Source for Skills Developed Outside Their Day Job — Lessons From the Army’s Esports Team

Recruiters look for job experience and then sort by skill level. But an alternative is to look for “skills experience,” which better reveals hidden candidates. “Skills experience” is when an individual has spent a considerable amount of time using a particular skill, but when most of the time that they spent exercising that skill occurred outside of their day job. Joystick skills, for example, can be classified as a “skills experience” category because most people build their joystick skills outside of any official work title, while they are playing video games.

Fortunately, those with strong joystick skills, with a little added technical training, can successfully operate a great deal of heavy equipment and robotics. Sourcing for “skills experience” allows recruiters to find literally hundreds of candidates who traditional “job experience focused sourcing” wouldn’t identify.

The U.S. Army Adds a “Skills Experience” Sourcing Component

The U.S. Army has realized that most of its drones, equipment, and weapons systems can be operating more effectively and safely with soldiers operating a joystick. This evolving Army already has a name: the Joystick Army. But when it was assessing the needed qualifications, it found that their remote equipment could be effectively run by people who have never held the title of remote equipment operator, provided that the recruits brought with them a high level of “hard to acquire through training” joystick experience. As a result, the Army is now adopting the “skill experience” sourcing model to find their future remote operators.

In order to make, literally, millions of civilian gamers aware that the Army puts a high value on joystick skills, it is assembling their own full-time U.S. Army esports team. It’s made up of soldiers who happen to be advanced gamers. In my view, this was the boldest and most innovative recruiting move in 2018. The goal of the team is to make the Army’s needs and interests more visible to this ideal group of potential recruits: young men and women with extensive joystick skills but not directly relevant job titles. When competing with other civilian gamers in formal and informal competitions, team members can spread the word about how important and transferable gaming skills are into many aspects of the Army.

Don’t Think That Your Firm Is Exempt From Needing Joystick Skills

In civilian life, all helicopters, many airplanes, and ships and a growing percentage of construction/mining equipment, robots and production machines are now operated by joysticks. And because there is a significant consequence from a single joystick error, new-hire operators must be extremely skilled, and muscle-trained in joystick operation. In almost all cases, the remainder of the job can be learned through a relatively small amount of technical training.

Given this inevitable and widespread trend toward joystick operations, recruiters should begin meeting with their organization’s COOs and hiring managers in order to determine the extent of the upcoming need at their firm. Most of the qualified talent won’t be found if you demand that the joystick skills were developed under a business job title.

Skills Experience Recruiting Has Worked at Numerous Firms

This recruiting approach that focuses on sourcing for skills over job experience is not new. It has proven to be successful in many firms. For example, because music follows a logical pattern, several firms have found that musicians can be made into programmers with some additional training. Pharmaceutical sales leaders have found that cheerleaders have the tenacity and personality to make great salespeople. Firms like GE that proactively recruit ex-military realize that their discipline is highly valued. And even Walmart found that the elderly often possesses the friendliness and compassion needed to greet customers.

Southwest long ago found that a “friendly help others first attitude” is essential for cabin crew that can later be trained in job duties. The key in every case is to focus on the skills that they have and to fight the tendency to require the use of those skills under a formal job title.

Tips for “Skills Experience” Sourcing

In the past, I’ve written extensively about this sourcing approach. First, about how experience is overrated and then about recruiting talent from the gaming industry. But if you’re currently interested in shifting some of your sourcing resources toward finding those with “skills experience,” here are some tips.

  • Recruit in Internet groups covering interests that require your advanced skills — Ask your own employees which Internet groups are dominated by individuals with your targeted skills. For example, you can find many women’s and diversity groups where many members have the required skills, but they haven’t been approached because they haven’t actually held a directly related job title. For example, if you’re searching specifically for joystick skills, spending time on Twitch (the streaming platform for gamers) makes it easy to connect with gamers.
  • Recruit at clubs covering interests that require your advanced skills — Many clubs cover interest areas that require advanced skills. For example, outdoor and athletically inclined clubs can be great sources when you need physically fit people to do strenuous warehouse or delivery work. And, rock climbing clubs are full of calculated risk takers.
  • Recruit at organizations that share some of your corporate values — if you are looking for individuals who share your corporate values. Visit organizations and Internet sites run by churches, environmental groups, and community service organizations where members clearly value helping others or the environment.
  • Conventions and competitions where attendees have your targeted skills — Attending conferences and events like Comic-Con can connect you with creative types. And video gaming competitions can connect you with those with dexterity and joystick skills.
  • Add words related to your targeted skills to your search string — Develop search strings that emphasize words related to the skills you’re seeking, while purposely discounting the need for a formal job title in the skill area.
  • Employee referrals can also be powerful — Make sure that the descriptive information for your employee referral program also encourages employees to find and refer those with “skills experience.”

Final Thoughts

If you’re not completely sold on seeking out those with “skills experience” but not job titles, let me remind you that it provides an organization with a distinct advantage because you will face little recruiting competition. Most firms haven’t yet realized that for some jobs, advanced skills coupled with a little added technical training and coaching may be enough to get less experienced talent up to speed.

During a time when many firms are questioning whether credentials are a strong predictor of on-the-job success, it’s time to stop worrying about whether the exceptional skills developed by the prospect occurred inside or outside a formal work environment in your industry.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s October event in Washington, D.C.


About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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