SmartRecruiters Blog
Woman with a tablet hiring for skills

6 Steps to Hiring for Skills

Companies have always been hiring for skills. But why has the topic become so hot in recent times? In a tight talent marketplace, companies need to reach further to attract more candidates, tap into diverse talent pools, and keep up their hiring velocity – and hiring for skills is one way to do that. And as they hire for skills, organizations can also attract people with the skills that will build the organization of the future as jobs shift and change.

In any area of business, there are multiple ways of thinking that no longer serve in the current marketplace. One of those areas in talent acquisition is the insistence upon a certain number of years of experience or educational pedigree. Both hiring managers and recruiters can get stuck in these requirements, limiting their ability to attract talent that has the capacity to do the job but lacks the exact pedigree. Hiring for skills helps you get over this outdated practice and focus on transferable skills and the candidate’s ability to develop them in the workplace.

The good news is that hiring for skills doesn’t require a massive investment in technology or a complete overhaul of your talent management processes. What it does require, however, is optimizing the essential steps of recruiting so that you focus on skills as part of a whole-person assessment strategy. Here’s how.

1. Start with Job Profiles & Job Descriptions

The easiest way to get started with hiring for skills is to start small. By starting with one job profile and one job description, you can build an iterative process to bring a skills-based approach to your talent acquisition processes.

The first place to look is your job profiles. Articulate each skill needed to do the job, and then consider, if candidates really need a degree or a certain number of years of experience to succeed in the role. In positions relating to finance, medicine, law, or data science, degrees and certifications may be required. But for others, looking at skills instead of pedigree forces you to think about what is actually needed to carry out the job’s tasks. It could have little to do with what they studied in college or if they went to college at all. Then, craft your job description to clearly communicate the skills needed for the role and eliminate unnecessary requirements. For more, check out our article, How to Write a Skills-Based Job Description.

2. Include Skills as Part of a Whole-Person Assessment

A potential employee consists of more than their skills. They have behaviors, competencies, preferences, interests, motivations, and experiences that contribute to their profile as a best-fit candidate. Skills are just one lens of many that you need to look through. Acknowledging this fact will help you define what is actually needed for each role in a way that you may not have previously.  This includes candidate interest, ability, and internal needs of the business and the team.

Candidate Selection Criteria to Hire for Skills

For example, a person may require technical skills for a role as a customer support technician, but they may also need to have a natural aptitude for empathy and understanding as they troubleshoot customer issues. Not only that, they have to be motivated to use both soft and hard skills throughout the day. Otherwise, they will feel drained by the job and be a poor fit. So the assessment for this position would include both skills and the candidate’s interests and motivations.

3. Design an Assessment Strategy

An effective assessment strategy defines what capabilities, behaviors, and skills you will assess at each stage of the hiring process. It also includes how each of these criteria will be assessed, by whom, and through which tools as candidates move through the hiring funnel. 

Your assessment strategy may include pre-screening questions, test-based assessments, and interview questions relevant to the role. It should align with a hiring scorecard to facilitate an objective evaluation process. An assessment strategy will include a map of each step along with roles and responsibilities. 

4. Ensure Consistency at Each Touchpoint

The most beautiful assessment strategy will not work without buy-in from every person in the interview process. Make sure that each person – sourcer, recruiter, hiring manager, and interviewer –  knows what skills and competencies they are responsible for assessing. 

Clear assessment criteria and a standardized method for documenting it will go a long way toward making whole-person hiring with an emphasis on skills effective. 

5. Communicate Continuously to Build Alignment

It may feel like over-communication, but regular discussion among stakeholders will help you build a skill-based hiring muscle and a better recruiting process overall. You may find that you have to revise processes, assessment strategies, scorecards, or interview questions as you go. 

In your communications, continually come back to what you set out to do in the beginning: assess candidates on skills and competencies needed by the company, in the role, and on the team. Frequent communication will help everyone stay aligned as candidates progress through the hiring funnel and final selections get made.

6. Let Technology Help Lift the Load

You might be surprised that your current tech stack can help you hire for skills – or that adding on one assessment tool offers a powerful way to level the playing field among candidates. Look for tools that help you assess candidates objectively, build a structured and unbiased interview process, and standardize feedback collection. 

As your company builds its skills-based hiring muscle, you may start to consider tools that focus on skills throughout the talent lifecycle. But if you miss the essential aspects of a strong hiring process – effective job profiles,  a clearly defined assessment strategy, and consistent execution of it – those tools will not fully realize their purpose. 

Features of the SmartRecruiters talent acquisition suite that can help you hire for skills include.

  • Easy-to-configure screening tools expand talent pools by allowing for a skills-based approach rather than filtering people out by irrelevant qualifiers. 
  • Candidate scorecards level the playing field by guiding hiring managers on skills-based interviewing. Scorecards make it easy for teams to collaborate, ensuring an efficient and objective hiring process that can help you hire more diverse talent.
  • Integrations with leading assessment providers allow interviewers to view assessment results alongside candidate profiles, ensuring that skills are accounted for at every step.

Want to learn more about hiring for skills? Read our ebook  A Practical Guide to Hiring for Skills.


Lee Ann Prescott

Content marketing lead for SmartRecruiters