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When to hire for now, when to hire for growth

Lead consultant at Test Partnership, Ben Schwencke, answers the timely question: Should your focus be on the immediate needs of your role or should you prioritise the future potential of candidates by assessing their cognitive abilities?

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One huge consideration when adopting a skills based hiring approach is deciding what matters now and what matters in the future. Now a lot of people get hung up on this and often they think, okay, what are the specific skills of the role? They then identify them through job analysis and then they assess those specific, unfortunately very narrow skills.

The problem with using that in isolation is that cognitive skills, a person's cognitive ability: their ability to learn and solve problems and make decisions... matters more long term. So you may have some skills right now that you've accrued over up until this point. That is not a guarantee that you have the cognitive abilities to improve those skills moving forward or to learn new skills or to move into different roles, to move laterally.

That sort of cognitive potential, that is essential when there is something of a time horizon. So for example, when hiring graduates for a graduate scheme, they don't need hard skills at all. And often organisations will just pick any one. Doesn't have to be relevant to the specific role that they're going into.

They could have a history degree, they could have an arts degree. They don't care, as long as you have that cognitive potential. As long as you can be trained, as long as you benefit from training and development, then you will acquire those skills. That's important. On the other hand, if the time horizon of which to develop skills is extremely short, then you need those skills right now.

And you need to be assessing for those skills right now. So for example, if you're looking to hire a freelance data analyst or something like that, they need data skills right now. There's no time horizon. You're not giving them any training. You don't have the patience to sit there and wait for them to develop any particular skills.

They need them right now. And so you need to bear this in mind, okay? Because if you are looking at emerging talent, then hiring them based on the specific hard skills that they will acquire within the first few weeks of them working there anyway, makes no sense. All you're doing is saving yourself a week's worth of training.

And as a result, there's an opportunity cost. You're not picking people who are smart, who will then very quickly outperform those people who have those skills right now but aren't as smart. Whereas, of course, if you're looking at freelancers and contractors who you're hiring for specific skills right now, cognitive ability realistically can take a back seat and you can just focus on those hard skills because you're not going to be training them and so they need them in the present moment.