How Nontraditional Candidates Can Give You a Competitive Edge

In our hyper-competitive economy, a recalibration of hiring strategies may be just what is needed for companies to innovate better, prop up the bottom line and expand market share. While there are many creative ways to reinvigorate hiring, one particular path to consider exploring is hiring nontraditional candidates. 

“Being open to candidates who appear not to be a ‘fit’ at first glance and more closely assessing candidates who’ve had untraditional successes in their field, would be a great way of sourcing talent that will take your organization to the next level,” suggests Donna Schilder, Executive and Leadership Coach | CEO of Glacier Point Solutions in Long Beach, CA.

Nontraditional Talent Interjects a Unique Perspective

Having a predilection for hiring people similar to us in areas of education, personality, communication style, thought patterns, etc., is natural for many hiring managers. As such, “a candidate who is different than the person who is screening them may appear not to be a ‘fit’ with the team or the company culture; yet, they have a valuable contribution to make by bringing new and unique perspectives and approaches,” continues Schilder.

In fact, Schilder’s company often is tapped to help resuscitate organizations where leaders and/or employees are considered to be too similar. 

Example: Increased Agility and Competitiveness

“In one case,” explains Schilder, “we worked with a financial services firm where their leaders were 70% analytical (and fell into the Conscientiousness category on the DiSC Assessment). This led to slow decision-making, risk aversion and slow change in a competitive environment where more agility was needed. Once this firm hired to create more diversity in communication style, personality, and thinking style, they became more agile and more competitive in the market place.”

Example: Improved Decision-Making

Another example includes innovative companies that by their highly-driven nature had influenced employee overwhelm and turnover, as well as hyper-spending of company resources on non-viable products. “In those cases, hiring more analytical, cautious leaders and employees improved the company’s decision-making,” says Schilder.

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Nontraditional Candidates Can Save Money and Open Up the Talent Pool

Because the ideal, perfect-fit candidate is highly sought after, they may end up costing your company money during salary negotiations in your effort to outcompete other offers. 

As Christina Pavlou says in Why You Should Consider Non-Traditional Candidates, “… when you cross off the requirements that aren’t necessarily needed, like a 4-year college degree, you open the door for more people to apply, people who may lack the typical qualifications, but still have the skills and the drive to perform successfully.” 

Some big tech companies are opening up their recruitment to nontraditional backgrounds, according to John Bemis in Labor Shortage Solutions: How to Find and Hire Non-traditional Tech Talent. “IBM, for example, started a program called New Collar Jobs, which focuses on skills over degrees.”

Bottom line: encouraging hiring decision-makers to be less restrictive about specific qualifications, credentialing and degree programs may liberate the sourcing and interviewing focus onto actual performance possibilities. 

Steps to Identify Hiring Targets for Nontraditional Candidates

First, identify your hiring preferences, and use those to assess your team or company culture to pinpoint excesses and gaps in regard to employee/leader mix, suggests Schilder.

Here are some specific questions she offers to guide the process to assess your organization and hiring targets.

  • What unique qualities do we need in our team that we don’t have now?
  • What percentage of our leaders or employees are analytical, versus instinctive? Steady, versus direct and driving? Innovative, versus action focused? 
  • What are we missing in our leader or employee mix, that we need to create greater business success?
  • What characteristics, skills, thinking processes do we need 5 years from now, that we don’t have or can’t develop in our leaders and/or employees?

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Revamp Existing Hiring and Interviewing Practices

According to Bemis, “To recruit and hire more nontraditional candidates, consider overhauling your organization’s existing hiring strategies.” 

Rewrite job descriptions, replacing skills needed with expected achievement outcomes. “This focus on aptitude over credentials will help you find candidates who can really do the job, despite what might seem like a lack of specific skills on their resume,” continues Bemis.

Moreover, train managers on methods to interview nontraditional candidates. 

“Then, design interview questions that uncover the candidate’s characteristics to see if their personality type, communication style, thinking style, fears and/or values, match characteristics your company needs but doesn’t have,” explains Schilder.

For example:  

  • Describe how you go about making a decision. (Look for quick, data-based decision-making, or seeking consensus.)
  • What drives you to do your best work? (Look for what values drive them.)

Ask questions to cull a candidate’s specific achievements that align with your company’s talent requirements, displaying their skills and characteristics needed to hurdle challenges and achieve particular measurable goals. 

Moreover, candidate Carrie Browde, in Lesson for Recruiters: Take a Chance on Nontraditional Candidates, ”… advises companies to have a clear image of what they are hiring for culturally and take that into account. ‘Give more weight to someone who is on-brand, who gets your message, who wants to work for you and not your competitor.’”

RELATED: 11 Questions to Ensure Candidate Quality

Rewards for Taking a Chance on a Nontraditional Employee

Taking a chance on someone different than your typical employee and/or with less than required technical expertise may be a risk worth taking. 

“Their perseverance, hard work, passion, ingenuity, creativity, problem-solving skills, great people skills, and/or the ability to learn quickly can pay off in a big way for a hiring manager or entire organization,” asserts Schilder. This can include providing market place differentiation and increased competitiveness, ultimately translating to bottom-line growth.

Maurer provides an example of a former academic researcher in neuroscience, Vay Cao, who was hired for a sales manager position at a neurotechnology company. Despite the lack of obvious sales experience, Cao tapped into tenacity, persistence and openness to new challenges as well as years of independent problem solving to garner the new role. 

And perhaps most importantly, candidates like Cao offer an ability (in her words) to “learn quickly how to translate … knowledge to other people and how to figure out a process.”

“In today’s competitive, ever-changing market place, agility is one of the most important characteristics for a company to survive long term.  And, this kind of discrete hiring creates agility,” asserts Schilder. 

“Hiring employees (for your team) who are opposite from you or compliment you; e.g., those that are innovative and driving when your team or company tends to be cautious and analytical, can give you more balance, valuable perspective, better decision-making and a competitive edge,” concludes Schilder. 

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