How About a Fixer Upper?

You’ve got a job to fill.  An employee to hire.  You’ve spent days (maybe even weeks) scanning the universe for a candidate with the right skills, experience, and personal qualities to match the preferred candidate profile, but you’re coming up short.

If you’re a recruiter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  As jobs get more complex, requiring unique combinations of technical, relationship, communication, and business talents, the “perfect” candidate has become increasingly difficult, if not down right impossible,  to find.   You also know that hiring the wrong candidate can do a lot of damage.

Helping a hiring manager navigate thru these types of hiring scenarios is one of the ways a GOOD recruiter can become GREAT recruiter!    

The GOOD NEWS is that you have several ways to go!

Obviously one of the first things we do when working with a new client is to make sure their Preferred Candidate Profile is market relevant.   Let’s face it….a lot of hiring managers believe that creating a hiring profile is like ordering their favorite sandwich from the neighborhood deli.  Long lists of “must haves” can easily get a recruiting project side tracked from the start. 

Recruiters always have to ask the tough questions.

These are the kinds of questions we like to work thru with our client before we even start the recruit.

If after a week of coming up short, there are several options we will offer up for getting a recruiting project back on track.       

You can hire the candidate “closest to the mark”.   

The logic seems compelling – When perfect isn’t possible, go for close.   Unfortunately, its the unasked questions that remain the issue –  What key requirements can the client do without?  What key requirements are must haves?.  Keep reading to know what I mean.

You can raise pay. 

Another way to grow your candidate pool is to increase the pay rate.  But tread carefully.  This option not only can impact your staffing budget for this particular role, but for all similar roles in your organization.  There is also the risk that the pay increase won’t translate into a better candidate.  In fact, in some cases a higher rate of pay may actually produce worse candidate – someone with built in ways of working that don’t match your own.  Also keep in mind that candidates who have already mastered the same or similar role elsewhere, may not be willing to make a lateral move, or if hired, can bore easily, prompting an early term turnover.

You can leave the job unfilled – at least for a while. 

While leaving a critical role unfilled isn’t always an option, in some cases it can actually prompt hiring managers to find new ways to use existing staff to get work done.  It happens.  Its a good thing.  There is a growing trend to not hire but instead better utilize the talent you already have.  Check out that idea here. 

You can reconfigure the work to make the job more attractive.   

Another way to expand your candidate pool is to re configure the job to make the job more appealing to your target candidate – sometimes even turn the role into two.  For example, asking an accounting specialist to also do customer service may be asking for trouble.  A person who enjoys being heads down in numbers doesn’t always have the DNA to drop everything to interact with customers. Reconfiguring work so that you hire an accounting specialist who can stay focused on numbers while assigning the service work to other members of your team, will not only solve a here and now recruiting challenge, but just might improve productivity and retention down the road.


You can decide to focus on TALENT -not just skills or experience.   

By shifting the sourcing strategy away from candidates with certain levels of experience, skills, or education to lean into candidates with the “right talent”,  you  might uncover some new sources of lesser experienced candidates who can, nonetheless, be developed into high performing employees.  This is the classic fixer upper staffing strategy – find candidates who have the “right bones” and add that “developmental” component to your staffing plan to turn “good enough” into “couldn’t be better”.    

This blog is all about getting yourself ready to hire “fixer uppers” – giving up the search for “perfect” and look instead for the right talent that can be turned into great contributors. 

When the candidate marketplace isn’t delivering the right candidate, here’s some questions to think about….

1. What components of the job are we already teaching our new hires to do “our way”, rather than accepting how they’ve been  taught elsewhere?     

In every job there are always those components of the work that need to be taught or retaught because your company has a special way of doing things.  Employees in call center roles, for example,  can be trained to use proprietary software, to navigate certain processes or procedures, or even to provide customers with certain product descriptions – things they didn’t know at the time they were hired but with a few days of focused training could pick up.  One of the first things we do when staffing a call center, for example, is help our clients know what skills or behaviors they not only can teach, but are already teaching, and what knowledge, skills or behaviors are “must haves” for their new hires.

2.  What components of the job require personal attributes that are super important to success but not easily trained?  

Using the same call center example, our client may decide that empathy is an important attribute needed to be a successful agent, along with attributes like patience, resiliency, being conversational etc..  If the decision is made to hire only those candidates with previous agent experience, they may not have the personal attributes directly linked to success.  Attempts to train employees to have empathy, demonstrate patience or resilience etc, can look more like personality reconstruction than skill development.

We know from experience that many of the factors employers consider most important to on the job performance, are personal attributes or “soft skills”, not easily trainable.   An employee can be hired because they already have these soft skills, or they can find a way to develop those skills on the job.   

Career Builder periodically publishes a list of the top five “soft skills” employers like to find in the candidates they hire.   In 2019, those soft skills were….

3.  Are there ways for me to lower my hiring standards and still attract a candidate that CAN DO the job? 

From experience, we know there are two categories of hiring requirements, that are the easiest to adjust without compromising candidate quality – experience and educational requirements.  In fact when the experience or education bars are arbitrarily set too high, you can easily end up with no candidates, the wrong candidates, or candidates who ghost the process before there’s even an offer.

Experience.  I learned early in my recruiting career that hiring managers often set overly ambitious experience requirements as a short cut for a much more interesting list of real work or hiring requirements.   A request for a candidate with five years of administrative experience, for example, was a short cut for a more detailed analysis of the actual work requirements. What exactly will your new hire be required to do?  What skills, knowledge,  or personal qualities are needed to that work well?

Here’s the deal.  There are highly talented and career focused administrative candidates who have spent 5 or more years using their skills in a wide range of business contexts, and there are administrative candidates who have done the same administrative tasks for five years or more (I call that one year of experience, repeated five times).   Both candidates meet the five year hiring requirement, but are vastly different in terms of the actual experience they will bring to the new role.

Which candidate will be the right fit for the administrative job I am trying to fill?  It depends on the job.  Great recruiters always know a lot about the actual work content.      

Education.  Another category of candidate requirements that doesn’t always link neatly to job performance are unnecessary or irrelevant educational requirements.  If educational requirements are too high, not only will the qualified candidate cost more, but in the world of AI screening, some really strong  candidates with the “just right” work experience will be overlooked.

Focusing on the ability to get the job done instead of an arbitrary educational credential, can have a big pay off for small to medium sized companies who don’t always get access to candidates who have gone to the “right schools” and earned the “right degrees”.

Some of the best engineers in the world, don’t have degrees from MIT.  Some don’t even have degrees as Bill Gates demonstrated to the world over 50 years ago.

What are the qualities of an ideal fixer upper?

There are a things we look for in candidates selected for their “good bones” but not necessarily the perfect resume….

  1. The personal attributes (i.e. often referred to as soft skills) most important to success in a particular role – attributes that allow the employee to be developed over time.
  2.  A track record of showing  interest in or aptitude for the actual work content – candidates who have a good chance of enjoying the work once they have the skills and knowledge to do it well.  (We call this job content fit…learn more about that kind of “fit” here.)  
  3. A pattern in their work or personal lives of learning new things –  either in previous jobs or on their own.  We look for signs that they know how to “learn oln their own”
  4. The  personal attributes of “potential” – curiousity, determination, confidence, self awareness, motivation, and openness to feedback.   We look for patterns of behavior suggesting these words apply.

Word of caution.  Not all candidates are good fixer uppers.  Some candidates have serious flaws that need to get fixed before they should be hired for any any role. Just because you’re willing to hire a fixer, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to disconnects between words and deeds.  If a candidate tells you they are serious about their career, but have left their last 3 jobs for frivolous reasons or an out of control personal life, their short comings are likely more than just a deficit in skills or experience.  

What resources need to be in place to support a fixer upper staffing solution?

Some companies simply can’t support a fixer upper staffing solution because they don’t have the internal resources to devote to the training and development efforts required to support a fixer upper hiring decision.   If you’re about to hire a fixer upper, make sure their supervisor is aware of the time and energy that will be needed.  And if you’re about to embark on a fixer upper strategy  involving multiple fixer uppers, you’ll need a detailed plan for to organize and deliver the training and development resources needed.

Your commitment to training and development and a fixer upper hire or staffing strategy go hand in hand.

What’s the payoff for hiring a fixer upper?

Fixer uppers offer some unique advantages for employers willing to invest in their skill  development.  Not only are their pay requirements lower, but they are often highly motivated to prove themselves capable.

Employers who uncover special niches or communities of fixer upper candidates, get the benefit of tapping into talent pools overlooked by their competitors.   While their competitors are spending time hunting down candidates already trained by their competitors, companies who are comfortable hiring fixer uppers focus their time training employees their own way.

One of the fastest growing national companies in the staffing industry developed a strategy of hiring new college grads coming off athletic scholarships as rookie recruiters.   While this niched workforce strategy required substantial development investments, it  quickly turned into a high potential/low experience staffing/training strategy that delivered big pay offs for this employer down the road.

Temp to Hire and Fixer Uppers Go Hand in Hand!

One of the ways employers can hedge their bets when hiring a fixer upper is to audition the employee before hiring them direct.  In this scenario, the employer avoids all the costs associated with hiring the employee directly, and uses a third party staffing company like PACE to hire the employee on their behalf and then assign them to work in a temporary role where they can be auditioned for a permanent role.

The temp to hire audition has a number of advantages for both employers and employees when it comes to taking a chance on a fixer upper…

We’ve covered a lot of territory.  Here’s the highlights……


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.

A 5-time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact our Partner Services and Solutions team at 425-637-3312, email us at or visit our website.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]





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