Don't just ignore "unqualified" people

Focusing too narrowly on credentials and experience means you will likely pass by some exceptional talent that can offer more value in the long run

Read in browser…

I’ve made some big hiring mistakes in my 20+ year career and will likely make more before I’m through. You probably have and will as well.

We’re taught to focus on credentials and “relevant” experience. When we don’t see it, we toss the resume in the trash and move to the next. I’ll wager that I’ve passed on hundreds of excellent people by doing that.

It makes me sick when looking back because I’ve met my fair share of “unqualified” people that truly excel in their roles when given half a chance.

Why do some unqualified people do so well?

I’ve given the question of “why do some ‘unqualified’ people perform better than their opposites?” quite a bit of thought.

It boils down to a few fundamental reasons:

  1. They aren’t bogged down by the status quo. It has no hold on them because they weren’t taught to embrace an existing way of working. The loss aversion most people feel when stepping away from the known has little bearing on you when you’re learning as you go.

  2. They’re not afraid to ask “obvious” questions. When you don’t know how a job should be done, you’re free to learn by seeking clarity. This helps identify what is important to an outcome rather than focusing on common practices. They can sidestep the efforts that don’t truly matter.

  3. They bring new experiences that expose old assumptions. Just because they don’t have the traditional qualifications doesn’t mean they are not experienced. What they’ve learned elsewhere can often shed light on long-standing assumptions that few would see otherwise.

While there are likely many more, this isn’t meant to be exhaustive. These reasons help us see universal traits that are often most important but mistakenly ignored.

Soft skills are the most important factor

Over the years, I’ve filtered my list of soft skills down to just a handful that typically add up to great long-term results. Things that not only help people on the job but also in life.

  1. Ambition — does the person aspire to grow beyond what they are currently capable of handling? Will they embrace new opportunities as you present them over the next few years?

  2. Aptitude — is the person capable of growing beyond what do today? Will an investment in this person yield out-sized results in the next few years?

  3. Curiosity — is the person interested in learning what is currently unknown to them or intrigued about new opportunities? Does the person see new ways to approach challenges in front of your business?

  4. Empathy — is the person caring and considerate of others they will work with or interact with in daily life? Can they put themselves in the shoes of others and appreciate situations that may be more complex than they initially appear?

  5. Perseverance — will this person commit to tackling complex objectives where the path forward isn’t always clear at the beginning? Do they have the personality that thrives where others may throw up their hands?

In my experience, the above soft skills matter more than whether the person has all the right technical skills currently. If they don’t possess the critical soft skills, no amount of technical training will matter.

We’re focused on the wrong things

We tend to put too much emphasis on credentials and experience. And then wonder why positive change is slow to happen.

If we look for universal soft skills instead — like ambition, aptitude, curiosity, empathy, and perseverance — we can often kickstart big changes in our businesses... and maybe even across our industries.

So, the next time you meet someone with that special spark (that you can’t quite put your finger on) yet may look lousy on paper, look closer. You may just have a future star asking you for a job.

I’ve had the honor of working alongside several people, from unlikely backgrounds, that have gone on to excel in positions no one would have considered them for when using conventional logic.