SmartRecruiters Blog

Should You Hire for Skill or Hire for Will?

Recruiters are often tasked with the difficult task of choosing between a highly specialized employee able to perform specific duties versus a highly motivated employee able to perform many generalized functions.  Without a doubt, this is one of the more challenging situations most recruiters are likely to encounter.  On one hand, hiring for a very narrow skill set might solve an immediate problem but could quite possibly leave the company in a lurch when new challenges arise.  On the other hand, hiring a highly motivated person might be lead to a great long-term outcome but leave employers short on time and staff in the interim.  Not sure where to start?  Keep reading to discover key questions designed to help you decide which is the best fit both today and tomorrow.

Hire for Skill

1. Can the candidate adapt?

In general, hiring a highly motivated employee who is able and willing to learn new skills tends to be the best long-term investment especially if you have the time to train the individual on the job. Not only does the employee gain valuable skills, but also the company tends to benefit from hiring a generalist able to multi-task and/or train others. Of course, specific attention should be given to a non-compete clause especially if the skill-set tends to be easily transferred and the total cost of training must be taken into account.

2. Is the need for specialized skill immediate and/or highly sensitive?

The more immediate the need and the more sensitive or competitive the field, the more likely it is the company will require a specialist rather than generalist. If the need is immediate but not sensitive nor particularly competitive, then (and only then) a short-term, temporary or consulting situation may be considered.  If the need is sensitive or competitive but not immediate then hiring a highly motivated candidate who is able and willing to be trained is often the best option.

3. What is the average tenure of employees?

Every company has different expectations when it comes to hiring new staff and there are definite pro’s and con’s associated with both specialists and generalists. Don’t assume that a specialist will necessarily “stay put” simply because there are fewer available positions; the very nature of supply and demand may deem a higher than average interest from competitors for the very few available individuals with a proven track record of success. On the other hand, we have already mentioned that training a generalist may provide the skills necessary to compete at a higher level especially if not given ample promotional consideration from within the company. Make sure the expected tenure meets the needs of the individual applicant.

4. Is there sufficient work to keep a specialist engaged over the long-term?

The very act of specializing in any given area often means a more narrow focus; to put it another way, specialists are often unable or unwilling to perform a wide variety of other tasks or it may be economically unfeasible to use them elsewhere during “down times.”  Before committing to the long-term employment of a specialist, be sure there is sufficient and steady need to justify the extra expense over the long haul?  If not, obtaining outside help on a per project basis then training a capable employee to take over the duties on an “as needed” basis should be considered.


logjobsTom McKenna  is the COO of LogJobs, the #1 source of hire for supply chain management professionals.


Tom McKenna