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5 Reasons to Hire for Skill Over Experience

By John Carrozza

When hiring a new person into your organization, it’s very likely that you will review their résumé, CV, or professional profile and assess how their experience might apply to what your team needs. This is a very logical approach to assessing talent; however, when you look at how quickly the skills to perform each role are changing, only looking at past experience could leave you with a big skill gap. Hiring someone for their skills is a much safer and longer-term bet, but it’s hard to change how you may have been looking at talent.

There are many news headlines that share the warnings; we have enough bodies to fill the roles, but skills development is not keeping up with the demands of today’s businesses and tomorrow’s innovation. Even if unemployment rates are high, it does not mean you will have more available talent than your business needs. Hiring for skills means that your workforce is better prepared for changes your business may need to make in the future and are likely more adaptable to the future organization you are starting to envision.

To make sure you not only are attracting the best candidates but also know who they are when they’re right in front of you, the following are five ways to approach hiring for skill.

1. Don’t get too caught up with “fit.” Hiring for culture is extremely important; there is no debating that. However, hiring for what “fits” today is extremely limiting. Think about where your business will be in three to five years and look at fit at that point. Every area of your business is likely evolving; make sure your talent acquisition activities are too.

2. Avoid the shiny pedigree appeal. Many organizations today focus too heavily on sourcing efforts that target candidates with “pedigree appeal”—impressive or prestigious credentials or educational or employment backgrounds. In fact, these days it takes precedence over the thorough investigation your team should be doing to understand whether candidates have the skills needed to do their job today and tomorrow. Make sure you are still using some good old-fashioned interviewing and assessment skills to learn what these candidates gained from their prestigious experience.

3. Leverage technology—don’t fully rely on it. There are amazing tools today to search résumés for key words that can help you create a shortlist of candidates. Where the technology cannot take you any further is uncovering why, when, and how people entertain new career opportunities, and what they need or want before you start selling the job and the organization. Be sure to learn a person’s aspirations for growing their career and constantly enhancing their skill set.

4. Sharpen your assessment skills. Know how to effectively assess candidates for desired skill sets based on prior accomplishments and results, and coach hiring managers to do the same. Think about the skills the candidate has demonstrated and get an understanding of what they learned from their experience. You can do this by actively listening and interpreting for understanding, not just responding.

5. Learn the story of the skills. Know where the value lies in the story of their experience. With at least two skill-based questions (with follow-ups) for each attractive experiential accomplishment in their background, you can get to the story of the skills. Coaching your team who participate in the interview process can help them put the skills in the proper context. An example of a skill-based question could be, “How did you build the skills you needed after a setback?”

Previous approaches may have had you looking for top commercial or consumer brands, or top international schools on a résumé. Many have assumed that if they survived a period at that school, or at that employer, they would automatically be able to deliver what is needed in a particular role. Skill-based hiring has you looking for stories with pertinent keywords, eg, ability to communicate, learning new systems, managing relationships, interpreting situations, forming new ideas, strategic thinking, and respecting others’ input.

Many of these concepts are much harder to teach, change, or develop in candidates regardless of the industry they come from. These are the solid skills that can make an immediate impact and fit in with your culture, today and in the future. For consistency across all your interviews, a scoring tool to identify where the greatest added value would be, where the growth opportunity for each candidate lies, and what your recommendations are can be a helpful way to later review the talent available to you.

Having a strong understanding of what you need each role to bring to your team today—and how their role may quickly evolve—will help you find strong candidates. These will turn into fantastic employees who are adaptable and will help bring your organization into the future. It may be tough at first to be able to evaluate experience and then go beyond that to focus on skills. Know that getting a start on this will give you a competitive edge as the battle to attract, develop, and retain your talent heats up.

— John Carrozza is a principal consultant with Riviera Advisors, Inc, a boutique recruitment/talent acquisition management and optimization consulting firm based in southern California. His career has been dedicated to helping talent acquisition teams perform at their best, and has previously done this at The Walt Disney Company, and consulting for Universal Studios Hollywood and DirecTV. In his spare time, Carrozza has dabbled in producing film, video, and web content. For more information, please visit www.RivieraAdvisors.com.