Forget the skills gap, are you facing a passion gap?

by Caitlin Nobes13 Aug 2012

Must have Microsoft Office experience, sales experience … How many skills do you usually list in job descriptions? Well, there’s a new HR theory in town that’s focused on finding the people with the passion, not just the people who tick all the skill boxes.

For one HR professional, it’s all about choosing someone with the right dynamism who is bright and ambitious; the skills can always be gained through training. “It’s been highly successful for us. Not only is our approach really working for us, but I think there have been some astonishing failures of people that have chosen competency based profiles and the person gets in there and doesn’t have the emotional quotient,” Sharon Gallant, founder and owner of Montreal-based marketing and communications company Gallant Leaman Group, said.

When hiring for passion instead of skills, managers are more likely to ask personal, open-ended questions which reflect the candidate’s personality and enthusiasm. If an applicant can’t pitch themselves, it’s hard to imagine them pitching a product, Gallant said.

For Scott Miller, marketing manager for PaperChef, if the candidate takes control of the interview, rendering the “twenty questions” unnecessary, it’s a good sign. “We’re really looking for that spark. The best candidates break through the structure of an interview because there’s a mutual enthusiasm,” Miller said. “We’re looking for people who want to love what they do, not just think of it as a job or career but who want to love and invest themselves in what they do,” he added.

Miller and Gallant both agree their companies rely heavily on referrals. For Gallant many of these come from academics who are able to point her towards the students in their classes that already show signs of the energy and passion she looks for in candidates.

Current staff are the strongest source of contacts for Miller, whose workers will often mention previous colleagues. He also knows which companies tend to have the same kind of brand focus, so he will look for candidates who work for those organisations.

However, this approach isn’t appropriate for every position, HR and management academic Timothy Wiedman commented. Passion alone could not overcome a lack of aptitude for learning the skills related to a particular job, he said. “Making hiring decisions primarily based on an applicant's passion and enthusiasm can make sense in some types of jobs, particularly at entry-level where standardised training procedures exist,” Wiedman said. “However, if job-related success relies heavily on a person's judgement, experience, formal education, or other personal characteristics, the screening process will have to go well beyond an applicant's passion for the position,” he added.

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