The job hunt has become almost a distinct discipline, one in which I soon expect colleges to offer majors and degrees. In fact, aligning potential candidates with possible positions has become an entire industry unto itself, with headhunters and recruiters actively engaged in matching personnel and positions. The printed (electronic and physically published) literature on this subject is vast: a quick lookup for “job hunting” on Amazon.Com yields over thirteen thousand results, and a review of the entry “job search” yields over twenty-five thousand results. The World Wide Web, of course, may have more sites associated with job searches—as both part of the recruitment industry and as merely a place for un- or under-employed people to share experiences and both success and sob stories—than it has sites devoted to pornography. A lot of this information is quite good. Many of the books, such as Richard N. Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute?—newly revised for 2012—are deserved classics, and a large number of the Websites, such as, for example, Randy’s Career Tips, are surprisingly helpful and offer excellent advice. But they focus almost exclusively on career building from the point of view of the job seeker rather than from the point of view of the candidate seeker.
Although this focus on job seekers is understandable, candidate seekers and the organizations they represent would likely benefit from some corporate introspection, reassessment, and realignment of their own perspectives. It is, for example, fairly standard advice for résumé writers to provide accomplishments as a way of demonstrating how they can work within a potential future organization to help its personnel achieve corporate goals. Such a shift in perspective from self to potential employer is one that the organization’s recruiting and human resources personnel should—with the help of all other corporate departments and divisions—also be willing to make. In other words, the organization’s personnel need to examine most carefully the qualifications listed in those posted job announcements to ensure that specifications cited actually match current and future corporate needs.
Many organizations, unsurprisingly usually the most successful, obviously put a great deal of effort into recruitment and hiring, seeking not only the most qualified candidates but those candidates who match the currently evolving needs of the company. Many, and perhaps most, organizations, however, recruit personnel based on a list of qualifications that might best be described as “generic.” For instance, when was the last time you read a job announcement that did not include a statement along the lines of “excellent oral and written communication skills”? Of course, the converse is also possible. Some organizations post announcements with qualifications so specifically tailored for a particular job that the candidate who actually meets its various requirements would have to be grown in a test tube. In the first case, one of the organization’s departments or divisions likely has in its budget funding for a position, but its supervisory personnel are unsure of what they really want or need and, thus, put together a list of qualifications so disparate and broadly ranging that no five persons could possibly meet all the requirements itemized. In the second case, the organization may possibly be advertising for a replacement position, and its personnel have probably enumerated quite accurately the various responsibilities fulfilled by the departing associate only to realize or, worse, not to realize that the person leaving performed quite a lot of diverse tasks.
This second example illustrates the concept of competency creep in an organization.
An individual is hired to perform a particular job, but as other personnel depart, as processes and procedures change, and as various regulations and other requirements either relax or become more stringent, the individual’s responsibilities evolve, and he or she develops new competencies, through perhaps trial and error, on-the-job training, and/or external educational opportunities. The problem, of course, is that most organizations never really examine or attempt to quantify these evolving responsibilities, and they certainly never review the competencies that their employees must possess to meet the additional responsibilities accruing over time.
Both these scenarios—the one in which the organization fills a positions for perhaps no reason better than available funds in a budget and the other in which the organization struggles to replace an associate whose accrued job responsibilities make finding a qualified candidate difficult—reveal approaches in which companies do not employ their chief resources consciously or strategically. It’s like watching a small person pulled along by a leash attached to an Irish Wolfhound: who is walking whom?
The resources in question are not necessarily the organization’s people but, rather, the competencies possessed by the organization’s personnel. (No doubt there are at least a few senior managers who would rather have the competencies than both the competencies and the people combined, but they can’t, even as I can’t send my competencies off to work in the morning while I remain in bed.) A competency, generally defined, is an ability to perform a task within an acceptable range of quality. For example, an individual, when sober, may possess the competency of driving a car. (He or she may assert this competency by showing a driver’s license.) If the same person has had one or two drinks too many during a Happy Hour celebration, the quality of her or his competency may decline sufficiently so that her or his merely showing a driver’s license becomes insufficient to confirm this competency. Thus, broadly defined, a competency may include aptitudes, behaviors, knowledge, skills, and any other capacity that enables an associate to perform a task.
But, although a particular competency may be extremely useful to an individual, within an organizational context, the same competency can be useless. I may have a driver’s license, but, if the company I work for needs me to transport materials for which a HAZMAT license is required, then my regularly issued driver’s license is useless. An associate with a HAZMAT license, however, can, within the appropriate organizational context, provide tremendous value because he or she possesses a strategic competency. As Tom McKaskill notes in his 2011 article for Smartcompany, “Exit Strategies: Identifying Strategic Value,” a strategic competency is an organizational capability: aptitudes, behaviors, knowledge, skills, and any other capacity that the organization can leverage to accomplish overall goals or particular objectives. But, again as McKaskill notes, the strategic competencies reside with the organization’s people. The company itself merely provides a structure.
Thus, even as job seekers can more effectively conduct career searches by considering how their competencies match organizational needs, organizations can more effectively employ their human capital resources by considering what competencies will provide them the most value not only for the present but into the future as well. As the examples of competency creep reveal, associate responsibilities and competencies required to fulfill those responsibilities will change over time. Companies can predict some, though not all, of those changes. But an organization’s not employing competencies strategically from an associate’s first day on the job is a clear failure to use the corporation’s most valuable resource effectively.