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Why looking for hard skills can be bad for business

Synergy – or a lack of synergy – between an individual and a job can be mysterious and difficult to explain...

Two candidates may look quite similar on paper, so why does one become successful and thrive in a role and yet another does not?

Anyone who has experienced the dubious pleasure of career guidance software at school or college will know that prescribing careers based on qualifications and hard skills alone often produces unpredictable results.

Job descriptions should perhaps carry the same caveat. Drawing up a set of skills and qualifications needed for a job can prompt the present successful incumbent to comment: “If those qualifications had been demanded for my job, I would never have been shortlisted.”

We may need to question the premises that we take for granted when describing or setting up a job and then attempting to match a person to it. In addition to traditional measures, we need to explore another method for analysing job compatibility.

At Belbin we use the idea of two separate dimensions: “eligibility” (CV, qualifications, hard skills – past perfromance) and “suitability” (personality, behavioural tendencies – fit with the job and others).

According to the research of Meredith Belbin, and considerable experience in industry, certain patterns emerged from observing the role of hard skills and behavioural inclinations in matching people to jobs:

Total misfit

Those who were neither eligible nor suitable became obviously a non starter, acknowledged the fact, and moved on to other roles.

Poor fit

Those who may have possessed the qualifications but not the behavioural tendencies tended to get stuck; often defensive and resentful of having to leave a job for which they were qualified on paper, but unable to fulfil the role due to other factors which had not been taken into consideration during the recruitment process.

Ideal fit

Those possessing the qualifications and appropriate behaviours for the job would seem an ideal fit. However, Meredith found that they often didn’t tend to last long in the job. Since there wasn’t enough of a challenge or learning curve, these candidates would often see the role as a stepping-stone and simply leave for greener pastures in due course.

Surprise fit

Those who lacked the hard skills but possessed the behavioural tendencies required tended to fit best with the job. Unlike the “ideal fits”, they saw new challenges and opportunities for development.

In other words, Meredith surmised that not only did eligibility fail to guarantee a good fit with the job, but that it could actually preclude it. Managers, unwilling to confront appropriately-qualified candidates with the idea of unsuitability, often chose to let sleeping dogs lie.

However, there is a balance to be found.

It is difficult to defend the idea of recruiting candidates whose background and experience bear no resemblance to the job in question. In most cases, a more general set of abilities are required. However, we tend to overvalue those candidates who already possess the hard skills we seek and overlook “semi-eligibles”: those who, with training and experience in the job, could last longer in the role, become valuable contributors and gain more fulfilment from it.

Next steps

Contact us on 1300 731 381 or email to see how you can help find your surprise fits!


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