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How to win the war for talent by skills based hiring

Steven B. McKinney | Jan. 19, 2022

If you want to win the war for talent, skills-based hiring must be a part of your strategy. Judging talent by degrees alone is not enough.

Most hiring managers will start the hiring process by creating a job description. And the typical job description has limitations. Unfortunately, most JD's focus on educational expectations and industry-specific expertise only. Too often a hiring manager will exclude any potential candidate who cannot check both boxes. Little to nothing is mentioned about the skills required for the position.

Author Lou Adler suggests, “Most hiring problems can be eliminated by making one fundamental and simple change – replacing job descriptions with a list of performance objectives the new hire is expected to achieve.”

It's crucial to know the performance objectives of the role to make a successful hire. Is the objective a hire for a newly created position? Or, is it a replacement position? If this is a replacement position, how did the predecessor perform? If she was a good performer, benchmarking against her skill-set is one step towards defining the performance objectives for the position. By knowing the performance objectives, defining the skill set required for the role becomes more clear.

To win the war for talent, implement skills-based hiring. Too much weight on educational expectations is risky business. Some leaders believe we have degree inflation.

Degree inflation in the USA

Harvard Business School conducted a study entitled, Dismissed by Degrees. They propose that there is a degree inflation issue in the USA.
Harvard shares an example of administrative assistants and production supervisors. The study indicated that most people holding those jobs don't have a B.A. or B.S. Most new job postings for these positions list a bachelor's degree as a requirement. Such a degree requirement seems odd. Only 16% of current production supervisors have graduated from a four-year college, yet 67% of the openings for such positions call for a bachelor's degree.

Successful people who never graduated from college

There are many people who have had success without formal education. Actually, some very successful people never graduated from college. Some recognizable names are Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and John D. Rockefeller. These example successful people focused on their skills and abilities. Degree or no degree, they have gotten things done and achieved. Many of these leaders have taken this belief of focusing on skills into their organizations.

Companies not requiring college degrees

Some companies like IBM, Ernst & Young, Penguin Random House have made significant changes to their hiring policies. They are now hiring employees without college degrees. The share of managers hired without a 4-year degree has increased 20% since 2019.

With innovation, entrepreneurship, and significantly smarter fiscal policies, America should eventually escape its "hireless recovery." But what won't hasten new hiring — and might even dampen job prospects — is the mythical belief that higher education invariably leads to higher employment and better jobs. It doesn't by Michael Schrage, Harvard Business Review.

Once I put too much weight on a candidate's college degree. He had a degree in law and professional work experience from a competitor within the same industry. I did not assess his basic computer skills. Based on his law degree, I assumed his computing skills would be acceptable. This example was a pivot point for me many years ago. The pivot was to skills-based hiring.

How to win the war for talent by skills based hiring

If in an interview your focus is adjusted beyond college degrees, you will widen the talent pool. A sharp focus on skills, abilities, and attitude has proven to be effective. Concentrating only on degrees could be problematic.

The risks are great if too much weight is placed on degrees. In South Korea, hiring decision-makers have learned the risks of hiring candidates based solely on their university degrees. The pressure to get accepted into the top 3 universities in Korea is fierce.

Most applicants' priorities are to get into the highest-ranked university possible. Their second priority is the field of study. This practice results in some graduates earning degrees in industries in which they have limited interest.

Ignore skills-based hiring at your peril

Don't get me wrong, higher education and a habit of continual learning are values that I subscribe to. Organizations need to ask the question of interviewees, what can you do for me today? How do those facts assure me that you can deliver what I need today? Skills-based hiring focuses on what you can do. If you want to win the war for talent, you must consider Skills-Based Hiring. Ignore skills-based hiring at your peril.