The COVID-19 pandemic intensified a number of challenges already facing hiring managers and human resources professionals. Talent shortages, high turnover, and the need for more diverse, inclusive teams were key concerns before the pandemic began, and they continue to pose obstacles for companies in every industry.
At the root of all these challenges lies a need to fight a number of biases, focused not only on factors like race or neurodivergence but also on longstanding assumptions about the hiring process itself. By integrating curiosity about candidate skills with the use of AI-based technology to deepen insights, companies can begin to break free of outdated views and build a workforce equipped to tackle the challenges of the coming years.
Different Issues, Common Root
On the surface, the biggest issues facing employers today seem to be largely separate from one another. A lack of qualified candidates seems to have little in common with a company’s inability to retain its top talent, for example, and both may seem to have little or nothing to do with the company’s interest or commitment to diversifying the perspectives its teams bring to the table.
Beneath the surface, however, these seemingly disparate problems share at least one common feature: They all stem from problems with the traditional hiring process, which focuses on credentials and accomplishments rather than skills.
A focus on credentials and accomplishments automatically excludes certain candidates, even when their skills and abilities on the job are sound. For example, a study led by Harvard Business School’s Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman found that 60 percent of responding companies hired the holder of a college degree over a non-degree candidate, even when the latter had skills and experience that would have allowed for success in the role. Because diverse candidates face biases in every area of life, they too may be excluded by a system that values credentials, awards, and titles over skills.
Yet hiring for skills is becoming a matter of life and death for many companies. According to one report from the World Economic Forum, 40 percent of workers will need reskilling by 2025. Workers hired without attention to their existing skills and ability to develop new skills imperil a company’s potential to achieve its goals. They are also less likely to enjoy their work or to find it meaningful, which means they are also more likely to leave.
Hiring for skills can reduce the costs of new hires as well. “How skilled and knowledgeable candidates are when taking on a new role determines how much training is needed and how that training should be facilitated,” writes human resources consultant Tess C. Taylor at Forbes. Candidates with transferable skills that apply to the new role tend to adapt quickly and easily, while candidates with strong learning skills usually do better with training.
Choosing the Right Tools for Better Hiring
The first step to better technology use in hiring is to make sure your existing technologies don’t exacerbate the problem. Bias is more likely in systems that use limited data sets to draw conclusions, or that are not designed with an express focus on addressing sources of bias.
Despite its name, artificial intelligence lacks the critical thinking skills humans possess. The strength of the technology lies in its ability to examine datasets much larger than the human mind can readily comprehend, but it looks for elements it is trained to see. Early use of AI in hiring, then, tended to replicate existing biases in the data presented. Early AI, for example, might recommend a company only hire candidates from the same five colleges attended by its leadership, because its leadership tended to favor candidates who shared their experience of attending those schools.
Today, the right hiring tools for a focus on skills take into account these early lessons. They allow for a focus on factors that affect actual job performance and growth, rather than on factors that represent unconscious biases. The Eightfold platform, for instance, focuses on skills, not only to identify candidates who offer a good fit for existing openings, but also to provide insights as to where candidates with certain skill sets may most effectively grow or branch out.
With the right tools, combined with human curiosity and empathy, hiring managers and human resources professionals can shift their focus from workers’ credentials to their skill sets, tackling some of the largest problems facing human resources today.
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