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How to hire for potential: Why transferable skills outrank experience

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While working for Hershey as a security officer, Kirlin was given the opportunity to help improve security planning. His data-backed solution, a staffing plan that accounted for historically busy periods, caught the eye of Hershey’s VP of global security, Matthew Ryan, who saw Kirlin’s ability to diagnose problems, identify and recommend solutions, and see them through to implementation. After learning of a new HR project, Ryan suggested Kirlin for the job, effectively launching Kirlin’s career in HR operations.

Kirlin’s existing skills , like his affinity for data, his aversion to ambiguity, and his institutional knowledge, transferred well into HR, ultimately leading to his current role as senior manager of HR operations and systems.

Today, jobs and roles change so quickly that career paths, like Kirlin’s, aren’t as clear as they once were. In fact, even after spending more than a decade in the workforce, nearly half (47%) of professionals between the ages of 35 and 44 aren’t sure what their career path should look like.

This career path ambiguity is happening in the midst of an incredibly tight labor market: Job openings have reached a high of 7.1 million, according to the latest from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics . To find the talent to fill open positions, employers might take a page from Hershey’s book and look beyond the resume to focus on a candidate’s skills and willingness to learn.

Skills are transferable

Given that many of today’s fastest-growing job categories didn’t even exist five years ago , it helps to remember that the skills needed for success in a particular role aren’t one-size-fits-all. When hiring managers take a closer look at the underlying skills needed for a role and then look for people with those skills, unique solutions often reveal themselves.

Say you’re looking for someone to take on a machine learning role. Given that machine learning is a fairly new specialty, chances are good that you’re not finding a ton of candidates with those skills. Try expanding your search. If you’re looking at the consulting industry, for instance, our data shows that by adding transferable skills like leadership, business intelligence, and data visualization to your search, you’ll broaden the pool of candidates, and they’ll be more likely to pivot to your company.


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