Last week I attended a Skillful Talent Series workshop to learn more about the effectiveness of competency and skills based hiring vs. the more traditional credential / experience approach.

This is not a new idea, but offers a strong approach to overcome today’s labor shortages. In the early days of the personal computer industry, Dan and I founded Jones Technologies Inc., to provide third party support for hardware and software companies. We ended up selling the business and our unique approach to customer service to Sykes Enterprises (SYKES), but that is a story for another time.

Because we were in small town America and needed to prove our premise that hiring local folks with outstanding work ethic and friendly customer service would strengthen our client’s customer support – we created a pre-employment training program with our local community college, Northeastern .

Our goal was to provide industry and soft skills training that would result in a pool of qualified employees who demonstrated their talents through outstanding customer service and solid problem solving skills. And after hiring, could be trained on the technical aspects of the clients product and tech support solutions.

The one month intensive training program ended with each student sitting in our call center, wearing a headset and ready to input the call into Dan’s call tracking software. The objective was to have the student demonstrate their multi-tasking ability and solve the caller’s problem in real time.

Each student had about 10-15 minutes for their call. We monitored and video taped each session. Well, we got through over a dozen students, and then the building fire alarm went off. The caller, a NJC staff member, who was in another room in our call center, said to the student, ” I hear a fire alarm in the background, do you need to leave the building”. And the student says to the caller in a very calm voice, “not yet, let’s make sure we get your problem solved. I’m sure my supervisor will come and tell me to leave. May I get your phone number in case we get disconnected?” The caller then shouts, “No – it really is a fire alarm! I need to leave.”

The student thought the alarm was planned as part of the call simulation. The good news is that it was a false alarm and YES – the student was hired and turned out to be one of our best employees.

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your hiring process and focus on what knowledge, skills and ability it takes to do the job. It really does work.

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