Skills-Based Hiring: What It Is and Where to Start

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Skills-based hiring is a practice that many employers are beginning to embrace in order to fill skills-based positions. Learn more about skills-based hiring here.

Skills-based hiring can be a highly effective way to fill skills-based jobs, especially those where there’s a conventional talent shortage. It’s also a part of hiring for the future and among one of the best hiring practices of 2021, thanks to its ability to source candidates that organizations would have otherwise overlooked.

Moving toward a skills-based hiring approach requires a change in mentality toward the hiring process. But changing mindsets is only part of what’s necessary. To meaningfully embrace skills-based hiring, organizations must start with the job descriptions themselves. Every single role that an organization targets for skills-based hiring will need a revamped job description.

Below, you’ll learn why skills-based hiring is becoming more popular, what you’ll need to do to your job descriptions to prepare for it, and questions to ask to determine whether your organization is ready to make this change.

The Rise of Skills-Based Hiring: Is a College Degree Necessary to Get a Good Job?

Over the last few decades, conventional wisdom has been that a college degree is the only path toward getting a good job. But in the past several years, thinking has begun to shift on this, both among those entering college or the workforce and those doing the hiring.

Many employers have long included a four-year degree requirement on job descriptions, even for jobs that don’t specifically need them. In some cases, companies include the “requirement” for positions where many or even most of the people already in the role don’t have the requisite degree. Yet 60% of job posts for related positions include a bachelor’s degree requirement.

Today, there are many avenues to acquire the professional skills that employers need. Yes, college is one of them. But it’s not the only one. There are many other avenues, including these:

  • The military
  • Online certification programs
  • Targeted courses that don’t lead to a degree
  • On-the-job training
  • Life experience

Skills-based hiring is one way to invite a broader range of qualified candidates to apply for open positions.:

What is skills-based hiring?

Skills-based hiring is a rising trend where companies consider a person’s abilities and skills first, weighting these more heavily than traditional factors like credentials, college degree, or years of experience in the field.

Employers who have embraced skills-based hiring know they need specific skills to meet specific job demands. They also need employees who are ready to learn and able to be taught. These attributes outweigh many others in a way that traditional hiring practices have not tended to recognize.

Skills-based hiring does not ignore education or experience in candidates who have them. It simply doesn’t make those elements a barrier for consideration.

Why is it popular?

Today’s workforce is facing a staggering talent shortage in certain sectors, especially in professional and high-tech roles. At the same time, many have faced a career pivot or have picked up new skills during the pandemic. Couple these factors with ever-increasing college tuition, and you have an ecosystem ripe for disruption.

In other words, in the face of a talent shortage, it makes sense to ask, “what can you do?” before asking, “Where have you done it before, and did you go to college?”

It’s also a good move in terms of equality and diversity. The quickest way to screen out 76% of African Americans, 81% of Americans in rural communities, and 83% of LatinX workers is to require a four-year degree. So requiring one for a job that doesn’t legitimately need one automatically limits the diversity of your applicant pool in a deeply significant way.

Benefits of a Skills-Based Workforce

There are numerous benefits to embracing a skills-based workforce, including these:

  • Extends opportunities to sometimes overlooked candidates
  • Leads to a more diverse workforce
  • Increases your candidate pool, helping you fill positions more quickly
  • Can create stronger retention

Rethinking Your Job Descriptions: How to Write a Skills-Based Job Description

Skill-based hiring is in some ways a simple change to make, mostly to mindset. But if your company embraces this approach, there will be work to do. Your job descriptions are going to have to change for every single position that’s going skills-based. You may also need to adjust your recruiting strategy to find those overlooked pools of talent. (And yes, PeopleSuite can help you with this!)

Here are three steps to take in rethinking and reworking your job descriptions.

Trim down job requirements that aren’t essential or based in skill

What’s the one constant on nearly every traditional white-collar or professional job description? A line about a bachelor’s degree. And any job seeker can tell you how maddening it is for an entry-level position to list a “requirement” of several years’ experience in the field.

The truth is, there are all sorts of professional jobs that don’t truly require a college degree, legally or practically. People can and do learn job skills in places besides the college classroom, after all. And entry-level jobs often should be, well, entry-level.

These job “requirements” sneak onto job descriptions to narrow the field. But if the field is already too narrow, it’s time to reverse course.

Other common job description items describe personality or attitude. These may be well-intentioned, but they might discourage otherwise qualified candidates from applying, especially those from marginalized groups who suspect “outgoing” or “friendly” is code for “not people who look like me.”

Focus on responsibilities, performance, skills, and results

Once you delete all the stuff that doesn’t have to do with skill, your job description might be looking a little sparse. Flesh it out with the actual responsibilities of the role, expected performance or output, desired skills, and results.

In other words, describe the job in terms of what the person will be responsible to do, create, or oversee — not what you expect them to be or have. In doing so, you’ll encourage applicants who believe they can do those things to apply.

Consider soft skills vs. hard skills

One of the reasons employers started overusing college degree requirements in the first place is the assumption that going to college produces both soft and hard skills. It can, of course, but certainly doesn’t always do so in every graduate.

As you build a skills-based job description, consider both the hard skills (programming, language mastery, physical strength, industry-specific skills) and the soft skills (emotional intelligence, communication skills, creative thinking) needed for the position. Most positions need a healthy combination of both hard and soft skills, so don’t leave the latter off the job post.

An example

Job posts are as varied as the industries they represent, so it’s difficult to create an example that’s universally applicable. With that said, these four steps will get you well on your way toward a skills-based approach:

  • Scrutinize whether that college degree requirement is necessary.
  • Eliminate required years of experience (e.g., formal job) in the field.
  • Prioritize the actual skills and knowledge needed for the position.
  • Still include any required certifications, licensures or degrees—but be clear if candidates can be considered who are in progress or if the company is willing to help a candidate get licensed.

Here’s a more concrete example. Indeed lists 3 sample job descriptions for software developer jobs. The first one is not skills-based, as it leads off with several “1+ years” requirements. The remaining two are prime examples of skills-based formats, leading with what candidates need to be able to do, not what they should have already done.

Questions for Employers to Consider Before Transitioning to Skills-Based Hiring

Skills-based hiring can create great hiring success for a company, but don’t jump in too quickly. Employers need to ask several questions about themselves and their organizations first.

Is my organization ready for skills-based hiring?

First, ask if your organization is ready. Every business has a culture. Is yours one of openness, or is it more staid and traditional? If you don’t think you’ll get buy-in where you need it, you might need to do some groundwork before making a transition to skills-based hiring.  

Do I have the bandwidth to provide the needed training?

A skills-based hiring approach may require more training from hiring managers and others in the organization. Candidates with the right skills who lack attributes that you’ve come to expect (like a college degree, for example) may need additional training beyond what you’ve typically given. Make sure your hiring managers (and you) have the bandwidth you need to handle the potential of additional training before you make the move.

Are there skill gaps within my current organization?

One of the biggest motivators for pursuing skills-based hiring is to fill a particular skill gap in your workforce. If you don’t know where those are in your organization (or aren’t sure whether you have them), you need to make those determinations before moving too aggressively into skills-based hiring.

Hiring Is Challenging. PeopleSuite Can Help.

Skills-based hiring is an attractive solution for many companies, at least for certain positions. But it isn’t magical, and it won’t solve all your hiring challenges overnight.

The uncomfortable reality is this: many organizations have biases or blind spots when it comes to hiring — and the individual hiring managers who contribute to these trends are often completely unaware that it’s happening.

Healthy hiring practices include assessing candidates both for their culture fit (how well they will mesh with the current team) and their culture add (what they can bring to the table that’s lacking right now). Both are important, but one or the other often gets overlooked.

PeopleSuite helps organizations solve hiring challenges by finding the right people for the right positions. We help teams to eliminate or reduce biases and assess candidates for both culture fit and culture add, not just one or the other. We also offer behavioral assessments that help to vet qualified candidates, including skills-based job candidates.

If you’re ready to improve your hiring efforts, it’s time for PeopleSuite. We’ll help your organization identify where skills-based hiring makes sense, and then we’ll help you find the people.

Questions? We understand. Connect with us to get the answers you’re looking for (and the people you’re struggling to find).

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