The importance of looking beyond academic achievement when recruiting - comment

Attitude over A grades. I live and work by this approach and it’s one that has stood me in good stead throughout my life, particularly when it comes to recruitment.

With all the changes that we have seen over the last year, with the stratospheric rise of the digital universe and the significant shift in the way we go about conducting business, a whole new generation of highly skilled and digitally savvy talent has emerged – and it’s turning the world of traditional working upside down.

This new band of disruptive, energetic and unashamedly loud voices of the business environment has been building for some time. The pandemic simply provided an opportunity to supercharge their efforts and showcase how they are the ones now leading the way.

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Traditional career paths are few and far between in the tech sector. Instead, we are seeing a generation of hands-on, digitally aware and digitally curious self-starters, who don’t consider a lack of qualifications or even previous office-based experience to be any hurdle to their success.

Mr Findlay became MD of Hudson before his 30th birthday. Picture: contributed.
Mr Findlay became MD of Hudson before his 30th birthday. Picture: contributed.

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We get hundreds of bright applicants, who are sharp and have great theoretical knowledge, but when it comes to the “doing”, they don’t know where to start. Thanks to the increase in the use of platforms like GitHub, which essentially lets tech enthusiasts improve and showcase their skills, companies like us can see what candidates can do before they’re offered a job, which helps us make informed hiring decisions.

It may be a generational attitude, but it’s one that all industries should be learning from, as it’s keeping both job-seekers and hiring companies in the tech industry a step ahead.

How, therefore, has this affected the approach taken by those responsible for recruitment? Has there finally been a sea change to recognising someone’s potential beyond their exam results or whether they have a degree, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not?

Technical skills can be taught, but personality can’t, he believes. Picture: contributed.

As somebody who left school at 16, I consider myself well-placed to have an opinion on the benefits of taking a more holistic view when it comes to recruitment.

Whilst not everyone is a natural leader or will become a self-made millionaire in their lifetime, the one thing I have learned is that attitude, ambition and aspiration, coupled with a drive to succeed, are far more attractive attributes – and far more likely to have a positive impact on the business overall – than a list of grades on a CV. The traditional education system still doesn’t fully value these skills but they are the ones that will set a person apart from their peers.

Aptitude

Walt Disney was known for his policy in hiring "attitude, not aptitude” – an approach I believe should be more widely adopted. Recruitment is a challenge for any company and finding the right person can take time and energy, but seeing beyond the CV, and looking at an individual’s attitude, is a viable way to ensuring you make a successful appointment the first time around. Getting it wrong by taking a blinkered approach can lead to a drain on time, resources, finances and, sometimes, reputation.

In the same way, I don’t believe you can teach a strong work ethic. The ability to be punctual, to understand the importance of going the extra mile and to holding yourself accountable for the decisions and actions you take in a professional capacity are traits that are part of an individual’s DNA.

I’ve never been into academia. The traditional pathway to learning didn’t suit me. I’ve nonetheless been forever grateful for my teachers, who spotted the drive in me and gave me the encouragement and self-belief I needed.

My own career path to MD was unconventional. I’ve had a thirst for innovative design and creativity for as long as I can remember and purchased my first website domain at the age of 14 with a £4 loan. I used it as a platform to learn advanced skills and build my knowledge and understanding of the online business space. After leaving school, I used the website as my CV to secure an internship. It wasn’t a path without its bumps along the way, but that was my first step on the ladder to becoming MD of Hudson before my 30th birthday.

Blended

According to Russell HR Consulting, a blended approach to recruitment – focusing on both personality and competency – is the most successful means of separating the wheat from the chaff and minimising the opportunity to making the wrong decision. But it does happen.

Recently, Hudson was brought on board to work with an e-commerce client who had been engaging with a senior consultant on a programme of works to boost their online business operations. The individual had all the right credentials on paper but lacked the hands-on skills, experience and practical knowledge that comes with working at the coal face.

With the speed at which our industry changes, it’s imperative that clients have access to people who really know what they’re talking about. The company that appointed the consultant based on his CV lost the contract.

I look for individuals with life experience, rather than direct experience, and the right personality. Technical skills can be taught. Personality can’t. As a company that works with clients whose businesses are predominantly in the retail sector, I have been able to take advantage of employing highly experienced people who have a sound understanding of the industry and teach them how to turn their hand to support digital business models.

It's hunger and thirst for knowledge that I look for in candidates. I want them to show me something different. I want to see what truly makes them tick, and where their passions lie. A traditional CV doesn’t really do that – and I’m sure there are excellent candidates being overlooked as a result.

Ryan Findlay, managing director at Hudson Commerce

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