How To Hire For The Jobs Of The Future In Your Startup

The World Economic Forum recently reported that post-pandemic, 97 million new roles may emerge and encompass the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms. On the way to that reality, two main forces are shaping the future jobs and business landscape: the COVID-19 crisis and technological progress. 

The first, COVID-19, has spurred a worldwide remote revolution and seen two-thirds of Americans change employers. Of those who have switched jobs, more than half have moved into an entirely different industry.

The second, technological progress, has been taking place for a number of years but has been catalyzed by the pandemic. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  even states that because of new tech like artificial intelligence and smart robotics, 32 percent of people face major changes in the tasks required in their job.

Among the shifting dynamics, soft skills and flexibility have proven to be more important than ever when hiring. Companies want to prioritize great digital communication among remote teams, and employees want the agility to switch roles as tech advances alter existing jobs. In fact, one survey focused on Asia-Pacific found that 59 percent of respondents have been hiring for a specific skill set, even if there isn’t an existing role for the candidate.

To stay ahead of the ongoing changes and curate a skills-focused workforce in your startup, here’s how to hire for the jobs of the future:

1. Look for soft skills instead of hard skills

In the transition to working from home, many companies couldn’t foresee major obstacles in the process. Employees who didn’t have the necessary digital literacy or time management skills couldn’t adapt to the new conditions, causing employee satisfaction and deliverables to suffer. So, for future roles, you need to prioritize people who are ready with soft skills like time management, flexibility and self-awareness. As former IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, recently said: “We can teach [people] the hard skills, but it’s the soft skills they need to come in with.”

Soft skills can’t be taught in a short space of time, whereas hard skills can be part of the training within a person’s working role. For example, not having interpersonal skills in a remote team means interactions are often stunted because a person seems unwilling or disinterested in the task at hand. Particularly when teams have to collaborate virtually, individuals need soft skills to bring a certain energy to collaboration projects and actively maintain a shared team mentality.

It’s more important that your new hires can learn quickly and be a professional chameleon, than it is to hire people with a list of niche practical skills. 

2. Highlight the need for adaptability and transferable skills

As well as soft skills, transferable skills should be a core part of your startup’s hiring strategy. These qualities–like leadership, research and analysis, and listening–can be passed from one job to another, as well as across sectors. The benefit of transferable skills is that they can be applied to different business areas to help you solve problems in new ways.

In the era of digitization, jobs that require human labor are being automated, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely disappearing. Instead, these jobs are being reshaped as people will be needed to assist the machines with processes involving the likes of machine learning or virtual reality.

For startups in the health tech, med tech, deep tech, R&D, and even the food sphere, there will be less focus on laboratory work and more focus on data processing and interpretation. As a result, “hands-on” job positions will require digital skills plus soft skills. Only hiring for tech capabilities is limiting your company’s potential because within a few months or years or years, advancements may mean that your employees have to pivot into a role that needs more leadership qualities than coding competencies. Spending time and money on people who aren’t prepared to handle that switch would be disastrous. 

A 2019 study found that 87 percent of executives saw or foresaw skill gaps in their workforce. To prevent that figure bottlenecking your business processes in the future, avoid hiring for specific skills and target people with general, transferable ones. These latter skills are more malleable and can be reshaped or upskilled at the same pace a job role evolves. 

3. Target career shifters 

Career shifters are essentially people who are in the process of transferring their skills. No matter how their decision was made–triggered by layoffs or wanting something new in life–a career shifter is psychologically better prepared for uncertainty. Active shifters are also hard workers, adaptable, high achievers and aware of the current needs of employers. All in all, shifters are ideal for startups because they’re willing to reshape their entire skill set to fit your company and role. 

Think of it like this: Have you ever joined a new, unfamiliar project at work, college or in your community? You probably found yourself working extra hard to prepare and make a good impression, even more so than others who had been in the group for a longer period of time. That accelerated desire to hit the ground running is what you get from a dedicated career shifter. 

Generally speaking, people change careers five to seven times in their life. In the current pandemic and aftermath that number could be higher. However, people’s skills matter far more than the volume of their changes. 

That said, there are occasions when too much job-hopping is a red flag. If a candidate is experienced and regularly moving between roles, that can be an indication of them making systematic mistakes. You shouldn’t automatically dismiss them, but you should conduct a litmus test. Ask them about their story and where they want to be in the next few years; if they’ve done their research, know why they’ve taken the road they have, and have a planned goal, they’re a true career shifter. If they can’t provide a cohesive explanation, it’s likely that their motivations are superficial and they can’t bring the same reskilling and upskilling opportunities as a career shifter.

4. Create job adverts for jobs of the future 

Hiring for the jobs of the future means advertising in a forward-thinking manner. Firstly, move away from conventional job titles; if you can name the position or role, it’s probably more of a reflection of now than 10 years in the future. Naturally, it’ll be challenging to name what exactly you’re hiring for, so start by describing the problem(s) that need to be solved. Discuss them in depth and avoid stating the tools that you think are appropriate. 

The more general requirements you set, the better. Don’t restrict your search with a checklist of qualifications and experience, nor a predetermined idea of who fits the role. Not being prescriptive means you open the doors for someone to bring in novel approaches and solutions–something you didn’t expect or didn’t know you needed.

Be clear that you’re looking for career shifters by making it part of your startup mission and job ad title, and posting it across your social media channels. By making people feel needed and actively wanted, you ease their fears about taking the plunge to commit to a new role. Your ad can facilitate this reassurance even further by mentioning career shifters you’re already working with, so applicants can visualize themselves in your startup.

Moving forward, soft and transferable skills will be the backbone of agile workforces, while career shifters will power problem-solving. 

At such a pivotal time in the world, businesses and employees have to acknowledge that the job field will be a completely different place in a few years time. Although that realization can be daunting, it’s also an opportunity to learn from the moving parts of now and prepare the jobs of the future, today.

Dina Bayasanova

Dina Bayasanova is CEO and Co-founder of PitchMe, a skills-based talent marketplace for career development and job search.

  • Originally published December 12, 2020, updated May 5, 2023