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Minimum Qualifications to Maximize Recruitment

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Specifics are important, and of legal consequence, when listing an open position.

Dale has a vacant position and his staff has been dividing the workload until a replacement can be found. Morale is dipping lower each day. On Tuesday, Dale interviewed six candidates with his team. They just want him to hire someone. Dale wants someone that will take his team to the next level, complement their skill sets and bring new skills to the department. He also wants someone who wants to grow in the profession and has great customer service skills. 

Mike has a vacant position and has been carefully analyzing his team. Many of the staff have 15 or more years of service and Mike is thinking about succession planning. His staff is interested in mentoring those new to the profession. He would like to get someone younger in the office, but he knows if he uses that word HR will give him a lecture on age discrimination.  Besides, they are a lean team, and every member of his team is expected to be a generalist with broad expertise, so the minimum qualifications don’t lend themselves to new grads. 

Rosa has a position that has been open for three months. There have been several applicants who meet minimum qualifications, but none of them seem like a good fit for her small team. While running errands at the mall, Rosa meets Emery, an engaging, cheerful customer service representative. Rosa tells Emery to apply for her position. Later, HR sends the latest applications to Rosa, but Emery is not on the list. HR says Emery did not meet minimum qualifications. “Why do we require two years of experience and a degree?” Rosa asks. “I just want someone with great customer service.”

Contrary to popular belief, minimum requirements are not an excuse for HR to control the candidates for a department interview. Minimum requirements are part of the job description to ensure the employees who perform similar work have the necessary skills and are compensated fairly. Minimum requirements set the baseline education and experience a candidate must possess to have the essential knowledge, skills and abilities. Minimum qualifications do more than just establish your classification and compensation system; they create an objective means of narrowing the candidates eligible for a position. Otherwise, candidates may be eliminated in a subjective fashion that is vulnerable to accusations of unlawful discrimination or predetermination.

To allow for some flexibility, most job descriptions allow consideration of “any equivalent combination of education, training and experience which demonstrates the ability to perform the duties of the position.” Organizations often have documented guidelines about what may be substituted. For example, a bachelor’s degree may be equivalent to two years of experience.  Some organizations include the equivalent combination in their minimum qualifications, so applicants don’t have to guess what the equivalent standard is.

So, what are some minimum requirement best practices?

First, routinely review the minimum qualifications to ensure they represent the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the position as it is performed today. Out-of-date language is not helpful for candidates or employers.

Second, add preferences that demonstrate the soft skills that will help a candidate be successful in the role. This language should paint a picture of the position, connecting them to the work. It will help potential applicants determine whether they want to be in this role, as part of this team, at this organization. 

Third, create a document or matrix to demonstrate how the candidates do and do not meet the minimum qualifications. Show that your processes and procedures are consistently followed. This will be particularly helpful if you receive an EEOC claim from an applicant. 

Fourth, if a candidate does not meet minimum qualifications, do not interview them. If you think they would be a good fit for your organization, encourage them to apply for future positions. Identify entry-level positions in your organization so you can understand how new graduates may enter your talent pipeline.

Fifth, partner with HR so that your recruiter fully understands your line of business, the challenges you experience and can help you to expand or deepen your applicant pool.

Sixth, ask interview questions that help you assess the strengths of the applicants, including their soft skills.  Help them to relax in the interview so they tell you about themselves, rather than just saying what they think you want to hear. 

What are some possible next steps for our colleagues mentioned above?

Mike is correct; he cannot recruit for younger employees. He can, however, work to identify career ladders, high turnover positions and entry-level positions within his team. He can consider the different ways to get experience in his profession. Mike can advertise with schools for the entry-level positions he has identified. He can also consider special projects that give internal employees growth opportunities, which will then open new opportunities within the department.

Rosa might want to have candidates respond to a scenario, such as “You are working at our front desk and you have two customers in line, someone on hold on the telephone and a coworker needing help. What do you do?”  Additionally, Rosa might want to include preferences in her posting, addressing outstanding customer service, ability to deescalate difficult customers and working closely with others. Finally, Rosa may want to discuss with HR whether the minimum qualifications are reflective of what is needed in the position.

Dale should not hire a person merely to fill the role quickly. Rather than settling, Dale should regroup, consider why a successful candidate did not connect to the posting, and try again. Vacancies are opportunities. Looking through the candidates who did not meet minimum qualifications may give Dale insight into who was attracted to the position and the available labor pool at that moment.

The minimum qualifications are there to protect you and make sure you get the skill set you need on your team. Minimum requirements are just that, minimums. Set your sights higher so you can get the best possible candidate to bring new levels of success to your team. They deserve the best and so do you and your citizens.

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