Hire eLearning Candidates For Skills Or Potential?

Hiring eLearning Candidates

The eLearning industry has faced some serious shortages in talent over the last couple of years, for a variety of reasons. This can make it difficult for recruiters to locate suitable eLearning candidates to fill specific jobs with the leading companies. A recruiter in the eLearning market may be considering hiring a candidate who shows potential while he or she develops the necessary skills to excel in a role. Is this a good idea? Or is it better to focus solely on skills in eLearning candidates?

There are several ways to look at this, each option having its own set of pros and cons. A vast majority of recruitment professionals advise that hiring for potential has certain advantages, particularly where digital learning projects are concerned. Others argue that in this age, being skilled on the software and processes of eLearning development makes for more successful employees.

For the sake of fairness, I’m presenting both sides in an unbiased way and will let you decide for yourself what will work best for your recruitment and organizational goals.

Hiring eLearning Candidates For Potential Over Skills

From a recruitment standpoint, the time and effort it takes to place eLearning candidates takes tremendous patience – there are not enough skilled people out there today to cover all the jobs. In their most recent Demand For Skilled Talent report, Robert Half indicated that there are some “5.5 million jobs open in the U.S., up 19% from two years ago”. Yet, there are not enough new graduates and other candidates available to fill them.

Hiring for potential means that recruiters are looking at other qualities that candidates bring to the table, so called ‘soft skills’ that contribute to the overall corporate culture and vision. Robert Half also indicated that the candidate soft skills that matter most to employers are:

  • 72% Candidates who are can work well with others.
  • 71% Talent that has strategic thinking skills.
  • 66% Individuals who are self-directed.

Many of these soft skills are based on previous job experience, in more seasoned candidates, but it’s possible that younger millennial eLearning candidates may also demonstrate them as well. Dr. Charles Handler, who contributes to ERE Media, writes that “hiring [for potential] isn’t based on what an applicant has done, or their mastery of certain skills or bodies of knowledge, but rather on the individual’s raw talents and abilities”. He advises that this can be strategic in certain situations, including:

  • A tight labor market where talent is hard to find and there are serious skill shortages.
  • The organization is a learning workplace so candidates will have a chance to develop skills on the job.
  • Recruiters are placing a large focus on recruiting college grads who have more to learn.
  • Organizational culture and values are so unique that there are no perfect candidates out there.

In my own experience as a core team member of a new eLearning initiative at a SaaS company, it was extremely difficult to find candidates who fit 100% of the eLearning job descriptions, many of which were unchartered territory. What worked out the best was to hire for potential as the main focus and hope that some of the career-related skills and experiences would transfer well to each role.

Hiring eLearning Candidates For Skills Over Potential

On the other side of the recruitment process is hiring eLearning candidates for skills vs. potential. In some cases, a company must hire talent that has specific technical skills in order to compete for a project or to work with a high-level client. In the eLearning market, so much of what employees are producing is dependent on their ability to master certain eLearning products, project management and collaboration tools, and video and marketing resources. There is little room for learning in some high-pressure environments, therefore, eLearning candidates had better be prepared to hit the ground running.

In a Quora poll, John L. Miller, Engineering Manager for Microsoft, indicated that “technical expertise is easier to measure than potential”. He advises that since technical people are in charge of implementing and designing things, they must have at least the skills to get the job done.

It’s important to clarify that recruiters who are focused on only evaluating candidates in this manner are generally looking for core skills, not work experience. Core skills are easier to take from one job to the next. Work experience from a previous job doesn’t matter much in a new role.

Chuck Cohn, Founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors and a contributor to Forbes, advises that “Candidates with many years of experience can bring wonderful and rare abilities to the table, but so can those with a more brief work history”. Yet, he warns, this is not a true performance indicator. He advises looking at core skills in candidates.

Core skills can include:

  • Ability to adapt well to new work environments and tasks.
  • Demonstrable projects that highlight expertise in a certain area.
  • Raw abilities and talents that are critical for the eLearning market.

In some cases, such as when forming a new team or launching a startup company, hiring eLearning candidates who have more technical skills vs. core skills makes sense. These are the future leaders and mentors of the organization, for sure, but they are also responsible for producing work that is outstanding and demonstrates a higher than average knowledge of the eLearning industry as a whole.

The Best Of Both Worlds

As you search for the right eLearning candidates, it’s critical to consider the above factors when evaluating individuals. Look for a solid mix between core and soft skills, and indicators that a candidate is well-versed on the use of eLearning products and processes. Real world experience as a trainer or instructor can be of great value too, since this is someone who has a more rounded view of eLearning as it applies to end-learners.

Consider conducting your search and advertising for eLearning candidates on well-known eLearning industry directories where the best talent is bound to frequent. This can increase your chances of locating eLearning talent that’s worth your time.

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