Skills-based hiring is an alternative hiring strategy that companies can use to assess candidates’ suitability for the role. On Episode 141 of Talent & Growth I was joined by Johnny Campbell, the CEO of Social Talent, to discuss his experiences and advice around skills based hiring. Read on to learn how you can apply this method to your own hiring process. 

How is skills-based hiring different from traditional hiring methods?

Skills-based hiring is a popular phrase that’s been used recently by lots of companies and people. For the last 25 years at least we’ve hired largely based on experience. If you want a recruiter you would look for CVS recruiters, people with recruitment experience, people who worked in recruitment organisations, etc. It’s not rocket science. However, that hasn’t been working for a lot of jobs recently. 

An example is from a customer of mine, his CEO came to him and said, “We need to have a solution for general AI in our product base, and we need people to do that.” So my client went out and tried to hire someone, but there’s nobody out there with experience in heading up the generative AI team in a company because it’s such a new thing. So, he had to go, “Okay, I can’t find people with generative AI on their CV, but who could do the job?” So he went and found people with strong numeracy, experience with programming languages, good communication skills, smart business acumen, etc, etc. That’s skills-based hiring. Rather than looking for the exact experience, you’re looking for someone who has the skills required, not the experience required to do that job. 

Why should companies move towards skills-based hiring rather than the traditional approach?

People are being forced to do it because they cannot fill jobs. Organisations are looking at their roles and realising that there aren’t enough graduates coming out of universities or working for their competitors to fill their demand. This is happening a lot in the tech field because the pandemic forced everyone to move online. Companies like H&M and Zara suddenly had to change their skillset from finding a good shop location to digital marketing, and there weren’t enough people with experience to fill those roles. And you can’t create people with that experience overnight, it just doesn’t work. 

What we’re seeing in loads of areas is an increasingly large range of skills but a shortage of experienced staff. This isn’t just about white collar skills – it’s everywhere. In the service industry people are often hired because they demonstrate good people skills, basic maths and the ability to think on their feet. That’s how most of us got into our first jobs. When you’re 36 years of age and you’re going for a job that’s paying 100k, you don’t expect someone to be hiring in the same way. Because of the way the market is at the moment, people are having to go back to that model for the higher-paying roles, because that allows them to access far more talent and find a good fit. 

What would your advice be for companies who are taking this approach for the first time?

Don’t start with everything. Look at your most difficult to find roles. Talk to those clients or hiring managers and present the data from what you’ve done so far. LinkedIn have done a good job on this – they’ve got a tool you can use that takes the sector, job, category and location and shows you the increase in talent pool you’ll get from skills-based hiring. That’s great because the talent pool is tiny and it’s going to be very expensive to hire for these roles and it’ll take a long time. Use that data to get their buy-in. 

Next, you need to go look at the requirements again, because it will probably need to change from experience to skills. You will have to dig into things like “When you said you want someone who’s from a similar sized company, why is that?” That creates more well-defined qualities like ‘scrappiness’ or ‘versatility’. But how would you assess that? Have those conversations with your hiring managers. 

It’s harder to source skills, because you can’t type in a bunch of keywords into LinkedIn for them. You can’t rely on experience-related job titles during your search. You have to build your own assessment and interview questions that probe your candidates. You’ll need a rubric to measure against to decide what is good and what is bad. There’s a bunch of processes that come from this hiring model that you might not have thought of before. The good news is that once you’ve gone through the cycle of recruiting for one role, you can apply that model to every role. Then you’ll be set up to fill the next role much faster. You’ll also have a story to tell the next hiring manager about how successful it was for the role that you were struggling to find candidates for two months ago.

To learn more about skills-based hiring, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here