Want employees that outperform? Stop posting roles and start posting challenges

These days, adaptable, multi-skilled employees are in great demand. At the same time, most recruiting posts I see on LinkedIn and elsewhere are based on job titles. What those recruiters fail to understand is that the people we all want to hire don’t just want a role, they want a challenge.

Who we’re looking for

At Juniper, we’re helping a company conceive, design, and run a new innovative business unit (to productize their knowledge). In the current team-building phase, one of the things we’re struggling with is that while we don’t just want a “Product Manager” or a “Graphic Designer”, that’s the way the recruiters have always worked – they post roles, and weed out applicants that don’t have the experience and titles that match what is posted. The problem is that our clients don’t want individuals that are defined by a role. What they want are curious, open-minded, and adaptable people who have some understanding and familiarity with the questions that they will deal with, and that are willing to pitch in whenever needed and interested to learn whatever they can.

These “Swiss Army Knives” are the types of workers who have a wide variety of skills, but more importantly are built to take on just about any problem you can throw at them. They excel in ambiguous environments, and particularly like complex tasks that are defined as you go. Thankfully, there are more and more of these people every day. The trouble is that they often don’t want the narrowly defined roles that are being offered to them.

What they want

Through my teaching and my work, I’m lucky to spend a lot of time with very smart and successful young people. What the best of them are looking for in a job is an opportunity to be stretched and challenged. Why is it that many young graduates want to work for smaller start-ups? It’s because they know that their roles and work won’t be defined by one activity – that they’ll get the chance to participate in creatively solving all sorts of different complicated problems. These prospective employees thrive in environments where they are constantly being stretched and pushed.

Look at the big consulting firms – they are the one constant in the hiring preferences of top graduates. As the banks fell out of favor and the tech companies rose in the rankings, the consultants stayed at the top of the list. Why? Because they don’t pre-define the work that a new recruit will do. Your primary title is consultant, and what that means changes on a daily basis. It is exactly this lack of role pre-definition that is particularly attractive.

And all of this isn’t limited to new graduates. More experienced workers are also looking for stimulating, multi-faceted challenges as they shift jobs and find new opportunities.

What to do about it

The best recruiters don’t title their hiring posts based on the role. They structure them around a challenge (“We’re building a whole new type of business, bringing financial knowledge to a wide variety of SMEs”) and let the applicants define how they could contribute.

They also look beyond the title of the applicant’s last role and identify the patterns in the applicant’s experience: Are they risk takers who aren’t afraid to leave a stable job for an interesting opportunity? Have they traveled? Do they have interests outside of work? When they were in school did they get involved – seeking out chances to learn and grow beyond what was needed for their program? These are the people you want, not those with 5+ years of experience in a pre-defined role and a related graduate degree.

You’ll be surprised at the incredible tools that applicants will bring when you go beyond the role, and the impact that they will have on your business. Not only will they surpass your expectations in the tasks they’ll take on, but the more of these individuals you hire, the more you’ll change your culture – becoming a dynamic, risk-taking and innovative organization as you go.