Today, knowledge becomes stale as fast as fish does. The key to success is not the amount of information but the speed at which it can be absorbed and used, says Ralf Knegtmans, a recruitment specialist and author of “Agile Talent” in an interview conducted by Monika Redzisz

Monika Redzisz: The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Our knowledge becomes obsolete and our once-useful skills prove impractical. What criteria should companies follow to search for new employees? What kind of people will be able to find themselves in the turmoil of such changes?

Ralf Knegtmans*: Harvard University estimates that as many as 70% of the employees who sit pretty on the labor market today have no skills that will be valuable tomorrow. Although the world has always been changing, this time the changes are not linear but exponential. Everything that is mainstream today will become obsolete tomorrow.

The pace of those changes affects not only companies but also organizations. If the companies do not improve their innovativeness, they will not survive. Innovativeness is driven mainly by professionals who will reorganize the companies from the inside.

Several years ago incumbent businesses, like Kodak or Nokia, seemed impossible to be challenged. Yet, they have failed because they decided to bring innovation too late and only to a limited extent. If contemporary companies don’t want to end up like Kodak or Nokia, they will have to look for employees who can rise to the challenge of the future.

How do you find them? You authored “Agile Talent”, a book that relates to this topic. What does “agile talent” mean?

It is a person who can learn fast and use their knowledge in new situations. It is also a person who can unlearn what is useless and ditch the strategies that used to be effective in the past. I have long wondered why some managers are successful while others are not. I have recruited senior employees for years. It happened to me I employed two people: both having excellent education background, both being graduates from MIT or Harvard, both having similar professional experience. And then I discovered that one of them was extremely successful and the other was not.

Why? What was the decisive factor?

I was really curious about it. I started to read articles on that topic and analyzed related research results. I found out that education and experience is not everything. We look for talents by judging the candidates predominantly by their diplomas and experience, which is not enough in today’s reality.

There is no such thing as “versatile talent” that would prove invaluable in every condition and situation

Instead of concentrating on their past achievements, we have to focus on their potential, especially on their ability to learn and to adapt to new situations. Rapid evolution of technology forces us to constant development. Advancement cannot be stopped, so if we want to keep pace with it, we must improve ourselves.

However, in the case of some professions, education and experience acquired over many years are absolutely vital and do not get discarded so fast.

That’s true. But even those areas are getting automated. Computers and robots are being used increasingly by doctors who have to know how to run them and how to cooperate with them.

I don’t say education and professional experience are irrelevant. But you cannot overestimate their role or treat them as the sole advantages. Today, knowledge becomes stale as fast as fish does. The key to success is not the amount of information but the speed at which it can be absorbed and used. Until recently, it was nothing unusual for the company to keep its know-how for itself. The fact that the internet has become widely available has resulted in emergence of a transparent world where sharing is more and more commonplace. That is why we all have to be agile, learn and unlearn on a constant basis.

The problem is that some us of are braver, more flexible and more curious by nature. Can we overcome our innate traits or attitudes we acquired in our early childhood?

You are right. Let us be honest: not everyone can do that. Not everyone is able to reinvent oneself over and over again. For that reason, the employer must correctly evaluate the candidate’s potential, capabilities, motivation and personality. The world is changing and it won’t wait for anyone falling behind. If you act the same way as you did for the last 30 years, you will hear: “Thank you, we are looking for someone else.”

What should a recruitment process look like?

Companies should get this process structured. In my book I have detailed the nine steps strategy. In my opinion, the first step is to identify the context: it doesn’t matter if a candidate is suitable; what really matters is whether a candidate can be the right person for a specific post in a specific company and in a specific team. There is no such thing as “versatile talent” that would prove invaluable in every condition and situation. In the past, we used to pay a lot of attention to logical intelligence. I believe that nowadays greater emphasis should be placed on emotional intelligence, ability to adapt, and willingness to learn. Those forms of intelligence will be extremely important in the world of tomorrow. We are born with a certain set of traits but let us not forget that we can work on who we are.

No one would like to hear from a computer that they are not fit for the job

It would be advisable to take a closer look at candidate’s personality and motivation and not only at their skills. Companies and universities should draw their attention not only to what people know and can do, as that may get obsolete quickly, but also to what kind of people they are. Are they willing to self-improve and passionate about learning? What is their motivation and driving force? What makes them get out of the bed in the morning? What do they want to accomplish in their life? It is extremely important because it is very likely that they will have to change their profession during their career five or even seven times.

How do you correctly evaluate one’s personality in the recruitment process?

Based on recognized psychological tests describing one’s personality from the perspective of five traits: openness, diligence, congeniality. extroversion and neuroticism. We also have great motivation tests which assess what person’s needs are and how much a person thirsts for being successful, accomplishing their goals, being a part of a group, or getting to power.

What traits should an agile talent, a talent of the future possess?

They must be authentic and creative, committed and internally motivated to act. They must set ambitious but realistic goals, be brave and self-confident. But their most important quality is definitely the ability to learn.

I have read that in your opinion they should also be “a bit lazy”, “prone to getting bored fast” and “able to make complicated processes simple”.

That’s true. Intelligent people get bored fast. They get bored if they lack challenges and then they get a bit lazy. Such people need challenges. They need new, difficult, interesting tasks. As far as simplification is concerned: our world is becoming more complicated, more global and faster. We are bombarded with tons of information. A good leader knows how to sift through it in order to chose the right direction and to convince other people to follow the same path.

Recruitment seen from that perspective is a complicated process that requires in-depth knowledge about a candidate. We already have AI algorithms that help to recruit employees. Do you believe they will be able to identify talents of the future?

Yes and no. At the moment we have computer programs which can match an employee to a very specific post. Computers are able to conduct three out of nine recruitment stages I refer to in my book. In the nearest future, they will probably be able to carry out six of them. But even then, a human will be necessary, for example because of the fact that most of us need interaction with other people. No one would like to hear from a computer that they are not fit for the job, just as we wouldn’t want computers to pass judgments regarding our private relations or assess our credit applications. I think that a human will always get the last word.

*Ralf Knegtmansan expert in modern leadership, HR and talent recruitment. He studied law at the University of Amsterdam, business and administration at Nyenrode Business University, and marketing at IMD in Lausanne. He is the CEO of Dutch consulting company De Vroedt & Thierry, which specializes in consulting and recruitment of senior staff. He is also a member of Cornerstone International Group. He authored “Top Talent: The 9 Universal Criteria for Top Talent” and “Agile Talent”.

The interview was held on 26 September during the 9th edition of the European Forum for New Ideas in Sopot. Ralf Knegtmans was a panelist and invitee of the Forum.

Our Portal was one of the media partners of the event.

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