You’ve heard about the war for talent. Many companies feel the intensity of this battle yet don’t have enough resources to come out victorious when they’re up against big companies with giant budgets and best-in-class equipment. For scrappy squads, they feel the unfair advantage and operate on the defensive. To shore up their immediate needs, some companies have resorted to /decided it’s best to lower their recruiting standards. They just need some boots on the ground to help accomplish their missions.
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We’ve seen this happen with the police, in the medical community with nurses, and among border agents. It’s also happening with the Army, where they changed the requirement of a high school diploma or GED and are receiving recruits who didn’t achieve a high enough score on the entrance exam. The Army is even welcoming individuals whose weight exceeds the traditional standards.
It’s a “desperate times call for desperate measures” approach. In the short term you can experience benefits with this strategy. But will it serve companies in the long run? I would caution against reducing requirements too significantly. Here are a few consequences you could experience.
LOWERING HIRING STANDARDS PROMOTES INEQUALITY
Military, police, and the medical profession are a few sectors that have met their need by loosening their standards, arguing the necessity of this strategy to meet recruitment goals. We’ve seen this tactic used to level the playing field and increase worker representation in a previous recession. The move was a double-edged sword that benefited workers immediately but slowed down long-term advancement as it removed mid-level positions. As reported in a US News article, “This down-credentialing comes alongside an up-credentialing in other jobs splitting the workforce into ‘haves’ and 'have-nots.’ ” The key factor behind this split is technology, explains one labor market expert in the article.
"We've automated the hell out of the low-skill, low-wage sector," says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. "Mostly what that does is it drives a wedge between people who have high school or less and people who have some post-secondary education."
In other words, lowering standards pigeonholes those with minimal skills, making upward mobility a challenge because the higher-paying jobs require more skills and credentials. So, unless they get higher credentials or work elsewhere, it's likely someone with minimal skills will remain in the same role they were initially hired for—at least until automation makes them redundant.
LOWERING HIRING STANDARDS DAMAGES YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND
Lowering hiring standards to achieve a more equitable workplace may be laced with noble intentions, but to some candidates it signals something very different. In a nutshell, it communicates “Our company does not believe you are as smart or as capable as other groups, so we will dumb things down to give you a better chance of success.” Now, did you mean to suggest that some people lack intelligence and sufficient work ethic to get the job done? Of course not. But you must address the sentiment that results and its effect internally and externally.
LOWERING HIRING STANDARDS REDUCES COMPETITIVENESS
Most companies will never have the notoriety and prestige associated with working at a company like Google, Apple, or Amazon. They are known to get the best and the brightest and to pay handsomely for that talent. Though you likely can’t compete with the talent they snag, lowering your standards only widens that gap. More average talent is less likely to elevate your company through the innovation that’s more common with top tier talent.
And it doesn’t just affect your company. The 2022 The State of Labor Market Competition report points out that a lack of labor market competition affects the broader economy.
“Lack of labor market competition contributes to high levels of income inequality, diminishes incentives for firms to invest, inhibits the creation and expansion of new firms, and reduces productivity growth through lower reallocation of labor across firms and industries.”
It also notes that...
“The impacts of insufficient labor market competition often fall hardest on women and workers of color, who make up a larger share of workers in lower-paid occupations. These workers often have diminished bargaining power because they lack the resources to easily switch jobs or occupations, to reject or negotiate against signing restrictive employment agreements, or to seek legal recourse for violations of labor and employment law.
LOWERING HIRING STANDARDS CAN BE MORE EXPENSIVE IN THE LONG RUN
Making a bad hire is quite expensive. Not only do you have the costs of their severance pay and costs to recruit, hire, and onboard their backfill, there are retention costs and potential missed revenue. Plus, a disgruntled employee could damage your company’s reputation. In the worst possible scenario, they could potentially be a catalyst that kills your company. Yikes.
Psychologist, author, and sales retention and recruitment expert Dr. Christopher Croner said in Industrial Distribution, “For younger and/or smaller companies, compromising on new hires can lead to failure even more quickly. You're putting your company’s hopes, dreams, and future on the shoulders of only a few people—what happens when they don’t perform?”
If you have an ongoing pattern of “churning and burning” through salespeople, beware. It has a ripple effect. The presence of bad salespeople and their lackluster performance could negatively affect your client relationships, company culture, and your bottom line. And now that competition is heating back up post-pandemic, you may not be able to recover from a bad hiring decision.
So, if lowering standards is not the answer, what is?
First, review the job requirements. Have you listed a nice to have as an essential? Thoroughly evaluate your job description and ensure that what you list is critical for doing the job. Then, as Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender notes, think about making the following investments to help you hire the talent at the level you need.
- Cognitive aptitude testing. Such an assessment can provide insight on a person’s natural ability to understand concepts and pick up new skills. If someone has a strong propensity to learn, you can teach them what they need.
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points to help you make the best hiring decision for any role.
- Enhance the employee onboarding experience. If you intend to quickly develop a new hire, it’s wise to add learning elements to their initial onboarding. This can affirm the employee’s decision to join your company, help them immediately develop new skills, and provide confidence for the person in their new role.
- Invest in more employee training. People inevitably want to grow their skills and advance their career. It’s likely that’s a factor of why they chose to join your organization. Capitalize on this desire with solid and substantial training and providing ongoing learning opportunities so they don’t have to leave to gain new experience and skills.
The idea of hiring employees and helping them gain the skills they need to do the work isn’t novel. It does involve intentional planning to allocate resources toward training. When those dollars are well spent, the increase in the training budget could be offset by the decrease in cost-per-hire. Additionally, you’ll also enhance the culture by fostering positive sentiment among employees who see and experience a real investment in their success.
Recruiter.com advises against using the skills shortage as an excuse to lower your hiring standards. Instead, they suggests three things.
- Address short-term gaps with short-term talent solutions. Have you seen all the posts about recruiters who have been laid off in recent months? There are a myriad of stories and reasons for this unfortunate business outcome. The ebbs and flows of the economy led to layoffs in 2020, hiring surges in 2021, and uncertainty and more layoffs in 2022. A conservative approach to meeting your team’s needs could be On-Demand Recruiting™ services. It's “flexible, monthly recruiting consulting service to support your company while staying lean when it’s short-staffed, has a spike in hiring volume, or looking to fill niche roles.”
- Widen your talent pool. People around the world have been grateful for the side effect of the pandemic that enabled remote work for the masses. With the right infrastructure and tools in place you can now hire capable candidates from anywhere. If you want to ramp up hiring but aren’t sure how to advertise to tap into the broader talent pool, we provide strategic consulting services or can even operate as a full-service digital recruitment media agency.
- Showcase what makes your company an attractive place to work. Your company isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for some. Who are those people, and how do they know it’s the right place for them? Every company has a story, and we can help you tell yours. Our employer brand services help identify what makes your company unique and shapes those qualities into a cohesive story that employees, candidates, and stakeholders want to be a part of.
As you can see, there are alternatives to your hiring challenges. Resist the temptation to lower your hiring standards. Your company and the economy need you to stay strong.
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