What is skills-first hiring?

Simply put, skills first hiring is a talent management strategy that directly focuses on skills rather than how they’ve been acquired, i.e., through university. The first-skills approach often has a five times better success rate than hiring strictly on educational achievements.

What is skills-first hiring?

Why the recruitment industry is becoming more skills-focused 

According to one report, over three quarters of businesses use some form skills-based hiring to find a new employee, with over half of them now conducting role-specific skills tests. In the United States alone, LinkedIn has seen a 21% increase in job adverts that require skills rather than specific academic qualifications.  

The pandemic and other global affairs changed how employees work and how employers seek out new talent. In this precarious global economy, some might think that HR departments and recruitment consultants can easily attract and retain top talent. However, companies currently need help attracting skilled workers. Luckily, embracing skills-based hiring expands the pool of highly skilled candidates.  

Skills first-hiring vs soft skills hiring 

Much like skills-first hiring, soft skills hiring has gained popularity and is likely to become more common in the recruitment sector.

However, skills-first hiring and soft skill hiring are two separate approaches. Unlike soft skill hiring, skills-first hiring is a more all-encompassing term that includes hard skills as well as soft skills.

The advantages of skills-first hiring 

In this evolving job market, the advantages of skills-first hiring are plain to see. Some of the advantages of skills-first hiring include:

Getting the right people for the job  

The days of considering degrees over skills are coming to an end in many sectors. This is good news, as LinkedIn research shows that organisations that look at skills are 60% more likely to hire the right person with the right competencies. The onboarding phase is a time when companies see if their new recruit is capable of the job and gels well with the rest of the team. 

But the pressure is off when you know you’ve likely hired someone who can make a positive impact on company culture. When people are happy at work, they are more likely to perform better and want to stay in their current roles, which will inevitably earn the business more money. 

Having a larger group of people to choose from

At this point in time, a whopping 75% of businesses say they have trouble filling open positions. But here’s where the magic of skills-first hiring comes into play.

Employers can recruit people with the correct combination of talents for the position, even if they lack formal schooling or conventional career pathways. Research shows that a cashier possesses 68% of the skills required to be an office assistant and 79%of the skills required to be a customer care specialist. What’s more, getting rid of work requirements, such as formal education, removes barriers and improves social mobility.

Keeping hold of your staff for longer 

People are less likely to leave your business when their abilities are properly matched with their roles. People always remain grateful to companies that give them a chance to prove themselves, especially when they’ve been given a shot at a role without formal education. In fact, employees without a typical four-year degree stay at their jobs 34% longer than those who do.

How to get started with a skills-first hiring approach 

Write skills-based job descriptions

The number of managers hired without a four-year degree increased by 20% in 2019, which just goes to show how effective the skills-first approach is. 

When writing a skills-first job description, it’s a good idea to take out any non-essential educational requirements, as people with the right skills but no degree might feel that applying for the post will be nothing but a waste of time. 

Instead, highlight the duties of the position, describe what’s expected of your potential new employee and highlight the skills they will need for the job. For example, someone without an English or marketing degree can be a highly skilled writer. They might even write a blog as a hobby and already have everything they need to become an excellent copywriter.

Keep applications anonymous  

When trying out a new approach to hiring, recruiters can mean well but can still have unconscious biases which gravitate them towards applicants with degrees from established institutes or experience in famous companies.

But remember, this is a skills-based application. If educational background is not important in this case, you don’t need to ask about it. Name bias is another factor to consider in this situation. According to Asana, name bias is dangerous because it’s very easy to favour Anglo-sounding names. This is not a good recipe for a diverse workforce characterised by various skills, experiences, cultures and outlooks. 

If you feel unconscious bias is problematic in your organisation, consider using software that hides the applicant’s name. Also, remember that skills-based applications are a fairly new idea, so give the applicant the benefit of the doubt if they don’t fulfil 100% of the skills criteria. If an applicant has the right innate skills for the role, they’ll likely be able to learn extra skills on the job.

Use skills-based tests 

The results of skills based tests tell recruiters if the applicant can or cannot do the job. There are many skills-based assessments that’ll tell you what you need to know, but one simple method is asking someone to show they can do the job.

If you’re looking for a new copywriter to write about a new line of men’s summer wear for your fashion brand, ask them to submit a blog post about men’s summer wear. 

Their work will tell you exactly what skills they possess. Sure, they might be great writers, but are they also good researchers? Have they taken the time to learn your brand’s tone of voice? Do they possess the skills to convert website visitors into customers? The results will help you decide whether or not to take the applicant to the next round. 

Ask previous employers about the candidate’s skills

Much like in the application process, you don’t need to worry about asking previous employers to clarify educational achievements. Doing this can cause bias, even at this late stage in the recruitment process. 

Instead, ask previous employers to verify skills, how they impacted the company and what they accomplished during their time there. As most employees spend more time with their colleagues than their managers, it’s worth asking your potential new employee to provide a reference from their peers, too.

The bottom line

The job market has changed dramatically over the last few years, which has changed the way recruiters find and hire new employees. 

But with every change comes new opportunities. A skills-first hiring approach ensures you get the right people for the job, expands your talent pool, helps companies build diverse teams and helps more people get their foot in the door of their desired job. To find out more about skills and personality assessments, drop us a message using the form below and one of the team will be happy to help.


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