A selection of smiling business candidates

How employers might be overlooking the perfect candidate

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Employers love to complain that they just can’t find good help these days. But are you actually overlooking the perfect candidates?

Going through piles of resumes can be exhausting. You’ve got to cull the herd. We do this by immediately rejecting certain people. Typo in the resume? That goes straight into the trash. The guy’s been out of work for a year? Well, you’re not going to be the one to hire him.

Unfortunately, this knee jerk rejection method might be costing you.

I recently gave you a list of the five people you should never hire under any circumstances. Now, to follow up, here’s a list of the candidates you shouldn’t immediately overlook, because you might miss someone great.

The unemployed person: The bias against the unemployed has gotten a little out of hand, with almost half of employers saying in a recent survey that they prefer job seekers who are currently employed. I get it. You don’t want what no one else wants, and maybe there is a good reason that someone is unemployed. But it’s unfair to leave people lurching in a vicious cycle where they can’t find a job because they don’t already have one. And if that doesn’t sway you – because, who are you? Gandhi? -– consider how grateful someone might be if you gave them a job when no one else would. I was in this position years ago, and when I finally did find work, I bet I worked harder than anyone ever had at that company, because there was no way I was going back to being unemployed. If someone is unemployed, ask about it. But don’t throw out their resume right away.

The person who doesn’t have five years of experience in your industry: You’re busy. You want someone who knows your business. But you might wind up waiting a long time for someone who fits all your skills requirements and has five years of experience in dietary supplement marketing or construction apparel product development. Matching skills in another industry can be more than enough if a candidate is willing to learn what they need to know. You might find that investing in their training is well worth it.

The person with a typo in their cover letter: This comes up again and again, whenever I poll hiring managers for reasons they immediately dismiss candidates. A typo supposedly indicates that the person doesn’t pay attention to detail. But, be realistic. You know what happens when you’re sending out resumes and cover letters. You spend hours modifying them for specific jobs, going over them again and again, and trying to see the impression you’re making. Your eyes start to cross. Finally, you hit send, and realize your letter says, “I working in dietary supplement marketing for five years….” Dammit.

I can understand skipping typo people if you’re hiring an editor. But otherwise, you might want to give them a break. It’s a typo. How many have you made over the course of your career?

The person who doesn’t list a university degree: Yes, if they don’t list a degree there’s a pretty good chance they don’t have one. But do they need one? Maybe if you’re hiring a surgeon. But people are self-taught in all kinds of fields these days, or have learned on the job. I know college teachers, researchers, fundraisers, business managers, software developers, editors, designers, and people in many other positions who either don’t have degrees or whose degrees are in something completely different from what they do.

There was a time when a lot of information was only available in a school or library setting. Now, you can learn literally everything you need to know online. Just because someone doesn’t have a degree in something doesn’t mean they’re not an expert. Steve Jobs didn’t have a degree. Neither does Richard Branson.

The person whose resume doesn’t match the job description exactly: Employers ask a lot these days in the job descriptions, often demanding skills and experience far beyond what should be expected of any single person. Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, says, “For every story about an employer who can’t find qualified applicants, there’s a counterbalancing tale about an employer with ridiculous hiring requirements.”

The takeaway: If you’ve been through 20 interviews and can’t find the person with the right combination of skills and qualifications, maybe the problem isn’t them, maybe it’s you.

The next time you’re about to immediately reject a candidate for one of these reasons, take another look. You might be glad you did.

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  • London Grey

    There are a myriad of excuses why you are rejected for a job that by the letter of the posting is a perfect match. I do not understand some of the main reasons given.
    1. Job posted Canada wide but when you apply they tell you they need local person with contacts. Why did they not mention that in the posting?
    2. Overqualified. My favourite. Is there such a thing? I am obviously aware of my qualifications. If I apply for a project, that has a job description I am demonstrating that I would be comfortable doing my job.
    3. Returning expatriate from abroad with a huge load of experiences that can only enhance performance. If I worked for 10 years as a high-rise specialist contractor in California and other states why it is a strike against me? Anyone ever built a high-rise building in Los Angeles knows what it takes to build one anywhere.

    I consider all of these excuses to reject an applicant based on these reasons discriminatory, short-sighted, illegal. The applicant should at least be given the opportunity of a personal interview.

    Hiring practices today are just about to explode and the industry will suffer as all these “outcasts very valuable” people will leave the country and find employment elsewhere where somebody recognises and appreciates their value.

    I am very interested to find out how many others struggling with these problems and perhaps start something to do something about it.

    • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

      London Grey, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been looking for work for the past 4 years and the best I can get is part time gigs. It’s not for lack of trying. In addition to the usual routine — employment centre workshops, networking, job fairs, applying for thousands of jobs and going on hundreds of interviews — I have a blog about my job search, a YouTube video channel about my job search, an about.me page about my job search, and a Kijiji and Craigslist ads about my j — well, you get the idea. I’ve even begged on Begslist for a job.

      My definition of overqualified is “you lucky son of a gun, not only do you have a person that has entry level qualifications for the job, you also have fudge icing on this cake of opportunity by having someone with skills for the future”. I was told by a potential employer that I was overqualified for picking up dog droppings at a park in Toronto.

      The question about discrimination on the basis of long-time unemployment has been raised in the comments section on Workopolis on more than one occasion. I once viewed that as a Catch-22 of sorts, but now I’m sorely tempted to offer my take on the situation on my job search blog as an actual form of discrimination.

      Good luck in finding work, for both of us!

      David