Over the last several weeks, employers around the world have come to realize that “business as usual” is no longer a fixed concept. Companies that might have resisted the trend toward remote work of the last decade have suddenly been faced with the task of transforming their culture overnight. Given this environment of heightened uncertainty, it seems that few things are more important than organizational flexibility.
What does flexibility look like from a talent perspective? It looks like the ability to make effective hiring decisions in unprecedented circumstances. As recent times have demonstrated, technological innovation, geopolitical disruption, economic volatility, and demographic transformation are all forces that can fundamentally shift the needs of society. When these changes occur, a dynamic talent strategy is crucial for both employers and candidates to navigate new terrain.
Few recruiting challenges capture the need for flexibility better than NASA’s task of selecting the first rounds of American astronauts. The initial criteria, which were used to choose the likes of John Glenn and Scott Carpenter in 1958, prioritized previous experience as a military pilot and physical fitness. Within a few years though, astronaut candidates were selected for their excellence as scientists and mental stamina first, with the task of training them to operate a spacecraft being somewhat secondary. By the time geologist Kathy Sullivan interviewed in 1977, it was even clearer that NASA was looking for personal characteristics that were not found in work history. In his book, The Fifth Risk, author Michael Lewis describes the exhaustive process that eventually led her to be the first woman to walk in space. While Sullivan initially struggled to decipher what her interviewers were looking for, “later she decided that they weren’t even really trying to figure out who she was,” Lewis writes. “All they had wanted was the answer to a question: Will she be that same person that she appears to be now when she is traveling at 17,500 miles per hour 140 miles above the Earth and something goes bang?”
Even if most recruiting tasks are not as daunting as finding the first men and women to send to the moon, employers can learn something important from the example of the space agency’s approach. Namely, there is only so much that can be learned about a person by looking at past accomplishments, especially when it comes to assessing fit for jobs of the future. The ideal astronaut might be independent, mission-oriented, calm under pressure, and curious, but the vast majority of people who fit this bill will not be able to capture it on their resume. With traditional job applications, candidates are limited to conveying only those attributes that they have had the opportunity to previously demonstrate, not those that they could apply in different circumstances.
"...There is only so much that can be learned about a person by looking at past accomplishments, especially when it comes to assessing fit for jobs of the future."
Further, given that jobs will continue to be automated in the coming years, flexibility is crucial for empowering candidates to navigate a changing market. People who previously worked in roles that will soon be completed by machines may worry that their old resumes render them irrelevant in the modern economy. However, employers are positioned to alleviate these fears by shifting their talent strategy to prioritize a candidate’s innate potential. Today’s executives consistently report that soft skills, like problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and communication are the most important attributes for new hires, and these attributes are notably not tied to a single background or industry. Considering 84% of HR managers already state that their companies are willing to train up the right applicant in technical competencies, it seems inevitable that a modern talent selection strategy will de-prioritize work history.
By evaluating candidates on the basis of their cognitive, social, and emotional profile, pymetrics embodies the concept of organizational flexibility. Our assessment seeks to capture the aspects of an applicant that withstand variations across environments and economies, cutting through the inherent noise in a resume. In addition to empowering employers with the information they need to select candidates in times of uncertainty, our strategy reduces the arbitrary talent barriers present in society. Because the traits we measure exist across diverse segments of the population, organizations can find strong role “fits” among previously underrepresented labor markets and demographics. As the “future of work” is quickly becoming the “plan for the present,” our position is that hiring equity is now a cornerstone for employer adaptability.
If the events of the last few weeks have inspired you to think critically about the real meaning of flexibility, we invite you to reach out and explore our platform in greater depth as it relates to your organization. Contact us here!