Widen your net to find the right employees

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

With Australia suffering from talent shortages in many industries and more competition for available qualified people, it is more important – but more difficult – than ever for employers to find the right talent to fill key positions. Employers will have to start thinking both broadly and specifically about just what qualities are essential in potential candidates – because sometimes going for the most obvious criteria isn’t necessarily the best way to find the right person for a particular role.

According to Manpower’s Teachable Fit: A New Approach for Easing the Talent Mismatch, it may be time for a little lateral thinking. ‘It’s clearly time to make a change to employer strategies in order to cope with such long term shortages,’ says Lincoln Crawley, Managing Director of Manpower Australia and New Zealand.

Finding the right employee fit involves differentiating between essential qualities and skills, and those that can be learned by employees with the right attitude. A useful framework for mapping the capabilities needed for a given role against an individual’s characteristics involves the following four criteria: knowledge, skills, values/mindset and personality/intelligence. Assessing candidates based on these criteria can help recruiters determine the likelihood that they will be able to succeed in a particular role.


Formal or explicit knowledge comes through study and is validated by academic degrees and business certifications, while informal or tacit knowledge comes through experience and exposure to others with knowledge that can be passed on. Some formal knowledge is necessary for certain roles, but much tacit knowledge can be gained on the job and is not necessarily essential at the outset.


These include ‘hard’ skills (such as technical or administrative skills) and ‘soft’ skills (such as communication skills or strategic thinking). Hard skills are evident with certification or apprenticeship, but soft skills are generally acquired through practice and grow with experience. While hard skills are easy to measure and recognise, soft skills are more intangible and easy to overlook or undervalue – but their importance should not be underestimated, as they can make or break a person’s success in a job.

Values and mindset

These represent what a person seeks in life and on the job, and are revealed through conversation and behaviour. They tend to be an entrenched part of a person and are difficult to shape or change, and they make a person more or less suited to a role. For example, sales jobs require people who have initiative and are good self-managers, while these traits might be less important for other sorts of jobs. The important thing for employers is to recognise what traits are most important for the position they’re trying to fill. 

Personality and intelligence

These are basic innate characteristics. People who are naturally outgoing and empathetic are natural fits for customer service, while others rely on their analytical intelligence, creativity or emotional intelligence for other sorts of roles. Certain jobs require certain key personality traits so it is important to know what is essential, and what is less so.

After looking at these four key areas, employers then need to ask themselves:

Is it important?

It’s easy to over-emphasise things like knowledge and hard skills, and under-emphasise soft skills and traits – but this can be a trap for employers. Many hard skills can be learned on the job, while certain soft skills are crucial to excel in the workplace. According to research from talent and career management company Right Management, the key ingredients for success in a job are cultural fit and interpersonal savvy, rather than technical skills or previous experience.

Is it teachable?

Many capabilities can be developed through things like courses, mentors and on-the-job training. Capabilities can be taught, but only with the cooperation of existing staff who must act as skilled instructors willing to take the time to teach new employees.

Capabilities that are essential to a role and not easily teachable are the must-haves and can be used as a way of initially screening candidates. Other skills can be transferred across industries and roles or learned with relative ease.

Employers need to be detailed and specific about job requirements while casting the widest net of possible candidates, knowing which gaps can be filled and identifying candidates with the highest probability of success. Those with the fewest and smallest gaps in the most important areas are the most likely to succeed in a position.

Employers also need to think more broadly and consider which candidates, with the right skills and personalities, will benefit most from training and development. This will lead to an employment strategy that is more expansive, systematic and sustainable in the long term, as talent shortages and skills mismatches grow more severe.

Josie Chun

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