As we emerge into a new era where tech is disrupting virtually all industries and roles, organisations require a new type of professional. Recruitment consultants and hiring managers need professionals who have the technical know-how and emotional intelligence to thrive in this new environment.

Traditional hiring practices, such as fancy qualifications, weighty CVs, and standard interviewing are becoming outdated in favour of skills-based hiring.

What is skills-based hiring?

Skills-based hiring is an emerging wave of recruitment practice. It prioritises a candidate’s aptitudes, abilities, and accomplishments over their “experience” – that is, whether their job or educational history directly relates to the role they are seeking.  This doesn’t mean that a person’s employment history is disregarded, just that the pedigree and status of their past work is not the be-all and end-all.

The blinkers have come off. Hiring managers have become open to those candidates coming from other industries, or those who may not have taken the expected route.  Skills-based hiring means that grades, certificates, and academic credentials are less important. Instead, candidates need to demonstrate that they have the required skills to get the job done.

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Why experience matters less.

Not so long ago, recruitment practices assessed talent and role suitability on specific, relevant experience. It was a long held belief that if a candidate’s CV showed experience in a similar type of role, or that they had studied a relevant topic at a red brick university they would be the best fit for the job.

Prioritising experience in this way meant that many businesses haven’t found the right talent to evolve into progressive and disruptive organisations.  Assessing candidates based on experience alone excludes highly skilled individuals who may have taken a less formal path. It limits the candidate pool and increases the potential of missing out on diverse hires.

Hiring based on experience alone heralds another problem. Experience tells an employer nothing about how a candidate has integrated into an organisation.  Cultural fit plays a massive part in success and performance.  How well that candidate is invested in your company’s vision and mission cannot be understood using experience alone.

Skills-based hiring.

So should you be a hiring manager looking to expand your team, what are the skills to be looking for?

The hard skills a candidate needs will be very role-dependent, however, each candidate you select must have a host of non-technical skills in their locker.

These so–called soft skills include;

  • The ability to work autonomously, or even remotely.
  • Curiosity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Intelligence
  • Communication

In a 2019 report, Four out of five CEOs were disappointed by their employees’ lack of these essential skills.  They even went so far as to say that their absence was a threat to the organisation’s growth.

Additionally, 55% of CEOs reported that they were extremely concerned about the availability of key competencies, and they were not able to innovate effectively as a result.

Focussing on these universal skills is helpful.  Technology and automation are travelling at such a rate that employees are constantly needing to upskill. Core skills can’t be taught, and enable a candidate to constantly adapt to change.  They facilitate emotional resilience, intellectual curiosity, and problem-solving. While aptitude and an open mind allow employees to understand analytics and garner insights from data.

The benefits of skills-based hiring.

There are many benefits to adopting a skills-based hiring approach.

High performance.

  • Skills based hiring approach ensures that you are looking for candidates with the right variables for optimum performance in the role.
  • You are not disregarding candidates based on irrelevant credentials.

A diverse workforce.

  • You don’t automatically eliminate qualified candidates who don’t hold university degrees or overly specific credentials.
  • A diverse team leads to a broader range of skills and experience with a greater depth of language and cultural awareness.
  • It has been proven that diverse workforces are more creative, innovative and are better at problem solving. I
  • It eliminates an echo chamber culture where nothing is challenged.
  • A diverse set of viewpoints allows team members to debate the merits of different methods and come to the best possible conclusion using a much wider range of information.

A broader talent pool.

  • A diverse candidate pool means a larger candidate pool; you have not eliminated those who don’t meet a standard criteria.
  • A large talent pool allows you to be tactical with the candidates you shortlist.

It is easier to onboard and train new hires.

  • Employees who are screened to match a defined skillset are easier to onboard and train.
  • They have a greater understanding of the role
  • They reach full performance quicker.

Opportunities for overlooked candidates.

  • Applicants who don’t possess the common credentials needed for senior or management positions are often overlooked, despite the skills they may have amassed over their careers.
  • Skills-based hiring allows you to have a system in place to accurately screen their potential at your organisation.
  • This is a shift that is already taking place. Since 2019 there has been a 20% increase in the number of senior managers hired who do not hold a 4 year degree.

Objective screening practices.

  • Removes the bias toward candidates with specific credentials and backgrounds, especially regarding degrees.
  • This preference results in an unconscious bias toward people of specific socio-economic backgrounds.
  • This bias can be removed if the focus switches to what a candidate can do, rather than where they have been.

Boosting employee retention and engagement.

  • Employees without a 4 year degree tend to be longer serving employees.  In fact, they tend to stay 34% longer at each organisation than those with a degree.
  • One idea behind this statistic is that a ‘Right First Time’ hire is made since it was based upon skills. These candidates had the right skills and are doing the job that suits them best.
  • Candidates in these roles find deeper satisfaction and engagement in what they do. They stay longer and contribute more.

How do you adopt a skills-based hiring strategy?

It starts with the Job Description (JD).

  • Rethink your JD.
  • Instead of focussing upon requirements or must-have credentials, focus on responsibilities and outcomes for the role.
  • Clearly state the kind of performance you expect and what skills they’ll be using daily.

Change your ATS filtering.

  • If you’re screening for specific skills, you need to ensure that your ATS is set to filter CVs for specific terms associated with those skills.
  • Consider including search terms that indicate the types of results you’ll need from the role. Think words such as growth, leadership, efficiency etc.
  • Likewise, remove any existing screening parameters that target years of experience and education where applicable.

Test skills early in the hiring process.

  • Ensure that you’re able to test, or at least verify, a specific skill early in the hiring process – before any interviews take place.

Focus on skills at the interview.

  • Hiring managers and potential teammates are typically the best people to determine if a candidate has the adequate skill set for the job.
  • Encourage interviewers to find out more information about the candidate’s skills and past performance.
  • Include structured interview questions to prove the candidate’s knowledge of specific skills or workflows.
  • Ask for specific work examples and results that map back to your skill requirements.
  • Ask other team members to join the interview process to help determine the candidate’s competency level, skills, and knowledge.


  • In the post-interview phase, consider requiring candidates to complete a real-world exercise to demonstrate their skill.
  • Use this as a final round of screening to ensure that the candidate has the competencies you need.
  • This may include ‘hard skill’ tests, such as writing, coding, data analysis or ‘soft skills’ like communication, presentations, and collaboration.

Select candidates based on demonstrable skills.

  • After all the screening phases are complete, review the results with the hiring team to determine which candidate best demonstrated the required skill set.
  • Looking at the evidence, choose the candidate who achieved the best results during each phase of the process, and who has the demonstrable experience that relates to your job.

an african american candidate is being interviewed by two young professional women

Make skills training a priority.

  • Once you make that placement, think “how can I nurture this hire?”
  • If you have gone through the trouble of hiring for skills, you must extend this into upskilling and reskilling for all employees.
  • Foster a culture that nurtures learning and experimentation.
  • Provide the resources and time for employees to upgrade their skills.
  • Keep an eye on market trends to determine which departments and individuals will require upskilling in the future.

Focus on the destination.

  • You must clearly identify the strategic north for the company and for individuals; where is the company and the team employed there going?
  • Knowledge growth and end results should be that north star for individual and collective success – not letters after a name.


Skills-based hiring is a movement that is taking shape and evolving at a rapid rate. Data from LinkedIn reveals that the site has seen a 21% increase in job postings advertising skills and responsibilities, rather than qualifications and requirements.  Furthermore, the number of job postings on LinkedIn that don’t require a degree increased by almost 40% in the last three years.

This progressive approach to hiring has many benefits for your organisation, and those who work within it. It may require a shift in how you manage the hiring process, but once you have a new skills-centric system in place it will ensure you the hires that are engaged, role relevant, and have the resilience to hit the ground running.

About the author: I work hard to find the best opportunities for my candidates and the best talent for my clients. My honest and pragmatic approach helps me to build lasting relationships and deliver real value.  I have extensive experience helping organisations overcome their critical challenges in the digital environment, and have worked with everything from start-ups to major global brands.

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