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Don’t Overlook “Hidden Talent” When Hiring in 2022

Employers on the front lines in the war for talent are finding creative ways to gain an advantage. Many employees have already left and/or will leave their job to find a job with a higher salary, a better manager, or flexible work-at-home arrangements. It’s more and more difficult to find high-quality qualified candidates. A client recently mentioned that they finally hired someone for a job that had been open for almost six months.

Hiring and back-fill delays tend to have adverse effects by putting stress on those employees that stay and who then have to help absorb the workload that remains. One way to think outside the box when sourcing and finding candidates is tapping into the “hidden talent” market, which can be a rich source of good candidates for open positions.

Looking Beyond the Automated Algorithms

Recent research from Accenture and the Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work shows that more than 27 million people in the U.S. fall into the category of “hidden workers.” These candidates are people who want to work and who possess the skills that employers seek. The challenge is that many of these workers are not being identified by today’s talent management systems and related algorithms. These automated recruitment systems and AI algorithms are discarding millions of job applications from qualified candidates, according to the Harvard research. These “hidden workers” are often rejected because they don’t fit into predefined categories, according to the Harvard Business School study.

Disproportionately Overlooked Groups Offer Many Strong Candidates

Multiple socioeconomic groups are disproportionately overlooked, according to the Harvard report. Here are a few examples of hidden talent groups:

  • Caretakers

  • Veterans

  • Persons with disabilities

  • Immigrants and refugees

  • Formerly incarcerated individuals

According to the research, a quarter of these workers have college degrees in addition to their existing skills and experience.

A significant majority of employers (88%) believe that qualified, high-skill candidates are screened out because they don’t match the exact criteria defined by common job descriptions, such as having a four-year college degree, which may not be necessary if people have the right skills or experience. That number rises to 94% in the case of mid-skill workers with more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

How to Find Hidden Talent

Research shows that companies hiring hidden workers are 36% less likely to face talent and skills shortages and 35% less likely to face challenges meeting diversity goals. Here are a few strategies that can help your company hire hidden talent.

Update job descriptions – Most companies add new skills and experience preferences to existing job descriptions rather than rewriting descriptions from scratch. As a result, they end up with a candidate profile that may have old requirements and “nice to have” attributes rather than a limited list of “must-have” competencies and experiences that correlate to performance in the role. Target recruitment for critical skills rather than credentials, and don’t over-specify requirements.

Simplify job application and hiring processes – 84% of those polled in the survey said that they found job applications and hiring processes difficult to navigate.

Shift from “negative” to “affirmative” filters in your Applicant Tracking System – An ATS largely relies on “negative” logic to narrow the applicant pool. Workers are excluded from consideration due to variables such as the lack of a college degree or a gap in their employment history. While employers may assume applicants who have those attributes are undeserving of consideration, applying “affirmative” logic emphasizes what you need for success in the role rather than ruling candidates out – a more logical approach for seeking talent. Configure systems to identify applicants with the specific skills and experiences associated with the core requirements of the role to make your ATS more inclusive.

Target segment(s) of hidden workers best suited to the work and to your organization –By focusing on specific groups of hidden workers, companies can specifically target a group that best fits their job types and culture. This targeted approach also allows recruiters, human resources professionals, and hiring managers to become familiar with these workers’ needs. One of my clients in the construction industry has been very successful for years hiring previously incarcerated workers. Another client in retail banking has found great employees by hiring former caretakers and people with disabilities; there’s also a network of dairy farmers that’s had great success hiring refugees and immigrants. They’ve managed to stay fully staffed during the current war for talent by having a formal strategy around hiring from the hidden talent network.

Focus on casting a wider recruiting and sourcing net in 2022 and go beyond the AI algorithms in your recruitment strategy. As much as employers say they’re looking hard for employees, they’re often not looking in the right places or in the right ways. HR departments are leaning too heavily on technology to weed out candidates, or they’re just not being creative enough in terms of how they consider applications and determine what types of people could be the right fit. Remember, human capital sourcing and retention is a people business, not a data business.


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