Experts’ Table – Vetting Specialized Talent in Learning & Development: Why It’s Worth Using an Expert

etting Talent Expert TTA Blog

In our Experts’ Table series, Michael Noble, TTA’s Chief Learning Strategist, discusses how hiring the right talent can be the most important thing you do for your organization and for yourself.

Okay, hiring managers, let’s talk about our weaknesses. One of mine is that I think I have good instincts when it comes to hiring. The flaw in my thinking, however, is quickly exposed whenever I’m hiring for a highly technical or highly specialized role (one where I don’t have a background in the skills or the expertise personally). Let’s take programmers and developers as an example. I can ask teamwork and culture questions, but I don’t even know how to begin evaluating the candidate’s actual field of expertise. What would I do with a code sample? I do know that it’s a bad sign when I can’t fill up the interview time (in part because stereotypical developers can be very efficient in their communications). In such instances, I typically fall into these traps:

  • The Fatigue Hire: This is the hire that you make because you’ve invested so much time and energy into the search. It seems completely wasteful to start fresh, but you also lack the information that you need to make a hire. So, you bite the bullet and take the risk. Such a bad idea.
  • The Personality Hire: In this instance, you may actually be excited about the hire because he or she seems like a great fit, may have a great communication style, or maybe seems the most like you. This is probably an even bigger risk than hiring out of fatigue. If you’ve failed to evaluate the technical skills or base expertise, maybe you’ve got a few months before you’re back in the same situation.
  • The Resume Hire: This is the fallacy of equating a great resume with a great candidate. We’ve all done this. Wow! This candidate has a PhD in instructional technology and an MBA! They’ve worked for so many cool companies. How can I go wrong? Indeed, let’s count the ways.
  • The Hasty Hire: Given the pace of change and the dynamics in many organizations, it’s likely that you’re trying to hire while doing a million other things (which is why you need to hire). Hiring in haste may mean settling for warm bodies. This isn’t going to do anything for your stress level.

So, if these are our mistakes (or decisions with a higher probability of being mistakes), what is the better decision and how do we get there. They might look like this:

  • The Specialized Hire: This is a hire for which there is a specialized skillset, such as an instructional designer with cross-functional excellence in needs analysis, communication skills, and a working knowledge of multiple learning technologies.
  • The Strategic Hire: Hiring for strategy comes with heightened awareness—that this individual will be critical in meeting organizational priorities or will be filling a key leadership function. Think of a training director, for example, which is both a leadership role and one that may require considerable specialization.

Making these kinds of decisions is so much easier when you are using a talent professional that knows the learning and development space. Your in-house recruiter may be perfectly suited to certain types of recruiting, but the generalist will struggle with both the highly specialized hire and the strategic hire. Here are five reasons why it’s going to make more sense to use an agency with specific expertise in the field:

  1. Access to a broad network in L&D, both in your local area and globally
  2. Experience in consultation, to truly understand the nuances of your needs and accurately map the role
  3. Expertise in assessing and evaluating candidates. Is the candidate a fit not only to the role but to the manager, the team, and the organization?
  4. Time—the talent pro is going to dedicate herself to just a few searches at a time, putting in many more hours that you’d be able to do on your own.
  5. Assurance—most agencies are going to give some sort of assurance or guarantee on the hire. This protects your investment.

The DIY model tends to work better when there is glut of highly talented individuals actively looking for positions. That is definitely not the case in the current economy. Another factor is the rise of the gig economy—using an agency can help you tap into the best freelance talent available in addition to helping you fill those specialized or strategic full-time roles. Hiring the right talent can be the most important thing you do for your organization and for yourself, but it’s not a skill for which we’ve been trained or prepared. It isn’t a weakness to seek out a more strategic solution.

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