Top 5 Most Underrated Sources for Talented Employees

Since the U.S. unemployment rate in 2012 is expected to be slightly under 9%, finding great talent should be relatively easy. But it's not. Many businesses work hard to hire the best employees but often fall short.

If you're struggling to find great talent a lack of effort may not be the problem; making broad assumptions or accepting common stereotypes might be to blame.

Look past the stereotypes, past conventional wisdom, incorrect assumptions. When you know where to look, great employees are waiting for you.

See if stereotypical thinking in the following broad classifications has negatively impacted your approach to hiring great talent.

Where should we start? Single moms.

Single Mothers
The stereotype: Undependable, unreliable, minimal commitment to job, often distracted by personal issues.
I once heard a CEO of a Fortune 500 company say to his Director of Human Resources, "You need to make sure we stop hiring single mothers. They come in late, leave early, won't work overtime, and spend all day dealing with their kids' problems instead of focusing on work."

Single parents do face greater work-related challenges than married couples, if only because they don't have someone to share responsibilities for child care, day care, transportation, doctor visits, staying home with sick kids, etc.

Every single parent -- whether single mom, single dad, or just a parent in general -- struggles to balance work and family. All of us do. While occasionally a single mom will be unreliable or undependable, married moms, married dads, single employees -- unreliable problem employees come in every marital status.

The reality:

  • Single moms shoulder a level of responsibility not found in dual-parent families. They understand commitment; they live it every day.
  • Outstanding problem solvers. (You try balancing work and kids and day care and school and, well, everything.)
  • Great at prioritizing and multitasking. Single moms are incredibly efficient; they have no choice.
Need an employee who keep keep multiple balls in the air, who truly understands the meaning of responsibility and accountability, and who will walk over hot coals for you if you return the same level of loyalty they will give? Hire a single mom.

>> CLICK to check out the next hiring stereotype: Veterans
Photo courtesy flickr user daveparker, CC 2.0

Ex-Military and Military School Graduates

The stereotype: Regimented, overly concerned with detail, unwilling to think outside the box, lacking creativity
I've worked with many people who assumed ex-military personnel were "fine if you need someone to follow orders, but otherwise -- forget about it."

That impression is based on a total misunderstanding of how the military operates. While basic training is designed to indoctrinate and assimilate new recruits, the ultimate goal of military training is to create leaders -- at all levels. (Think your organization promotes from within? You have nothing on the military.)

The same is true for graduates of military schools, including universities like the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. Cadets rise through the leadership ranks based on merit and bear tremendous responsibility for the conduct and performance of their classmates.

And while much of their training is skills-based, some training exercises focus on developing analytical and problem-solving skills, creativity, risk assessment... all skills in great demand in the business world.

The reality:

  • Ex-military personnel live and breathe the importance and value of teamwork.
  • Embrace the chain of command but also excel at taking personal responsibility for performance and results.
  • Instantly adapt to shifting priorities, changes in focus or direction, and general conditions.
  • Have strong analytical and reasoning skills -- and know how to make decisions.
Need an employee who can follow and lead, who is accountable and reliable, who can foster teamwork and lead by example, and who has extensive leadership training from one of the best leadership "laboratories" in the world? Hire an ex-service person.

>> CLICK to check out the next hiring stereotype: Fast food workers
Photo courtesy Defence Images, CC 2.0

Fast Food Workers
The stereotype: Disengaged, rude, disengaged, unable to get a "better" job
Numbers alone disprove this stereotype since a significant percentage of people have worked in fast food at some point. For example, one of every eight Americans have worked at a McDonald's.

Even so, many HR managers who only see fast food jobs listed on a resume tend to be less than impressed.

But consider what employees in fast food positions learn: Food prep workers learn to follow best practices, meet productivity standards, meet quality standards, and in general perform under significant time pressures. Cashiers learn to juggle taking orders, filling orders, and communicating with coworkers -- all while dealing with hundreds of different customers per shift.

The same is true, by the way, of waiters and waitresses. Think of it this way. Who knows more about dealing with upset, irate, or irrational customers: A customer service representative who deals with the same ten or twelve customers, or a fast food cashier who in just a few months will have experienced the best and the worst people have to offer:

The reality:

  • Fast food workers understand the value of best practices and adhering to a system that generates consistent, proven results.
  • Understand the importance of productivity and deliver high output under steady, sometimes unrelenting pressure.
  • Have more direct customer service and customer relationship experience than workers in most professions.
Need an employee who can work fast, work accurately, and work well with your customers? And who is eager for the chance to prove their skills? Hire a fast food worker.

>> CLICK to check out the next hiring stereotype: Farm kids
Photo courtesy flickr usr sfxeric, CC 2.0

Farm Kids
The stereotype: Unskilled, inexperienced, only suited for manual labor
This stereotype is especially prevalent in rural areas, like where I live. Kids who grew up working on family farms that try to enter the general workforce are often seen as lacking in, well, any skills.

Doesn't take a whole lot of skill to ride on a tractor or bale hay, right?

Wrong. Farm kids are introduced to responsibility at a very young age. After all, farm life obscures the line between childhood and adulthood. Many farm kids are trusted to operate machinery worth tens of thousands of dollars and to care for animals worth thousands. Many are expected to get a job done, without complaint or excuse or giving up and asking for help. Farm kids know how to work.

Plus, watch a farm kid stay up all night to care for a sick animal and you will see a worker who truly understands responsibility and sacrifice.

The reality:

  • Farm kids instinctively do "whatever it takes" to get a job done.
  • Have solid mechanical and practical skills, often very creative at finding solutions to problems.
  • Willing to accept responsibility and roll with the punches of forces outside their control.
  • Were operating complex machinery long before you let your child operate a lawnmower.
Need an employee with an outstanding work ethic, a willingness to literally get their hands dirty, with solid practical and mechanical skills, and who will take responsibility like few others? Hire a farm kid.

>> CLICK to check out the next hiring stereotype: Career switchers
Photo courtesy flickr user Cappellmeister, CC 2.0

Career Switchers
The stereotype: No direct skills, no grounding in the industry or profession they seek, failed to succeed in own field
Sadly, I know a number of business leaders who frown on hiring career switchers: People from one industry who seek a job in a different industry or position.

For example, I heard a plant manager of a dairy products factory say about a candidate, "Okay, he's experienced in beverage production but we're not going to hire him... he doesn't know a thing about dairy." (If you believe in karma, another facility hired the individual, he eventually became the plant manager's boss... and a few months later fired the plant manager.)

While experience in an industry is certainly valuable, hiring otherwise talented employees who do not have direct experience brings new skills and perspectives. A skilled pharmaceutical salesperson can sell other products equally well. A talented manager can oversee a wide range of functions and processes. Attitude and interpersonal skills are difficult to train, but skills are not. Would you prefer an experienced employee who creates tension among team members, or an inexperienced employee who you can train who once trained will improve team cohesion and balance?

The reality:

  • Career switchers are highly motivated to succeed; they show interest in your opportunity because they have a better sense of their true interests and goals.
  • Often have greater potential; a career switcher could eventually become a superstar, while an experienced candidate moving into a similar role is likely to only perform at a similar level.
  • Bring different experiences and perspectives and positively disrupt the status quo.
Need an employee who will bring new life to your team, who is eager to work in a new role, and who could have the potential to be a superstar in your organization? Take a chance and hire a career switcher -- especially one who has decided your position or industry is perfect for them... and can tell you why.

Photo courtesy davco9200, CC 2.0

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