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Ep 602: The Skills Mismatch In Hiring


Skills-based hiring is a hot topic as many employers seek to better understand the skills they need in their businesses both now and in the future. With the shelf life of hard skills shortening by the day, companies need to bridge the gap between talent acquisition and talent management to ensure that they are hiring for the skills that actually drive value for the business.

My guest this week is Jason Putnam, CRO at Plum. Jason has tremendous experience in the industry and is continually talking to senior corporate leaders about their skills strategies. He has some interesting and unique insights to share, and this is a must-listen for everyone trying to make sense of skills-based hiring.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current market challenges

• Are companies prioritizing talent management over talent acquisition?

• How is the relationship between the talent management and talent acquisition function evolving?

• The shortening shelf life of hard skills and the importance of soft skills

• The mismatch between the skills employers hire for and the skills they actually value in their organizations

• Skills and productivity

• Are mapping skills within the organization necessary or even possible?

• How job seekers’ use of AI will change talent acquisition.

• What does the future look like

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Matt: Support for this podcast comes from Plum. Plum believes that when people flourish, business thrives with its unmatched scalability. This powerful talent assessment tool uses science-backed insights to measure and match human potential to job needs, enhancing talent decisions across the employee journey from hire to retire. To learn more, visit their website at That’s

[Recruiting Future theme]

Hi there, welcome to Episode 602 of Recruiting Future with me, Matt Alder. Skills-based hiring is a hot topic as many employers seek to better understand the skills they need in their businesses, both for now and for the future. With the shelf life of hard skills shortening by the day, companies need to bridge the gap between talent acquisition and talent management to ensure that they’re hiring for the skills that actually drive value for their business. My guest this week is Jason Putnam, CRO at Plum. Jason has a tremendous amount of experience in the industry and is continually talking to senior corporate leaders about their skills strategies. He has some interesting and unique insights to share and this is a must listen for anyone trying to make sense of skills-based hiring.

Hi Jason, and welcome to the podcast.

Jason: How are you, sir? Always nice to be on. Nice hearing your voice.

Matt: I’m very well and it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Jason: Certainly, thank you. My name is Jason Putnam, and I am Chief Revenue Officer for Plum, based in Austin, Texas. Been here, oh, two and a half years. Prior to this have been in the space for a long time doing very, very similar roles.

Matt: Fantastic. Tell us a little bit more about Plum.

Jason: Yeah, Plum’s a couple of things, which is great. We really built the product 11 years ago to put the human first. So, if you are a human and don’t put yourself in a TA role or a talent role or even thinking about it as a corporation, Plum really is a career compass for you. So, it allows you to go in and it’s free for everyone. You can go in and take it, learn more about yourself. It’s driven by psychometric data, but really what it’ll tell you is what are those things that innately and inherently drive you versus some of those things that drain you. If you’re someone like me, I’m pretty drained by teamwork. It’s not that I can’t do teamwork, but if you put me in that, eight hours a day, I’m not going to be at my best in a job.

But really, it’s set up to ensure that, again, as an applicant, as an employee, or even just as a human who’s out looking for that career journey, what are those things that are going to make you stand out differently than others, what are those things that make you special, and what are those things that when you understand that about yourself and about the role that you’re in or you’re going to, are really going to allow you to flourish?

And on the other side, we are a platform for corporations that allow them to use that same data to screen people in, if they’re in the hiring process, to use that same data onboard them, but also use that thread to pull it all through on that same individual human data, group data, or as a company data to understand where should my talent go? Who should we upskill? Who has the best leadership potential? If we think about succession planning or latticing people in their career, really, when you get all that data and you can have people be more productive, your business is going to thrive.

Matt: So, you kind of put your finger on the pulse in terms of what’s going on in the industry. And it’s certainly been, well, it’s been a very interesting sort of four or five years, but certainly the last few months have been sort of absolutely fascinating in terms of how things are going. What are the challenges that you’re seeing in the market at the moment?

Jason: I think it’s a multitude of things. And as much vacillation as there’s been in the past four or five years, I think the last four or five months has certainly equalled the last four or five years. So, yeah, have a pulse, not just at Plum, but speaking industry, I’m on a few boards and consult a few companies. And what I’ve seen is all that push for talent acquisition that happened in COVID and throughout COVID, and those priorities from an organizational perspective, really, four or five months ago, it flipped on its head, and we’re hearing a lot more now, focusing more, I’m going to say TM and aggregate, but it’s really smaller solutions, project-based stuff within TM. So, companies are looking more on succession planning or leadership potential, where it’s a lot of that drive came in talent acquisition.

Now, I have a philosophy around there that there’s this latency that happens from a boardroom or the C-level as it permeates down into the rank and file who are going to take action. And when there was a lot of uncertainty, and in the states, we have less uncertainty even though we’re in election year. But when there was a lot of this uncertainty six months ago, seven months ago, C-level execs in the boardroom said, “Hey, we need to figure out how to batten down the hatches. We need to figure out, we all hate the words do more with less, but that’s what they heard. And then as that takes four, five, six months to permeate down and action to be happening with a director of TA or a director of TM, or even at the VP level. Now they’re out trying to solve some of these point solutions within talent management.

But what I’m hearing when I talk to, again, C-level execs is that they have kind of changed their perspective now, and they’ve realized that the risk of a recession is much lower. So now, in the last 30 days or so at Plum and other organizations, not that we’re seeing the TA interest that we saw before, and Plum does both, but we’re seeing equal TA and TM on both sides. And I just think it’s that latency that causes the vacillation in the market. And the higher up we can talk in an organization, usually the closer we’ll get to the time sensitivity of what those pain points are.

Matt: One of the things that I’ve sort of found fascinating during this period has been this wish from talent acquisition to reinvent itself, to look kind of internally within the organization and see where it can add value. And I’m just interested to get your perspective on how the relationship between talent acquisition and talent management is evolving and where that might go next?

Jason: Matt, I may give you a long answer on this. I’m pretty passionate about it. So, most people who listen to this are one or the other. But let’s take ourself out of TA and TM for a minute or whatever specialty function we may have, and think of it as different functions like sales and marketing, which I have the benefit to run. Sales, marketing, partnerships, CS, all those things is part of my charter.

When an organization is doing really well, it’s when sales and marketing work really well together. And a lot of times they’re under kind of unified leadership. When they aren’t under unified leadership, what ends up happening if things aren’t good, marketing says we need better salespeople, and salespeople says we need better leads. TA and TM are no different.

And what I find is the definition of success varies for those two groups, whether it’s sales and marketing or TA and TM, if they don’t have unified leadership, or at least a unified charter. So, when I go back to my PandoLogic days, I worked with Jen. We were peers, but we were arm in arm when went to market with it, and TA and TM needs to be doing the same thing.

What I find really interesting, and I recently did a keynote on this, is TA has a certain set of metrics driven by the business as to who they’re willing to not hire but bring into the interview. Ultimately, the interview is this canary in the coal mine, because the talent professional is not ultimately not the one making the decision to hire, the hiring managers, making the decision to hire based on the people who have come in, that talent acquisition has brought into them.

But I want people to think about this from this side, that we’ve all been in roles that we feel really good about. We’ve all been in roles where we look back and go, “Oh, that wasn’t a good fit.” Some of us have been promoted. Some of us have promoted other people. The reason we’ve promoted people, I’m just going to speak for myself, but I’m sure it rings true for many people, is I looked at somebody and said, oh, I’m going to use just general words, “They had grit, they’re dedicated, they work really hard, they work well with others. They bring innovative ideas.” I’m going to promote that person. If we end up getting rid of people, it’s like, “Oh, they didn’t play with others.” Maybe they were too innovative.

All those things that we talk about, none of those are hard skills. Those are all soft skills or stand in for soft skills. Yet the reason we promote people or ultimately get rid of people are not the same set of things we’re using from talent acquisition to bring people into the interview. So, the same reason we’re promoting people who are high performers has nothing to do with how we’re bringing people into the interview. How long did you go to school? Where did you go to school? What grades did you have? Do you know Excel? And to me, it’s that disconnect between the two that if we can bring those two together, which they need to be together, we’re going to be able to pull that string all the way through to say the same thing that we’re using to screen people in is the same predictive data that we’re using to identify future leaders, top performers, people who are good in their job, people who we’re going to promote. So, I’m seeing a lot of push for it, to answer your question, but not a lot of people are doing it in this holistic unified way. There’s still a lot of ad hocness going on.

Matt: Obviously one of the biggest narratives at the moment is this drive from companies to become skills-based organizations. And I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this over the last few months and done quite a lot of research. And it’s interesting that in some cases, people don’t actually really know what that means in practice. What does it mean from your perspective to be a skills-based organization?

Jason: I think it depends on where people are in their journey, but it’s the newest thing we’re glomming onto from an industry perspective. It was quiet quitting, it was the great resignation, it was DE&I, it was AI. it’s all those things. This is just a new stand in for we need to do things better if you want my honest opinion.

The problem you run into with skills in aggregate is what do they mean? If somebody knows Excel, that’s a skill. Is that skill relevant in a particular job? So, if you bifurcate this, there are hard skills and soft skills, that’s what the industries call them. Hard skills are things that you can be taught, learn, and actually optimize and get better at. None of us were born tying our shoes and riding a bike, just like none of us were born knowing how to do photoshop or java or dig a ditch or any of those things. And traditionally, those are the skills that we use to determine if somebody is going to be good at a job.

Soft skills are much more those innate things that make up who people are, those things that drive them or drain them, those things that when they’re in a job or in a friendship, or in a relationship or whatever it is, those things that make them special and make that human that you’ve been in a job like this, Matt, I’ve been in a job like this. I’m in a job like this today. Those things that come naturally to me, I get to use every day in my job, so when I get out of bed in the morning, I’m excited to go to work. When I close my laptop at the end of the day, I don’t go have three drinks. I go spend time with my family because I’m in a good mood. And historically, this goes back to what I was saying earlier. We screen people in for the hard skills, yet we promote people for grit and all those other things that can be assessed through that.

The best way that I explain it to people is there’s really kind of three aspects if you think of a globe, and Matt you and I are going to go have lunch you can’t just give me one street, you need to give me two streets. And if you think of that from a global perspective, longitude are those traditional hard skills, which by the way, have a half-life now of two and a half years, which is all time low, if you want somebody who’s a developer in a particular language, chances are if they have five years’ experience, their half-life is way over of that skill, because new skills are coming out.

The soft skills part of it is latitude, and if you can coordinate those two together, you’re going to have a much better picture not only of the human, but how that human is going to perform, but also how long that human is going to stay. Because if somebody is aligned to a job and they feel fulfilled in a job and they’re using their natural ability skills, they’re 322% more productive in a role, not Plum’s data, that’s just research that’s out there, and they’re going to stay three years longer. So, for me, as a company in this year of productivity, do more with less, if I can align that as a human with the role and make sure they have the transferable skills, both soft and hard, to be good in the job, and have enough aptitude in the skills that I need them to do, if all my people are going to be 322% more productive and stay three years longer, number one, with my human lens on, the humans happy, the person they work for is happy, but the CEO and CFO are really happy.

Matt: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that many organizations are sort of getting stuck on this journey because they’re struggling to map all the skills in their business in terms of the skills they need and the skills that people have. What are they getting wrong here? What’s a different way of thinking about that particular exercise?

Jason: Again, if we look at it from a hard skills perspective, I’m trying to say this where it’s not discouraging, where it’s encouraging. You will never map all the skills, that’s like saying, “I want to map every stone in the entire world.” So, how much do you actually need to know about a human from a skills perspective, either hard or soft to say, “I’m willing to interview them or that they can do the job, and I’m going to push back on that.” There’s people who have approached this that said, “We need a library or anthology of every skill ever created.” Millions and millions and millions of skills. Not just the skills, but the aptitude. So not just longitude, latitude, but think of it as altitude.

And I look at it through a more simplistic lens, that if I’m going to interview somebody, how many things do I actually need to know about them to say they’re willing to interview because I think they can do the job right. And TA has always been about de-risking decisions, and the best way to de-risk decisions is as every single data point possible. Where it’s impossible and if you want to go that approach, you’ll never be a skills-based org.

So, if I’m a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and I’m looking for a neurosurgeon, how many things do I need to know about that person from a hard skills perspective to say, “I’m willing to interview them.” Do you live in Ohio and are you a neurosurgeon? That’s all I need to know.

If I need to hire an enterprise sales rep, I actually probably need to know a few more things, but it’s not more than five. And I can’t think of a job with five data points doesn’t cover this person can probably do the job. There’s never anyone or very few who are a 10/10 hard skills, 10/10 soft skills, and if you think of the hard skills, it’s probably 100/100, it’s not really a thing. So, everyone starts pointing to where they’re deficient and not where they’re 80% or 90% or 95% close to being able to do this job. And if you can align people psychometrically to it, where again, they’re going to use those things that come natural to them. And if there are 10/10 hard skills, hire them, or a 5/5, hire them. If they’re a 4/5 or an 8/10, they’re going to still be exceptional in the job. Teach them the other two things cause chances are those two skills that you said you needed with the half-life of skills are going to be irrelevant in two and a half years anyway.

Matt: Following on from that, one of the things that people talk a lot about is skills adjacency. So, whether that looking at internal mobility to understand where you can shift people across or looking at kind of other industries and other areas to find new pools of talent, it’s kind often talked about, but actually, a lot of employers are kind of surprisingly rigid in their thinking when it comes to thinking about talent and skills like this. How can they think more flexibly to sort of open up opportunities internally and open up new pools of talent externally?

Jason: It’s a great question. I think the root of it is slightly different. I think the root of it is both a combination of three things, culture, age, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. And availability and accuracy of data. So culturally, like how I grew up and age wise, if you wanted to be a CRO, you started as a BDR, you became a sales rep, you became sales manager. There was a ladder, it wasn’t a lattice. And if you wanted to be an attorney, you did this route. If you wanted to be a teacher, you did this route.

But generationally, that’s not how people want to do. They want to chart their career with a compass, not necessarily with an end state, not to have a pattern of what somebody else did, but to kind of control their own journey, and that may require somebody going from sales to marketing, marketing to something else in this lattice journey. But when you map that back to the people who are making those decisions because they didn’t grow up that way, it’s hard to understand.

But number two, the data, the actionable data, is very difficult, because if somebody was, let’s say they were an underwriter at an insurance company, and this is a real story, and they’ve been an underwriter for five or six years, you may think you want to promote them to be a director of underwriting, to keep them and grow in their journey and that person may think that they want to. But if they’re not aligned to that, they can do the job, but if that’s not a job, they’re going to feel fulfilled in and that they’re going to flourish in, but there’s a great job in product that is adjacent to them.

It’s hard for a company to look at that and say, “Well, they don’t know a lot about product,” but this person who’s been at the company six years, who may be raised their hand for a product job or a marketing job, they know everything about the company. They know the customers. You’re better off upskilling that person, and they will upskill faster as long as they’re aligned to the parameters that are needed for the job. They’re culturally aligned, they have enough of the transferable skills, but also, psychometrically, they’re aligned. And the problem is, we’ve never done it that way yet the next generation wants to do it that way. And then the actionableness of the data, plus you have hiring managers who are still really resilient to let their top talent go.

Matt: As a final question, very disruptive times, lots of change going on, some real shifts in thinking, what does the future look like? If we’re having this conversation again in two or three years’ time, what do you think we’d be talking about?

Jason: I think we’re at this interesting impasse of almost different DNA from a human perspective. Meaning, again, how I grew up and how you grew up, where companies looked at human beings and said, “What can that person do for the company?” Whereas the next generation, I don’t mean 18-year-old’s, I mean kind of 30 and younger, they’re looking at it, “What can this company do for me?” And I know that’s subtle, but when you also had the supply chain disruption of COVID which then led to remote work, you now have people that have more options, so they can jump around and they’re looking for fulfilment, and they can take jobs that they’ve never had before, and these geographic constraints aren’t there.

So, like, where I grew up, I grew up pretty rural. If I wanted to stay in my hometown, I would have to have a job at two factories or Dairy Queen. Well, I obviously didn’t do that, but I had to move to do that, that’s not needed as much anymore. But I think the biggest thing that’s happening right now, and I think we’re going to go full circle with this to answer your question, Matt. Companies looked at recruiting and said, “Recruiting’s hard, let’s figure out how to speed it up.” And what they did is they sped up something that didn’t work. So now you had companies focused on speed and then you had candidates focused on quality. I want to make sure I have the best resume. I want to make sure I’m putting all my best foot forward. I want to make sure I have the best degree, but nobody’s really talking about this.

What ChatGPT did was it put speed in the hand of the candidate that they didn’t have before, so now they’re playing the same game and employers hate it. So, employers said, “Hey, we want to control speed, you control quality.” Well, now candidates can go in and take a job description and take their resume, put it in ChatGPT, and every candidate looks exactly the same. So now, because both people are playing for speed, neither of them care about quality because they’re trying to play the same game. So, I think in the next couple of years, one side’s going to have to give in and start focusing on quality again. I think it has to be the employer, because the cat’s already out of the bag with AI in the hands of the everyday person, it’s been democratized where everybody else can use it. So now employers have to start looking at things through a different lens, and that lens has to be other skills, it has to be adjacent skills to your point, it has to be culture, and it also has to be focused on quality, because if both teams are just playing speed, it’s a race to the bottom.

Matt: Jason, thank you very much for talking to me.

Jason: Well, thank you for having me. This is great as always.

Matt: My thanks to Jason. You can follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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