Article: Hiring for niche skills: How can organizations champion niche hiring?

Talent Acquisition

Hiring for niche skills: How can organizations champion niche hiring?

A discussion on the challenges and opportunities presented by niche role hiring, for TA leaders and organizations

Over the years, with the ever-evolving business environment and technology, it has become increasingly difficult for organizations to compartmentalize and delineate job roles, as also the skills needed to excel in them. In such a convoluted scenario, hiring individuals for such arcane roles becomes all the more challenging.

In order to define what constitutes ‘niche’, and to discuss its implications on organizations’ TA processes, People Matters recently conducted a fireside chat with Rachel Fitton (APAC Talent Acquisition Leader, HP), Satya D Sinha (Founder & CEO: Mancer Consulting) and Ritwik Lukose Co-founder & CEO, Vahura), moderated by Anshula Verma (Director and National Head-Talent Acquisition, E&Y). Following are some of the key takeaways and insights, from the session.

Niche hiring is fun! 

Right at the outset, Rachel posited that niche hiring is very exhilarating; as it gives companies the opportunity to test their recruiters. Rather than looking at niche hiring as a complex and challenging task, recruiters should consider it as an opportunity to create some fun roles in the organization, she said. In order to do that, TA professionals would need to get a stronger grip on the ever-changing niches. 

Once they have understood which skills are currently niche, and what is their projected business impact, they can go to the business leaders and get their buy-in for the niche recruitment plans.     

Being astute and nimble

Within niche hiring, organizations need to be astute. They need to understand where to put their internal resources, and what to outsource.

For instance, it is not very often that organizations hire Chief Legal Officers. While they will be able to get hold of enough prospective candidates (legal professionals, in this case) for the role via LinkedIn or other modern platforms, it may be difficult to assess their suitability for the role, in-house. The organizations would be better off outsourcing the recruitment for such roles.  

Recruiters also need to be nimble with their hiring approach. Sometimes, unknowingly they put barriers to finding and hiring great people. For example, a call center employee need not necessarily be a graduate; it is more important for her/him to be good with PCs and routine call center work. It is important, therefore to identify and take out conscious biases, and go beyond the norms. For hiring the best-fit candidates, companies should try to follow an augmented approach, so as to create better and more compelling Employee Value Propositions (EVPs).  

Niche skills and Vanilla skills 

Satya spoke about the thin line that separates niche hiring from vanilla hiring. He cited the example of hiring an HR Business Partner (HRBP) with 15 years of overall experience, 7 years as an HRBP, and 100 crore minimum company turnover and at least 200 employees. While this clearly appears to be a case of vanilla hiring; if only a few other filters (like the place of origin, reserved category, disabilities etc.) are added, it suddenly becomes a niche hiring. 

What really is niche?

Debunking conventional categorizations, Satya made the critical point that the definition of a niche role depends on the organization’s core competencies and operating environment. A good example of a niche role would be that of a Java professional in a manufacturing company, or a telecom professional in a Big 4 firm.  

Aptitude and IQ are no longer the primary criteria for evaluating a candidate’s suitability, Satya said. Instead, Learning Quotient (LQ), Digital Quotient (DQ), Social quotient (SQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ), Political Quotient (PQ) and Spiritual Quotient together comprise the core evaluation parameters. Any candidate who has all these attributes, is a niche candidate.  

Attracting the niche talent

When hiring for regular positions, organizations are very used to be the employer of choice, Ritwik said. However, when it comes to niche hiring, they may not be as attractive to the ideal talent that they seek. How do they then, become more attractive to the niche talent that they seek? According to Ritwik, it’s a function of two things:-

1. How the role is positioned within the organization

2. How you are articulating the role to the prospective talent pool

Outside-in approach

The approach that you are using for your regular hires, may not work for niche hires. Ritwik proposed using an ‘outside-in’ approach for niche hires, rather than inside out, as it brings context to where the talent is coming from. He quoted a telling statistic from his own field of influence, to demonstrate the point. When they mapped all the lateral moves in the in-house legal space, he said; they found out that 22% of all lateral hires came from the law firms, and not from other corporates. Another instance is that of Tata Sons, which recently appointed a new Global General Counsel who only has experience at law firms, and has never worked at any corporate.

Essentially, without an outside-in approach, organizations run the risk of ignoring a very valuable talent pool. 

Partnering with specialists

Finally, when hiring for a niche role, it makes sense to partner with a specialist, either externally or internally (as every organization has specialists in different domains). The partnership will help bring the outside-in perspective, and also help position the role better, to your talent pool.

(The session ‘Hiring for Niche Skills’ was held at the Talent Acquisition Leadership League Conference on 9th June 2017)

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Strategic HR, #TalentAcquisition2017, #HR Ready

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