By Marissa Geist, CEO

In the middle of the great resignation, researchers from Harvard University and Accenture found that companies were rejecting millions of qualified candidates despite being desperate for workers. What was the problem? While the report uncovered a number of issues, one of the biggest was something the modern recruiting industry generally prides itself on: precision.

As the research illustrates, precision has significant downsides. It's costing companies a lot of great talent and making it more difficult to match candidates with roles where they will excel. It’s time for us to find a more productive balance.

There is such a thing as too much precision

The increasing digitization of the hiring process has required recruiting teams to create more exact job specs so automated systems can effectively scan applications. That’s certainly made for faster, more accurate hiring. However, overly precise job descriptions can weed out perfectly qualified applicants if their CVs lack a particular keyword or an exact job title. You’re also more likely to scare off great talent. While vague job specs may make candidates think you're not serious about hiring, overly specific ones can discourage those with relevant skills from applying. When confronted with a blizzard of requirements, they might not realize they have the competencies you’re looking for.

With this kind of talent acquisition strategy, you tend to get more of what you know. For recruitment teams that are committed to building and maintaining a diverse workforce, that’s a problem. The candidates who make it through automated systems by having the correct words or job titles on their resumes usually end up looking a lot like the people you already have. You’re effectively feeding from your own pool and closing the door to diversity, including all the valuable skills and viewpoints that come from different experiences and backgrounds.

Those aren't the only dangers of too much precision in hiring either. If taken too far, we risk building HR systems that only suit our processes and make our workflow easier. That means we're no longer serving the needs of the organization.

What’s the alternative?

So how do you solve these challenges while still running an effective, streamlined, tech-savvy hiring process? In most countries, by law, you have to have a job for every role you advertise. That mandates a certain level of specificity straight out of the gate. But don’t push precision just for the sake of it. Instead, consider ways to widen the aperture through which you search for talent and add a bit of imagination and humanity back into your hiring process.

Think in terms of job families.

The first step in breaking out of an over reliance on precise titles and keywords is focusing on job families. Think about roles within your organization that demand the same basic skill set. For example, if jobs X, Y and Z all utilize a mix of people skills – such as negotiation, persuasion and conflict resolution – then they belong to the same job family. This kind of thinking allows you to approach hiring with a more diverse mindset, and it creates the potential for greater mobility within your organization as it evolves and adapts.

Identify adjacent talent pools.

Job families provide you with a map of adjacent or even unexpected talent pools you can recruit from. Two positions you might not have considered similar, for instance, are gym membership managers and recruiters. But those roles are actually in the same job family! They both require strong communication skills, an understanding of what motivates people and a comfort with talking economics. By identifying this kind of overlap, you're well placed to advertise to a wider selection of candidates.

Polish your EVP and reach out proactively.

If you're just making the connections between roles in the same job family, odds are that potential hires haven't made them yet. Considering people are unlikely to consider a role that seems widely outside their experience, you can't expect those gym membership managers to spontaneously realize they’d make excellent recruiters. You need to reach out to the talent market and make the case that your organization offers opportunities to stretch and expand their skills. Start advertising open positions in a way that says “Have you ever thought of this as a career?” That way, the job will find the right people, rather than the other way around.

Start closer to home.

The search for talent has become global, and our emphasis on hiring precision has increased the ability to source from a worldwide market. Some companies even pay to relocate tech-matched candidates. But with a more imaginative view of who can succeed in a role, you’ll start to see possibilities in the talent around you. Then, you'll be more equipped to find candidates who better represent the communities you work within.

Focus on what you can give candidates.

These days, people see themselves as their own career ladder. They look for jobs that will reward them with more than money; they want roles where they can invest in themselves. Focusing on skills rather than specs opens up so many conversations about how talent can grow with your organization. The best managers have always had these conversations, but it needs to become a systematic aspect of your recruiting strategy. When engaging with talent, you should show them the career paths within your company that can best support their development.

Precision is baked into the hiring system, and AI tools have only turned up the dial. But organizations don’t hire job titles. They hire people. Recruiting teams must find ways to assess the whole candidate, match skills in more creative ways and identify adjacent career pathways both internally and externally. It’s time to add the human touch back into hiring so we can renew our organizations with diverse talent and fresh perspectives.

Originally featured in Forbes.