How Can Your Business Be More Like IBM and Microsoft?

Posted by Penn Foster on July 3, 2019

The time has come to rethink hiring. If your company is using the same processes and requirements it was using 10 years ago, you're probably struggling to find qualified candidates. You're not alone. Businesses of all sizes are finding jobs hard to fill. Tech giants like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon are no exception.

The difference is that these companies have woken up to the new reality. They know they can't just keep doing the same old thing and expect success. That's why they've been changing their hiring practices in the last few years. Maybe you should, too.

Traditional hiring practices and the scope of the skills gap

Employers in the United States are facing a growing skills gap. There are simply more open positions than there are people qualified to fill those roles. The tech industry and middle-skills employers are among the hardest hit. In cybersecurity alone, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education predicts that there will be 1.8 million more jobs than there are qualified candidates to fill them by 2022.

Several factors precipitated the skills gap. Technology is changing rapidly and jobs exist today that didn't exist even a year ago. Unemployment is falling and there are fewer people looking for work. Business leaders and hiring managers can't control either of those factors, but there is one they can control - job requirements.

During and immediately after the great recession, degree inflation permeated the American job market. Unemployment was rising and the future was uncertain. Employers could easily find college graduates willing to take entry level positions. Companies started adding degree requirements to entry level and middle skills jobs that had never before required a degree. It was an efficient way to narrow the pool of candidates.

By the time the economy started to recover, these inflated job requirements had become normal. Employers got fewer and fewer applicants, but they hadn't realized the full scope of the problem. Not yet.

The booming tech industry was among the first to notice the barrier they'd built around themselves. They were hiring for jobs that had barely existed five years ago. Requiring candidates to have a four-year degree just didn't make sense. What they needed was a way to measure candidate suitability regardless of education level.

A better way to measure candidates

The first step toward finding the right candidates was removing artificial barriers to their hiring. Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon removed education requirements from their job postings. New candidates started pouring in. Instead of looking for candidates with a four-year degree or a specific job history, these businesses started looking for employees with the right mix of skills and attitude.

Unconventional hiring requires unconventional hiring strategies. If credentials couldn't tell you who was worth hiring, what could?

  • IBM is known to use video game simulations to assess whether potential employees have the problem solving skills the company is looking for.
  • At Microsoft, interviews are becoming less formal and more project-based. Candidates at Microsoft are asked to work on a specific problem, something they might actually come across during their daily work.
  • As Amazon plans the opening of HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, they're also turning to non-traditional skills development programs. Their technical apprenticeship program will combine classroom and hands-on training for transitioning veterans.

Rather than trusting the market to provide what they need, these companies work with education experts to design programs that build the specific skills they're looking for. Coding bootcamps, vocational classes and even internships can quickly train middle-skills workers at scale. With the help of a training partner, employers can train middle-skills job candidates and new employees to exacting specifications.

Applying these principles

If you're struggling to find qualified candidates, you might look to IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon as models for success. Repurpose their strategies to combat credential creep and find middle-skills workers:

  • Remove degree requirements - Think carefully, does this job really require a 4-year degree or are you really looking for specific skills or qualities that you think degree-holding candidates might have? What are the specific skills or qualities you're looking for? Make a list of these skills and use them in the job posting in place of the degree requirement.
  • Assess skills needs - Revamp job postings to reflect the real daily work expected in the position. Hiring for skills is difficult if you don't know which skills your employees really need. Inspect your job postings and create a list of the skills mentioned for each position. Then speak to employees who hold that job and the supervisors who manage those employees. Ask them what skills they think are most essential to the job. Any skill that workers and supervisors don't mention should be removed from the job posting.
  • Revamp your interview process - Design an interview process that focuses more on skills and competencies and less on experience and credentials. Give candidates an opportunity to prove what they can do rather than simply showing off how well they can answer standard interview questions. For example, if you're hiring an entry level programmer, you'll learn more about their skills by asking them to write a section of code than you will by asking them questions about where they went to school.
  • Explore partnerships - Instead of finding new employees who hold the perfect mix of skills, you can hire applicants with the right attitude and train them for the skills they need. Find a training partner who can help you create a training, certificate or apprenticeship program. Look for someone experienced in providing targeted skills training to working learners.

Penn Foster has been educating working learners for more than 100 years. We partner with thousands of employers across the United States to build customized employee training programs that meet the demands of their industry.