An update on the green job pool

We are still in a hiring trough with demand only increasing for top-quality candidates. But the more narrow market for exceptional talent is actually drying up. Especially in the highly specialized areas of electrical engineering, computer networks, and security systems where the shortage of talent is structural (we have not been graduating enough engineers for decades, not just years), the ever-increasing demand for talent seems insatiable and we seem powerless to correct for it.

What this means for the areas of the new green economy is that the cost of critical skills to design and build renewable energy projects is rising. That — along with a shortage of financing, regulatory and market certainty — is putting the squeeze on project developers and builders. Declines in costs of material and equipment has helped spur some development growth, but unless we can find more qualified talent and technically capable labor we will be unable to take advantage of the promised green revolution. Even though technically oriented educational programs in the last few years have seen an up-tick in enrollment, it will take years for society to catch up without more emphasis on technical education.

This should mean that talented individuals who want to make the move into the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green buildings will have the opportunity to do so — employers will simply have to make accommodations for experience and education. And individuals who get their foot in the door early in this new wave should have an advantage over those who wait for the perfect job to move. So, although readers trying to make the move to green companies over the last year may have felt frustrated looking for that green job, better prospects should be just over the horizon.

However, if you are looking to make the move or have hiring authority and want to bring someone onboard, then it is important for you to recognize that people coming into the organization from outside look different from those that are being promoted from within your firm.

This may seem obvious to most people, but in my experience it is a fact that is easily forgotten by hiring managers in the heat of the moment. The result can be that capable individuals are not hired and poor hiring decisions are made because hiring authorities fail to recognize talent and make the best decision possible.

What should be obvious is that new hires from outside the organization bring unique experiences and qualities that their past employers thought were needed or important, not what recruiting professionals deem necessary to perform specific job requirements. Past experiences should not be either an incitement or an endorsement of the job candidate or what they are capable of in a new system. Like a pro-football team on draft day, sometimes hiring managers need to project people into different roles, considering the nature of their talents and relying on other support elements to make individuals successful in the company.

Talent rarely looks like a hiring manager thinks it should when evaluating people from outside the company. This is a case where it pays to understand the firm and maintain an open mind about talent during the evaluation process. In many cases, what's important about people is not their experience or history, but rather their personal commitment and ability to perform excellent work. Candidates who are dedicated to excellence or set a high bar for the quality and thoroughness of their work usually outperform those without such a deep abiding commitment.

Over the past sixteen years of my career, I have talked to tens of thousands of candidates for a wide variety of positions. From my experience, it is rare to find truly outstanding individuals who would sit at the very top of the ability and commitment-to-quality continuum. I am setting a high bar here, essentially the business equivalent of Usain Bolt or Carl Lewis in track and field. But business isn't track and field, and there is no way to sort talent by the tenth of a second as we do on the track, so what tends to become more important than pure talent is relative fit. Does a candidate fit within a company and why?

Companies often find talent they want to hire but have concerns about cultural fit. I often advise hiring managers to look closely at a candidate's ability to recognize their own weaknesses and make change. It is true that change is often extremely hard, and that the past is the best predictor of the future. But to say that change doesn't or can't happen is nonsensical.

Employers must determine if it is worth the risk to consider someone with cultural questions. The best way to do this is to ask hard questions about what motivates the person and whether they have made deliverate changes in the past. Employers should be listening for sincerity and self-reflection in the answers; a lack of either is a disqualification. This sort of deep questioning often becomes a self-selecting process, because candidates that lose heart will self-select themselves out of such a process. But candidates who hang in there through multiple interviews and refuse to get washed out may also have the stomach for change.

Self-awareness, self-image, critical thinking skills, and a clear grasp of the ego-to-confidence continuum are keys that we look for to weed out risky candidates during our process. If extraordinarily talented candidates demonstrate active listening skills, are highly motivated, and can demonstrate a commitment to excellence in their career histories, they are probably a good employment bet.

The bottom line is that all companies want great employees with enough leadership, financial, technical, project and interpersonal skills to be instantly successful. Frankly, no one wants to baby sit the new employee. Everyone wants people who will make them look good by innovation, focus and a commitment to excellence. Employees who thrive will make fact-based decisions, communicate their vision clearly to others, and take the time to understand the importance of their actions. Finally, companies want positive and confident people who always look for the best in others — individuals with enough ego to stay centered but not to a degree that creates conflict and resistance from others. Clearly, companies want employees who fit with objective, subjective, and cultural criteria. In short, people who will make it easier for their colleagues to do their jobs.

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