Could the non-traditional candidate be an answer to the talent shortage?

17 Mar 2023 by Referoo

As global economies continue to recover in the wake of the pandemic, talent shortages are a problem worldwide. Competition for top talent is fierce, forcing employers to get creative and look beyond industry experience to find new candidates. Here, we talk to Referoo Director Neil Rose about non-traditional candidates and how to evaluate them when their career path doesn't fit the mould.

Could the non-traditional candidate be an answer to the talent shortage?

While increasing skilled migration does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, Rose points out that talent shortages are here to stay for a while yet.

"There's no magic bullet when it comes to alleviating talent shortages. In some industries, shortages have been coming for some time, and while COVID-19 may have accelerated them, it wasn't the only factor," he says.

While government programs are out there to entice workers into industries in dire need, Rose says these are long-term solutions, as it takes time to bring people in and get them up to speed.

“Businesses need a solution now, and it’s often on the shoulders of talent acquisition to drive the way forward. That’s where the non-traditional candidate comes in.

“This is a person who has the right interpersonal skills, aptitude and attitude to succeed but hasn’t got the industry experience.”

According to Rose, these things are much harder to measure and evaluate, and it may involve thinking differently for even the most seasoned TA professionals.

It’s a mindset shift

Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals have built careers on their expertise when it comes to identifying best-fit candidates. But, Rose says, evaluating the non-traditional candidate is likely to require a mindset shift.

“Hiring professionals have a sixth sense when it comes to identifying best-fit candidates. They are quickly able to sum up skills, experience and personality traits to determine whether this is a potential match.

“But when we start to look at candidates who don’t have experience and perhaps lack some of the specific skillsets or qualifications we would usually look for, we have to start assessing their ability to perform the job – and that’s a much more esoteric thing.”

It's something Rose knows all too well, having built an extensive career in recruitment prior to co-founding Referoo with business partner Chris Hunter.

Assessing candidates from outside the industry

“Having a background in recruitment myself, I know what a challenge this is. You’re starting to analyse more subjective areas, adaptability, learning mindset, work ethic, often straying more into personal traits than professional capabilities.”

He says this is where talent acquisition professionals can look to test and support their hypothesis about a candidate.

“It’s something we are seeing with more and more Referoo users. Rather than focusing on what the candidate has done in the past, they’re focusing on a candidate’s capacity to do something in the future.”

He highlights that reference check questions can be tweaked to help TA professionals uncover a wealth of useful information when evaluating non-traditional candidates.

“References become even more important when assessing candidates from outside the industry because you don’t necessarily have quantitative or qualitative results that can be directly translated into your context. So, it’s not just what you ask in your references but how you ask it that becomes critical.”

Rose says word choice plays a key role. For example, he highlights that asking the referee to tell you about ‘a time the candidate did x or y’ is likely to be less relevant but switching it to ‘the role the candidate has applied for involves X and Y; how do you think the candidate will approach this?’ can lead to helpful insights.

“You’re asking the referee to consider the candidate’s adaptability as well as what they’ve done in the past, and you’ll likely get some great insights from this approach.”

Value is there for forward-thinking organisations

While the need to look beyond traditional industry talent may be driven by skill shortages, Rose highlights that there can be extensive benefits for organisations that take this step.

“The non-traditional candidate is often more creative than their more experienced counterparts because they don't have the same preconceived notions of what's possible or not possible in their field of expertise,” he says.

“They also tend to be more innovative and willing to take risks because they haven't spent years working within the same industry framework with the norms seasoned industry professionals come to accept rather than question.

“Non-traditional candidates can bring curiosity and a fresh perspective, which can be game-changing for organisations that are poised for innovation,” Rose concludes.