Do Employers Want Too Much From Candidates?

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Reading a job description can send even the most talented technologist off the proverbial deep end. Many employers’ “required” skill sets seem to include everything but the ability to teleport and build a Shaker barn; the lengthy requisites of skills and experience seem achievable only by candidates who’ve spent the past four decades using a hundred different programming languages and platforms to excel at fifty different, complicated jobs.

Even under the best circumstances, it’s difficult to find a job for which an experienced tech pro is a perfect fit; so what do some employers hope to get out of this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to hiring?

Need for ROI

“Most organizations want to pay premiums for the perfect candidate, and when they have to identify somebody on their own, find they can’t do it and reach out to a recruitment firm,” said Justin Laliberte, managing partner of the Lucas Group, an executive search firm. “Then they think, ‘If we’re going to invest $40,000 in a candidate, they better have everything.’ That tends to happen on a regular basis, but it doesn’t mean it’s realistic.”

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Companies want to make investments in talent, but the inherent costs of that talent also make them wary of hiring anyone but the absolute best. “They’re looking for ways to leverage and to justify the cost of hiring,” said Mirjana Schultz, president of Instant Alliance, a recruiting and staffing firm.

Who Wrote the Job Description?

The need to find the right talent, and the concern over cost, often leads to employers producing job descriptions too broad for the actual position. A laundry-list job description is also a possible sign of communications breakdown within the organization doing the hiring.

“I tweak [job descriptions],” Laliberte said, “because way too often they’re generically written by HR. Managers just don’t have the time to put them together, so you get something that reads nothing like what was said in conversation with the actual hiring manager.”

Writing the wrong kind of description can limit an employer. “The client may say ‘I need an MDM developer with an Informatica skill set,’” said Laliberte. There’s just one problem with that request: There are no MDM developers out there. “There are MDM architects who are designers, who do a lot more than development… but the client wanted the one thing that they’re missing, instead of investing in someone who can do more. It’s a very narrow-minded way of thinking.”

Employers Don’t Know What They Want

Sometimes an organization isn’t entirely sure what it wants in a new hire, which inevitably leads to issues in defining the position. “In an effort to find someone who can also do more than the normal functions for the job,” said Trevor Simm, the founder and president of OpalStaff and Talos Solutions, “companies add lots more duties and/or responsibilities to the position.”

Employers are also casting a wider net, he continued: “There is a concern among companies that are hiring that if a job description is too narrow, then they won’t attract a reasonable number of applicants.” Wishful thinking is another issue, with employers sometimes including a lengthy list of everything they’d like a candidate to have—whether or not those skills are really needed by the organization.

The Curse of the Former Employee

It’s hard to replace someone who’s been on the job for years, keeping pace with changes in technology and the evolving needs of the employer.

“Many companies lose sight of the fact that their employees, especially those with some tenure, have evolved a great deal since their hire date,” Simm said. “They’ve gained knowledge of technologies that are specific to said employer and their environment.”

Employers also want to leverage as much of their employees’ skill sets as possible, in order to get the most out of them—which can make it difficult to hire just the right person. “Outside candidates tend to be disciplined in one area, and employers are looking for them to not only be great at what they need but also have strong aptitudes to match their wants,” Schultz said. “Sometimes what they want doesn’t go hand-in-hand with what they need.”

The Influence of the Multi-Hyphenate Consultant

Schultz noted that, over the past few years, employers have relied on staffing solutions for short-term projects. ”Now they’re trying to bring everything in-house,” she said, “and they’re really trying to justify the cost of that. Instead of just doing one function, they’re looking for folks that can do cross-functions.”

Laliberte concurred. “In a consulting world, you may want someone who can do everything because you’re going to have limited time with that individual and they’re going to help you execute and deliver a project.” He usually has to curb managers’ expectations. “When you’re hiring an employee there needs to be room for growth. Employers need to learn that investing in potential is as important as investing in skill.”

Until that lesson takes hold, however, some employers will likely continue posting job descriptions that push the boundaries of realism.