Recently, Inc.com wrote about the recruiting philosophy that LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner is advocating - skills not degrees. It’s a shift in thinking that can make a big difference. And with open tech positions outnumbering tech workers, it’s an idea that can help companies as they struggle to find qualified workers to fill the estimated 600,000+ technology positions currently open.
How do we know? Because, over nearly 30 years placing technical and other highly skilled contractors, we’ve seen what works and who succeeds and we agree with Weiner. Keep reading and we’ll explain.
Skills not degrees. What does that mean?
Well, LinkedIn is looking for people with passion, loyalty, a good work ethic, and a focus on growth (qualities any company would be happy for its employees to have!).
“These are qualities that you don't necessarily pick up from a degree. There are qualities...that have a tendency to be completely overlooked when people are sifting through résumés or LinkedIn profiles. And yet, increasingly, we find that these are the kinds of people that make the biggest difference within our organization.
Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It's not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It's just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees.”
Weiner goes on to talk about how LinkedIn, like most other Silicon Valley tech companies, focused almost exclusively on hiring from a short list of prestigious universities. Very little of the workforce at most of these companies comes from non-traditional backgrounds.
We know what he means, a degree is just a degree, an important achievement and something to consider in hiring, but not a singular predictor of success. With so many available paths for learning, and avenues to proficiency, it’s foolish to ignore people who have the skills you want but aren’t found in the places you normally look. Sometimes our clients are also focused on only finding people who’ve graduated from certain universities or have worked at certain companies. We counsel that they are overlooking some great candidates when they take this narrow view.
Even more important? We’ve long known that the qualities that can be the most valuable in a worker aren’t always considered. For us, a client can be so focused on certain “skills” (or “degree”) that they don’t see the great “qualities” the candidate has.
Now, you can’t dismiss the need for actual knowledge and specific skills. When you need a Python developer, you need a Python developer. But, let’s say you’re replacing someone with 5 or 6 years of experience with Python, and you're looking at a candidate with 2 years of experience. If that person has a great work ethic, a team mentality, and a “get the job done” attitude, that can matter more than having more years of experience. You can teach someone a programming language or give them some time to get up to speed; it’s much harder to teach someone how to be reliable and on time.
It’s very natural to want someone who has “everything,” why not always go for the gold? But getting everything doesn’t always happen, especially not in today’s competitive talent market. Compromise is a necessity. If you get 8 of 10, that’s great! But what those eight are, also matters. What’s important, in our opinion and experience, and it seems in Jeff Weiner’s opinion as well, is not just a checklist of things that seem important at the exclusion of other attributes that make more of a difference and aren’t measured by a degree or a number. A specific number of years of experience, a degree from Stanford or MIT, being an expert in numerous programming languages, or a 4.0 average as a computer science major is an incomplete list if that’s all you’re looking for.
A good list should include “qualities” that transcend skills and degrees. Qualities that improve and deepen and continue to produce results throughout a career. Qualities like reliability, honesty, and curiosity. It’s not enough to just know Java or to have a PMP certification. You need to have passion and drive and work well within a team. Soft skills are in demand and as intangible as they may seem, they are not impossible to recognize and hire for.
We’ve written about this before, our column on Emotional Intelligence and on the importance of cultural fit are other sides of this coin. We understand our clients’ technology needs and we know that there are times where a certain skill set is #1 on the list, and needs to be. But like Weiner, and others, we also know that you can be too focused on a list of tech skills, and miss the forest for the trees. When you’re making your next hiring decision don’t just focus on the hard data in a resume. Look further for qualities that make the difference between a good and a great addition to your company!