better time to rethink how you write job requirements and experiment with alternative approaches. Here are a few steps you can take to get started:

  1. Take the time to go through the list of requirements for each role and separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. The must-haves are the only things that should be reflected in your new requirements lists. Everything else can be relegated to the “preferred” section—or cut entirely.
  2. Ensure your whole hiring team understands the new requirements, and align your process around them. This may mean changing the way you filter applications, and rethinking your interview questions if they’re heavily focused on a candidate’s previous work experience.
  3. If a job requires certain skills, you may also want to explore skills-based tests and predictive assessments that can help you spot candidates with the right stuff—regardless of what’s reflected on their resume.
  4. Finally, keep an eye out for candidates that may not have a lot of experience, but have the potential to grow into a role. Candidates who are agile learners can quickly pick up new skills and may thrive in a role that challenges them. Job assessments are one way to see how a candidate will adapt and step up to meet new tasks on the job. And if you offer training on the job, be sure to emphasize this in your job descriptions.

Relaxing your job requirements doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards. It’s about focusing on the things that are essential to find hidden talent when it’s in short supply. Your hiring strategy can still be discerning, without being restrictive—all while widening your talent pool and giving you a competitive edge.

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