Stereotypical Talent

Stereotypical Talent

Stereotypical Talent

What the Barbie Movie Teaches Us about Strategic Recruiting

There’s a moment in the new Barbie movie that perfectly reflects the dilemma many hiring leaders face. America Ferrera, portraying an assistant at Mattel, pitches to the executive team a proposal for an “ordinary Barbie”—a doll that is not an idealized stereotype of what a doll should be, but instead creates value through her representation of a woman with realistic proportions and clear, achievable goals. In the movie, the executives laugh at her proposal and Will Ferrell (as the CEO) critiques it as a “terrible idea.”

Not so fast. #OrdinaryBarbie has become a TikTok trend, inspiring many individuals to post videos celebrating their unique beauty. There’s something powerful about this movement to challenge unrealistic standards and recognize how our specific skills and talents position us to show up and contribute in the world.

It’s also very relevant to conversations about recruitment. Hiring leaders have expectations of what constitutes the “perfect candidate.” Typically, it’s someone from the same industry, possibly even in the same or similar role. 

I encourage clients to reframe these expectations, to focus more on emotional intelligence and cultural fit than job titles or industries. What will determine whether someone can do the job well, and can begin contributing to your organization on day one, are the transferrable skills they bring to the role.

When we discuss these valuable transferrable capabilities, we focus most on: 

  • Communication skills; 
  • Problem-solving skills; 
  • Time management skills; 
  • Leadership skills; 
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills; 
  • Adaptability and flexibility skills; 
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills; 
  • Project management skills; 
  • Customer service skills. 

Skills like these are often described as “soft skills,” but I find that terminology like “hard and soft” may mask the competitive advantage of hiring candidates whose skills are immediately transferrable to new roles and industries. Top talent who can think critically, solve problems, and manage projects efficiently will drive innovation and productivity. New hires who can communicate and collaborate well will build relationships within the organization and inspire teamwork.

These transferrable skills can tell you far more about how a candidate will approach work-related tasks than whether they were working in the same industry. They are a much more accurate predictor of job performance than a title.

They also are a more effective predictor of career durability than technical skills. One of my biggest priorities for the clients I work with is positioning them to build a talent pipeline so that they are consistently able to access top qualified candidates when an opportunity opens in their organization. When you hire candidates with transferrable skills, you’re adding to that pipeline, expanding your organization with future leaders and high-level contributors. These are the individuals with staying power. Their ability to transfer their existing skills to new roles demonstrates a mindset that will equip them to continue to learn and excel in any environment. 

I encourage hiring leaders to think about their organization’s most successful employees. Which skills have had the most impact? Is it their ability to deliver high-quality work on time? Their success at working with customers? Their ability to find creative solutions to challenges? The answers to these questions point to the transferrable skills that should be a focus when hiring.

The key to recruiting top talent is to move beyond stereotypes and unrealistic standards. That’s how you’ll find someone truly extraordinary.