“Thank you so much for your interest in working for (insert company here). Unfortunately we’ve decided to move forward with other candidates with more experience. Best of luck with your job search.”

You’ve probably received this message at some point in your career, a default “regrets” communication when applying for a position at XYZ company. Time and time again, experience (or lack thereof) appears at the top of the list of reasons why a hiring manager decides a candidate isn’t the right fit for the job in question.

(Note: We’re defining experience here as time spent performing specific relevant tasks, time spent in a specific relevant industry, or time spent in a specific relevant role.)

For the past few decades, this status quo approach to hiring has more or less worked. Companies focused on hiring for competencies, or the past demonstration of skills presumed to indicate successful performance in a specific job. Mind you, the workplace during this time, we could say, was relatively stable and jobs relatively consistent.

Today’s business landscape is arguably more dynamic, complex, dare I say chaotic – leaving a greater margin for error in making hiring decisions. Today, out of necessity, the conversation shifts from whether people have the right skills to do a job, to whether people have the capacity to learn new ones as jobs themselves continue to evolve and change.

Mercer anticipates 65% of current primary school children will be in jobs that don’t even exist yet.

That’s insane! How can we continue with our current antics knowing past experience will be all but irrelevant for our future workforce not 15 years down the road?

In a 7-minute interview with Harvard Business Review, executive search adviser Claudio Fernández-Aráoz explains the inherent challenges we face today as people making hiring decisions (i.e. having the wrong brain, the wrong software, and the wrong focus) and why hiring for potential over past performance is critical to the future of business. If you’d like to read more from HBR on this idea, click here.

The key to matching talent with the right job hinges on determining what about the job can and cannot be taught. It’s nature versus nurture on a whole new level.

The rub is this: while we are all human, we are each unique in our brain biology and our behaviors, and how they translate into the workplace. As our brains develop through our teen years, our neurons make connections to create mental pathways that eventually shape the way we think and view the world. This is how we create our sense, our unique network of connections specific to our individual experience of how we understand and interact with the world.

Therefore, we each have something different to offer, to share, to teach – and the issue in the workplace is that many employers don’t know how to figure out what that is WITHOUT using past experience as a reference. (That’s what a resume is, after all. Don’t they exist for a reason?)

I’m not suggesting that employers should make a 180-change in their hiring practices tomorrow. I’m suggesting employers should consider the long term (5, 10+ year) goals for their organization, and given the changing landscape of the business world, reassess how human capital will contribute to and impact the goals of the company. From there, plans for a shift (or shifts) in people resources can be designed, and positions can be repurposed and realigned.

This is probably one of the most difficult things a company has to do: determine how to allocate its resources, people or otherwise. It also defines whether a company succeeds or fails. The challenge of staffing, talent acquisition, recruiting – whatever you want to call it – is becoming infinitely more complex and it’s not going to get any less complex, but the mission is to figure out ways to manage the complexity and tame its potentially detrimental implications if not addressed effectively.

Fernández-Aráoz says we need to focus on figuring out how we can select people who are open to learning, and also know how to learn what they need to learn as they move forward in their careers.

Part 2 of this three-part series will explore this challenge in more detail. Part 3 will investigate leadership potential and how we can help develop our future leaders.

But for now, I challenge you to consider what about your job can and can’t be taught. Does your job allow you to learn in a way that jives with your natural behavior? If yes, you’re likely in the right job. If no, you might have some soul searching to do.

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