Open the Door to New Talent with These Unconventional Candidates

Here’s a familiar story: Business is booming, and it’s time to add a new member to the team. You want to find someone who has the right experience, is a leader and wants to grow within your organization. But amid a tapped-out talent pool and stiff market competition, you’re struggling to find the right fit.

There has to be a better way to approach this — right? In fact, there is. Changing just two words in your vernacular can shift your entire recruitment strategy, helping you beat the competition and win the best talent. By swapping the “years of experience” requirement for “level of expertise,” you’ll open doors to talent you might never have considered before. 

Swapping out a word is easy enough — but while “years of experience” is quantifiable, “level of expertise” is qualitative. To gauge this requirement, the trick is to find expertise that isn’t gained through traditional experience. 

In this post, we’ll look at four personas of unconventional candidates, address common misperceptions and offer sample screening questions to ensure they have the expertise and attitude you need.   

Persona #1: Solopreneurs 

Whether you call them “freelancers,” “consultants” or “small-business owners,” solopreneurs have been toughing it out on their own. Many times, these unconventional candidates produce amazing output. They’re just tired of the constant cycle of new business development and chasing down invoices and want to go back in-house.  

Why they’re a great asset:

They’re independent, self-starting workers. 
They understand the bigger picture.
They offer insight into the competitive marketplace.

Common misperception:

They can’t handle a structured working environment.

Sample screening questions:

How do you currently structure your day?
What are you hoping to leave behind in your current work situation?  
What do you like about your current situation?

Persona #2: Industry Shifters 

These unconventional candidates started a career in one field, then realized they needed a change. They may come from companies that have the same client base as yours but aren’t direct competitors. Other common sources include academia, the government or the military.  

Here’s an example: I recently placed a paid search specialist at an ad agency. She was working toward her master’s degree in economics when she realized she didn’t want to be a professor; her true passion was data analytics. She decided to pursue a career in paid search marketing, earning the proper certifications.  

Becoming a data expert is much harder than navigating paid search interfaces. While she faced a small learning curve, this candidate demanded a lower salary than others with the same level of expertise — plus, she was more motivated and open to learning than someone making a lateral career move.

Why they’re a great asset:

These candidates are highly engaged and motivated to learn. 
They offer expertise in harder-to-find skills.

Common misperception:

Their background makes them too hard to train for a corporate environment.

Sample screening questions:

What types of trainings/certifications have you completed in this field?
How do you keep up with industry trends, and who are your favorite influencers?

Persona #3: Workforce Re-Entrants

Mothers returning from extended leave, people caring for ailing parents and individuals who took time to travel the world are examples of workforce re-entrants: those who are returning to work after a hiatus. 

There are countless reasons why someone might take a break — and this time away can provide a valuable perspective on their career.

Why they’re a great asset:

No burnout here: they’re fresh and motivated to work.
They can bring a unique perspective to your workplace.

Common misperceptions:

They don’t “need” the job.
They’ve lost skills during their gap time.

Sample screening questions:

What’s most important as you consider your next career move?
How do you keep up with industry trends on a regular basis?

Persona #4: Overqualified Candidates

Don’t sleep on people who are “overqualified.” If they’re too expensive, that’s one thing — but mature candidates with a variety of workplace experience can add real value to your organization.  

Here’s another example: A friend of mine worked at the same Fortune 500 company for more than 20 years, then was laid off after a merge. Company loyalty and a tremendous work ethic are in his DNA. Financially, he needs a job, but after moving to an area with lower living costs, he doesn’t need a massive salary. He’d rather find a job that gives him meaning. 

He’s been told multiple times that he’s “overqualified” — but employers should view him as a gold mine, not a flight risk.

Why they’re a great asset:

They’re experienced with many different work situations.
They’re highly self-aware.
They bring strong knowledge and expertise.

Common misperceptions:

They won’t be challenged enough by the work.
They won’t stay for the long term.

Sample screening questions:

What is most important to you in your career?
What have you learned about yourself as a worker?
How do you keep up with industry trends?

The bottom line: Not all experience is created equal  

The best candidates for your open positions may already be right in front of you — if you know what you’re looking for. It’s time to trade in experience for expertise. If you have the right expectations, you’ll find the best people.

A 15+-year recruiting industry vet, Lisa Barrow is the owner of Kada Recruiting, a recruiting firm focused on building successful digital marketing and creative teams. Prior to founding Kada, Lisa spent nine years as the Director of Client Adoption at Monster, where she traveled the country evangelizing recruitment best practices.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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