As the US unemployment rate continues to drop, employers in various industries have been challenged by high turnover rates, especially for lower-level positions. In some cases, employers struggle to even fill positions at all. These trends have led forward-thinking employers to turn to non-traditional candidates—people changing industries, people without degrees, and people with criminal records—to join their ranks.
Who are non-traditional candidates?
As the name suggests, a non-traditional candidate is anyone who might not meet traditional hiring criteria.
- A candidate with an alternative educational background, outside of traditional academic institutions. Advanced degrees are pricey, and there are many online educational platforms that rival the quality of a university. Coursera, Wall Street Prep, CodeSchool, App Academy, and Khan Academy are just a few examples of how non-traditional candidates are educating themselves for a fraction of the cost.
- A person transitioning from a radically different field, either out of personal interest or because their skill set was rendered obsolete by automation/outsourcing. As the labor market increasingly emphasizes flexible “jack-of-all-trades” type candidates, it’s not uncommon to encounter resumés with experience that might seem all over the map. Conservative recruiters might balk and think that these candidates are unfocused and inattentive, while savvy recruiters will realize the latent potential that lies in their wide range of experiences.
- Someone who is currently incarcerated or has been in the past. Both the service industry and manufacturing are examples of how current and former prisoners are put to work. The phenomenon of prisoner labor has been rightly criticized; oftentimes, prisoners work for wages far below the legal minimum. However, as Ben Casselman recently wrote in The New York Times, this is not the case for all employers that employ prisoners. There are many that pay a living wage and help ex-cons reintegrate into society after their sentences end.
Why are they a benefit to my business?
Employers turn to non-traditional candidates when they’re having trouble filling positions, or when they’re faced with high-turnover because more traditional candidates leave too quickly. Non-traditional candidates have their own unique benefits. It’s a well-established fact that gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace, beyond being the right thing to do, is inherently more profitable. The data backs it up—people with different experiences make your team more well-rounded, and better equipped to deal with problems. As Austin Belcak of Grads of LifeVoice writes for Forbes, “cookie cutter teams” constituted by what would be considered to be ideal candidates actually “suffer from a lack of diverse thinking” and are “more likely to overlook errors or miss solutions that could potentially undermine your success.”
Industries across the board—from manufacturing to tech to service to the arts—are embracing non-traditional candidates. Beyond diversifying your workplace, turning to non-traditional candidates is a financially-savvy decision. The labor market has shorted these candidates because they didn’t fit unnecessarily narrow criteria. Because of this, they’re highly enthusiastic while ready to take positions for a lower salary than a traditional candidate.
How can I recruit them?
Recruiting non-traditional candidates begins at the job listing. It’s important not to deter candidates with stringent restrictions on experience or educational background. In addition to your EEO Statement, include a note that non-traditional applicants are welcome to apply, and that you welcome degreeless candidates, older candidates, formerly incarcerated candidates, or those who might not otherwise typically apply.
Beyond the job posting, consider adjusting your recruitment strategy for non-traditional candidates. These adjustments could include highlighting the success of non-traditional candidates within your company on your hiring blog. Consider running ads in publications that might not be part of your target audience, but rather in an adjacent field. This will go a long way towards cultivating your reputation as a company that is friendly towards non-traditional candidates. Adjust your recruitment strategy and it will increase the number of non-traditional resumés that make it to your HR department. From there, you will be able to reap the benefits: a lower turnover rate combined with cost-effective, innovative, employees in your workplace.