Why and How to Start Hiring for Skills in 6 Easy Steps

The term skills-based hiring is becoming increasingly popular. If you’ve been involved with conversations about the future or work, workforce development, or candidate upskilling, you’ve probably heard this term before. It’s used to describe a shift in hiring practices where companies are placing less emphasis on degree requirements or years of experience, and more emphasis on skills when selecting talent. 

The recent imbalance between the supply and demand of labor is one of the key reasons skills-based hiring is having its moment. When there are more job openings than there are candidates to fill them (demand exceeds supply), companies need to cast wider nets to find and attract qualified talent for their roles. Recent research by Harvard Business School and The Burning Glass Institute shows the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Especially for middle-skill positions, companies seem to be re-writing their job descriptions by replacing degree requirements with core sets of soft skills required for success. 

The challenge that skills-based hiring faces is not convincing companies of its benefits. A quick Google search reveals that focusing on skills expands talent pools, reduces hiring bias, and increases equity in the labor market. Instead, the challenge lies with helping companies understand how to hire for skills effectively. Although many companies are dropping degree requirements from job descriptions, this is only the first step. 

Engaging in skills-based hiring really requires two separate but related efforts: 1) choosing skills, and 2) assessing them. To integrate skills-based hiring practices effectively into your process, you can follow these actionable steps:

Part 1: Choosing Skills

  1. Develop a list of key performance objectives for your role. National occupational databases like O*Net are great resources if you’re not sure where to start!
  2. For each performance objective, identify a few skills that someone would need to perform the task well. The term well is especially important here. You’re looking for someone with the skills not just to achieve the objective, but to do it exceptionally well. 
  3. Now that you have your list of skills, the next step is to narrow it down. You can only reliably assess a small group of skills in an interview process. Daniel Khaneman, a Nobel prize winner in behavioral science, suggests limiting your list to six and ensuring those six have minimal overlap with each other. 

*Tip: To narrow down your list of skills, it’s helpful to consider what skills your current employees have. Then, ask yourself whether your team/organization needs more people with those same skills or whether you’re filling a skills gap with the open position. 

Part 2: Assessing Skills In Interviews

4. To assess skills in interviews, ask behavioral or situational questions. These questions allow you to learn how a candidate has exercised that skill in the past or how they will intend to exercise it in the future. Both will help you obtain information about their ability to perform in the role. 

5. For each skill, ask two questions back-to-back and ensure you ask the same questions to every candidate. This gives you multiple opportunities to observe a candidate’s level of proficiency with each skill, making your overall evaluations more valid and reliable. 

6. Rate each question, and plan the scoring system in advance. This allows you to record your evaluations of each candidate’s performance as they reveal information about their skills. 

If you follow these practices, you’ll end up with a comprehensive understanding of each candidate’s skill set, and you’ll be able to compare candidates directly to each other. To truly follow a skills-based hiring process the candidate with the highest ratings should receive the job offer. Experience the benefits of skills-based hiring yourself by following these six easy and science-backed practices!

Make skills the focus of your interviews

Enter your position title in Hireguide and quickly discover the top skills that are most essential for success in your role (or choose your own!). Then, see how we guide you to ask and rate your candidates using skills-based questions and capture your ratings so you can easily compare candidates on your chosen skills. If you’re ready to start hiring for skills, schedule a demo!


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

National Center for O*NET Development. O*NET OnLine. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.onetonline.org/

The Burning Glass Institute (2022). The Emerging Degree Reset: How the Shift to Skills-Based Hiring Holds the Keys to Growing the U.S. Workforce at a Time of Talent Shortage [Whitepaper].

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