The U.S. Labor Department's most recent release reports that the unemployment rate is holding strong at 8.1%, leaving 12.5 million Americans looking for work. They've also reported that there are 3.8 million job openings. With the statistics so greatly favoring employment, why is it that we can't seem to fill these positions?
Many have tried to locate the cause for this discrepancy between the available jobs in the United States and the pool of applicants from which we pull. Forbes claims, "The huge gap between job openings and jobless numbers suggests something insidious and possibly structural: a talent crunch." Harvard Business Review states that there is a "great mismatch between skilled jobs and the talent needed to fill them," again citing that a "skill gap" is inhibiting employment. But might there more to the story here? How are these applicants being deemed "unqualified" so quickly?
At LevelUp, a mobile payment method and digital loyalty program now serving 28 out of 50 states, we see stacks of resumes. So, how do we sift through the applicants? The knee jerk reaction in the United States is to vet candidates based on what one finds on paper. Candidates often highlight where they went to school, their level of education, their past work history, and other relevant qualifications that are weighed to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the position. But in my experience at SCVNGR Inc., LevelUp's parent company, l have found what an applicant looks like on paper is only a beginning.
Bob Corlett, Founder and President of Staffing Advisors, recently wrote in the Washington Business Journal, "Your resume has a very limited role in your job search. It is one of the weakest possible ways to introduce yourself to someone. It's like asking someone on a date by mailing them a letter -- it is far more effective to get yourself introduced."
At LevelUp, we won't automatically toss you to the top of the pile if you went to an Ivy League school. Heck, our CEO is a Princeton drop out! We toss you to the top if you can stand out. Some applicants do this by sending in videos, or incorporating QR Codes into their resumes, but mostly by highlighting the non-work accomplishments that show their true abilities. Celebrating and hiring based on this creativity is the mentality that is going to help raise job security for entrepreneurs across the country. We do this by recognizing that there are off-paper variables that may be as -- if not more -- important. The primary quality that we seek in applicants is a certain "sparkle."
The sparkle is not about where you went to school. It is not about your previous work history. It is about your entrepreneurial spirit. In 2011 when I attended LevelUp University, an intense training that all new hires go through, we sat around the War Room table at headquarters and introduced ourselves. I was part of the first round of hiring for LevelUp, and as we sat around this table getting to know each other, we each shared a bit about our history. A lot of us mentioned where we had gone to college, as if that would be the definitive factor which would qualify and connect us. Most of us hailed from Ivy League or small liberal arts colleges, but as we delved deeper, we talked about our passions and the risks that we had taken in life to get where we are. We had employees with well-respected blogs, financial newsletters, food trucks, and even chicken coop businesses. Others were former professional athletes and lawyers. Like a light bulb going off, we discovered why we were in the same room together. It became clear that there was something almost tangible in the room that made us all a little bit alike, and it wasn't something that you would put on paper. It wasn't about college or work experience; it wasn't about your SATs or your GPA. It was the "sparkle". It was this motivation, this drive, this ability to learn and create and this recognition that you could be part of something bigger.
What I'm saying probably sounds like a locker room pep talk, but it is real. This sparkle is what we look for in a candidate. It is not easy to hire, no matter what pool of candidates you are looking at, because hiring just isn't easy. It takes time, patience, vetting, lunches and coffees, but when you find someone with the sparkle, it doesn't really matter what's on the resume. What we look for are people that want to learn, people who are willing to work, people that are independent, excited and think outside of the box. You can feel it the moment you're in its presence.
So forget the concept of unqualified. If you think you can do the job better than anyone else, that's the only "qualification" you need to apply to LevelUp, or any start-up for that matter. It's a world built for go-getters, so bring it on! LevelUp will continue to create technology sector jobs in markets across the country, so get creative and apply, to us or to some other start-up that's planning on changing the world. Motivation, creativity and ambition are all you need, so forget where you graduated from (or didn't) and show us what you've got.
Follow Jenna Flateman Posner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LevelUpJenna