Consider the scenario of starting some new enterprise. It may be a new division or business unit within a company. It may be some new task force to tackle a lengthy project. It may be some start-up company or an earlier start-up with new funding to expand.
This new initiative occurs during the current economic environment of high unemployment and low labor participation rates.
The job announcements may be public announcements or may be through referral. In either case, the applicants are rejected as not meeting the requirements for the position.
The position joins the category of plenty of jobs available but applicants are unqualified to fill them.
The country has a lot of job opportunities. It just turns out that all of these opportunities are for very senior-level executive type positions. And yet the job descriptions don’t describe senior executive duties or responsibilities.
In the past, we filled this positions with people who showed promise of growing into the task by learning the specific duties and making the additional effort to meet the challenge of the position. Today, we prefer to leave positions open if we can not find applicants who meet the precise requirements.
There is some justification for reluctance to hire marginally qualified candidates. Certainly there are cases where such employees do not work out. This is not a new development. In the past, the solution was to fire the under-performing individual. What is more recent is that it is more difficult to fire someone. Once a person is hired, an organization is obligated to keep that person through company investment either from tolerating unproductive work or from costly course training (probably both). The higher risk of hiring can explain some of the more selective recruitment efforts.
It is probably more common that a marginally candidate will succeed in the position. A lot of successful people got their start with opportunities they had to grow into. Most opportunities today have such precise requirements that they can only be achieved by working in that exact position at that exact employer.
When these highly selective positions are filled, they are filled with people who have a lot of experience and credentials but still have to grow into the specific scenario of the job. Despite the documented experience and credentials, the new employee may be no better prepared to meet the specific needs of this job than the candidate who has more marginal qualifications.
It would be interesting to study the rate of success of new employees based on how well their prior qualifications met the stated job requirements. Human nature doesn’t change because of a qualification. There is probably not much difference in rates of success between marginal and high correspondence of qualification to job requirements.
Employers may have a different motivation for setting high bars for mid or low level jobs.
A possible alternative motivation that may even exceed the motivation to be successful is the motivation to have a happy workforce. Certainly, there is appeal to the kind of workplaces sometimes portrayed in fictional comedies. But I mean happy more in a sense where everyone is comfortable with their jobs, their duties, and especially with their coworkers. There is a desire to have a workforce that can get along with each other.
In other words, there is a desire to avoid drama in the workplace. In particular, there is a desire to avoid the drama of determined dissent against business goals or practices. Such drama is unlikely to come from happy employees either because they don’t raise the dissent in the first place or they don’t pursue it to the point of making everyone else uncomfortable. Happy employees basically don’t see anything to gain from pushing their dissenting view. Unhappy employees do.
The excessive qualification demands of job descriptions is a proxy to find low drama workers.
One of the qualifications is the experience history. Treasured are long periods at a single employer and no gaps in employment. Such a person is at least likely to be comfortable in a workplace setting.
Another qualification is for skills not just for a general area of work, but for precise skills for the specific technologies selected for this specific enterprise. Lengthy prior experience in this specific technology not only assures that the candidate can be productive immediately but it also assures that the candidate is comfortable with the technology and probably has no exposure to alternative technologies (or vendors). The ideal candidate is unlikely to bring some agenda to adopt an alternative that would disrupt the overall project.
Ultimately, challenges do occur with projects not meeting their goals, schedules, or budgets. When this happens, there is a desire to have people motivated to stay on course to push the original plan through the challenges. If the project does need radical changes to its plan, it is preferred that the change be imposed externally through reorganizations or external consultants. Until that happens, the idea is a workforce happy to stick to the original plan without objection.
To the extent that the happy workforce is a motivation for highly selective hiring, then I think it is relatively recent phenomena.
Earlier, it was more common to find management philosophies that sought out disruptive employees and fanned the drama where it seems to be making progress. They often were able to fight their way out of difficult times without external intervention.
High-Drama work environments are not fun, but sometimes they are better at getting things done.