Even big conglomerates looking for top executives are opening the door to candidates who don't work at multibillion-dollar, global companies, says Jeanne Branthover, managing partner of DHR International, an executive search firm.
To fill in the gaps, more employers are launching training programs. Nearly half of U.S. employers provided such programs last year to deal with talent shortages, up from 12 percent in 2015, according to a survey by staffing firm Manpower.
Other companies are picking the candidate who meets most qualifications and then bringing on another worker to handle the rest — effectively splitting the job in two and paying each employee about half the original salary, says Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, a staffing agency in the Chicago area.
But, he adds, while businesses are increasingly coming around to the view that certain basic skills can be taught, job candidates must have innate "soft" skills, such as the ability to work well with colleagues and deal professionally with customers.
"They're not going to sacrifice (on job requirements) for somebody who doesn't have the interpersonal skills," Gimbel says.
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But candidates with some rough edges are becoming more attractive because employers have little choice. The low, 4.4 percent unemployment rate means there are few uncommitted workers. There were a record 6.2 million job openings in July, the Labor Department said last week week. And nearly half of about 2,000 companies said they couldn't find qualified candidates for their job openings this year, up from 41 percent in 2016, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
The so-called candidates' job market is a turnabout from the years following the Great Recession, when unemployment hovered near 10% and businesses insisted that job applicants boast nine or all 10 of the criteria on their checklists.
Del Toro Loan Servicing, of Chula Vista, Calif., traditionally hired customer service representatives who had prior experience servicing mortgage loans. But with the hunt for new employees stretching to three or four months from a normal six weeks, CEO Drew Louis decided to waive the requirement about 18 months ago. Instead, he targets job-seekers who may lack relevant experience but relate well to customers, including those who are delinquent on their mortgage payments.
"They have to have empathy," he says. "We're going after a much more available market."
His last four hires included a restaurant manager, an administrative assistant and a stay-at-home mother who was venturing back into the workforce in her late 50s. The company, which has 20 employees, supplies the neophytes with training videos so they can learn the basics and then has them work alongside veteran employees. Louis says he's filling openings in two to four weeks. And while it takes a few months for the newcomers to become productive, even experienced new hires take some time to get up to speed. Overall, he says, the entire process, including the candidate search, has been trimmed by about a month.
Louis is also saving money since the green employees start at about $30,000, half the salary of skilled new hires. And since many earn significantly more than they did in their previous jobs, "They have an awesome attitude," he says. Most, he says, are more willing than older hands to call customers simply to see if they need anything.
Other firms are taking a more nuanced approach. Chicago-based StratEx, which makes human resources software, no longer demands that sales reps have college degrees. "If you took Economics 101 or Psychology 101, it probably is not going to help you sell better," he says.
The company, with about 110 employees, is also open to tapping assistant project managers for project manager vacancies "if you're hiring the right person in terms of innate drive and skill set," he says. "We're taking a calculated risk."
As a result, he says, the company early this year began six-week classroom training for some new hires, a costly move that meant the addition of two new staffers. He says the more flexible hiring criteria don't always pan out and some less polished novices are let go. But if 75% work out, "That's where we want to be."
Still, there are employers unwilling to compromise on qualifications for some jobs.
Ravin Gandhi, CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings of Chicago, whose 300 U.S. employees make coatings for cookware, says the tight labor market has forced him to hire certain managers who have overseen fewer than five employees, for example, instead of an ideal 15 to 20.
But he says chemists who make coatings must meet all of his requirements, including having previous cookware experience, noting the products must pass government inspections.
"Someone might make coatings for car mufflers," Ghandi says. "That person probably isn't the right person."