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Corporate Strategies

Cruise Past the Competition: 4 Steps to Attract & Retain Non-Traditional Talent

General Assembly
September 23, 2022

Recruiters around the world are facing a labor shortage unlike anything they’ve experienced in the last decade. 63% of recruiters say talent shortage is their number one problem. The good news? There’s a solution that not only benefits businesses but society. By tapping into the wide non-traditional talent pool–from veterans and military spouses, to caregivers and people in their 60s and older, to those with disabilities or who were formerly incarcerated–organizations can bridge the labor shortage gap and build a robust pipeline of talent.

More HR professionals are vying for non-traditional talent, though,  by establishing their own specialized training pathways equipped with unique reskilling modules in collaboration with training providers, community colleges, and regional workforce experts to develop their workforces. Needless to say, competition is fierce, and it’s essential to develop a talent acquisition strategy that is intentionally and uniquely tailored to attracting, retaining, and supporting non-traditional employees. 

Why Non-Traditional Talent Should be a Top Recruitment Priority

Historically, non-traditional talent has been told that they don’t have the right degree, the right experience, or the right cadence of experience with no career gaps. To fill your crucial open roles, diversify your workforce and gain a competitive hiring advantage, you need to ditch the rigid recruitment requirements and rewrite your hiring script to focus on skills and life experience, both of which can provide exceptional value. 

“Place a weight on a non-traditional seeker’s previous experience, particularly if they are doing an incredible job at relating it back to the job description,” explains Dalona Jones, General Assembly Partnerships Specialist.

While non-traditional talent may be lacking a formal education degree or continuity on their resume, they bring value to the workplace in three key ways:  

  • Diverse Thinking: Talent with non-traditional backgrounds contribute a diverse thinking style by bringing new points of view to the conversation which can enable teams to make decisions that are better-informed, and more impactful in terms of supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals
  • Flexibility & Adaptability: Many non-traditional workers gained their skills on-the job, online, or through other sources outside of a formal four-year college program. They are flexible about when, where, and how they learn, often leveraging upskilling or reskilling opportunities to adapt their skills to shifting needs.
  • Real World Experience: Rather than regarding resume gaps as a negative, recognize that gaps often indicate experience gained via transferable skills. 

Attract & Retain Top Non-traditional Talent in 4 Steps

Non-traditional talent requires a non-traditional recruitment strategy. Here are five tips for how you, too, can meet non-traditional job-seekers where they are in their career trajectory.

Step 1:  Scratch what you think you know about diversity and get reinformed

Cultivating an inclusive workplace is essential to remain competitive in your recruiting efforts. According to the Talent Market Drivers report, an inclusive workplace is the second fastest-growing need for candidates, increasing in importance by 7% between April 2020 and June 2021. DEI isn’t only a boon when it comes to attracting talent, it can boost to the bottom line. Diverse organizations are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors financially .

But when it comes to non-traditional hiring, in particular, HR Managers and recruiters can more effectively target, engage with, and integrate people into their companies by broadening their definition of diversity. Think beyond race and gender to include socioeconomic status and age. 

And by taking the time to better understand the challenges applicants may be facing, recruiters can more organically connect with applicants from diverse backgrounds, and get the most out of their recruiting efforts and DEI goals. 

Step 2: Ask yourself the right questions to find the right candidate

Most job descriptions list the specific responsibilities and qualifications required to apply for a position, leaving little room for applicants who fall outside these narrow confines. If you’re checking boxes, you’re missing opportunities. 

Before you post a job description, ask yourself, “What special skills are currently underrepresented on our team?” Consider, “What type of person would help us achieve or maintain a good balance of personality types?” Taking the time to think about what you need in terms of complementary or supplementary skills can help you find candidates who don’t just have the right credentials, but the right mix of skills and experience to become a valuable member of the team. 

“For junior roles, taking a chance on someone who does not have a college degree is a great way to hire a non-traditional candidate with real-world experience, tenacity, and drive,” says Dalona Jones, General Assembly Partnerships Specialist. “Many Bootcamp grads from non-traditional backgrounds decided to change the trajectory of their lives by pursuing a new career using their own time and money. If that doesn’t demonstrate dedication and perseverance, I’m not sure what does.” 

Step 3: Navigate the conversation with compassion to create open communication

The School of Hard Knocks is more than a meme. Some people from unconventional educational backgrounds have had to overcome circumstances that have sidelined them from the traditional professional route. Instead of asking candidates tactical work history questions related to the skills required for the role, ask them their story. Design your questions in a way that allows you to learn about a candidate’s passions, aptitudes, and achievements. 

“Encourage them to speak about their full past in interviews. Many Bootcamp grads have extremely well-developed soft skills from their past experiences. Sometimes they can be reluctant to speak about these experiences if they’re not in a related industry or function to their new career. Interviewers may miss important aspects/strengths of the person they’re interviewing by only focusing on the time during and after the Bootcamp,” explains George Brumfitt, Senior Career Coach at General Assembly.

Empathy is not only beneficial for making a candidate more comfortable, but for conveying the organization’s corporate culture. According to the Future of Recruiting study, empathy may be crucial in how employer brands are viewed both now and in the future. 

Step 4: Find partners who are experienced in working with non-traditional talent

If you feel ill-equipped to navigate the recruitment process with a non-traditional candidate, seek counsel with someone who understands this non-linear career path. General Assembly, for example, has worked with talent acquisition and talent development leaders across the globe, and is committed to reskilling non-traditional talent. A partner like General Assembly also understands the importance of a broader long-term strategy that is committed not only to attracting and retaining non-traditional talent, but to supporting them in their new corporate role.  

The bigger picture–redefining the talent pipeline to prize non-traditional applicants

It’s not enough to simply be open to the idea of hiring non-traditional candidates. It’s essential that you build into your hiring plan an approach for how to engage with, and captivate, this portion of the talent pool. Consider designating a percentage of resumes slated for interviews that represent non-traditional candidates. 

If you’re willing to look outside the confines of a traditional applicant with a college degree and 5+ years’ relevant job experiences, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by dedicated employees with in-demand transferable skills, and fresh perspectives who will help your organization thrive. 

Want to learn more about how you can get your organization involved in proactive and inclusive non-traditional recruitment strategies? Get in touch with us.

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