September 14, 2021

Revealing Untapped Skills and Capabilities Across Candidate Populations

Much conversation around hiring to date has focused on the upheaval wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many hiring issues, however, preceded the pandemic and continue to challenge human resources staff and hiring managers today.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from June 2019, for example, found that 12 million U.S. workers were unemployed or underemployed, even as the “skills gap” loomed as a crisis for millions of U.S. businesses. With so many workers seeking jobs, why are employers unable to find the people they need?

The answer may lie in employers’ reliance on outdated hiring practices that focus on education, former experience, or team fit, rather than on skills and capabilities. To discover candidates’ true skills profiles, employers will need to adapt their hiring practices.

The Time to Embrace Skills-Based Hiring Is Now

The COVID-19 pandemic drove a rapid change in how companies handle a wide range of tasks, from daily work to hiring. It also revealed a number of weak points in companies’ hiring and retention practices, many of which met their full obsolescence during the pandemic.

“Leaders would be well served by taking the opportunity to learn how to apply the innovations and advances implemented in recent months and developing an approach for ongoing workplace reinvention that is more resilient to all types of disruption,” write Gerald C. Kane and fellow researchers at MIT Sloan Management Review.

The pandemic has created both challenges and opportunities for companies in every industry. Major topics of conversation include:

  • The need to embrace new ways of working, including remote work.
  • How to focus on workers’ skill sets, rather than on discrete jobs, tasks, or projects.
  • Leveraging data across workers’ careers, from hiring to career agility and skill planning.
  • Using data for more granular worker reviews in order to drive skill growth.

For many employers, the question of how to reach these goals is a pressing one. The old model of seeing the workforce in terms of discrete job roles and tasks does not serve today’s workplace. Introducing a skills-based approach to cultivating a talent pool is one place to start.

Close up of young cheerful brunette woman looking through magnifying glass; hire for skills and capabilities concept

Dig Deep Into the Demands of the Role

Traditionally, job descriptions focus on a role’s essential functions. They list what the person holding the role needs to do or produce, but do not mention the skills required in order to reach those goals.

Yet a focus on skills is becoming more essential than ever. A 2020 World Economic Forum report estimates that 40 percent of workers will need new skills by 2025. Ninety-four percent of business leaders surveyed said workers will need to be able to learn new skills on the job. Many of these new skills will be required for workers to meet the same requirements listed in the conventional job description, but hiring for those goals won’t guarantee that workers have the ability to adapt their skill sets.

When hiring, look at the skills required to complete each expectation listed in the job description. Then, consider the skills required by candidates to learn new ways to meet those expectations as the nature of work changes.

A deep dive into the demands of the role will also reveal its most-used transferable skills, which candidates can develop in any role or industry. Companies that understand how transferable skills apply to the role they’re hiring for can focus on finding those skills in any applicant’s work history, not merely work histories that closely relate to the role.

Finally, understand which skills underpin the role so that your team can focus on these skills during the interview itself.

Candidates often come prepared for job interviews, having scoured popular advice on how to prepare. In an interview with CNBC, for example, Facebook vice president of people Lori Goler recommended that candidates read recent earnings articles in order to prepare for interviews with the social media giant.

Candidates who follow such advice may have much to say about the company’s mission, vision, goals, or current performance. They may be ill-equipped, however, to discuss their own specific skill sets or how those mesh with the skills already present on your teams. When hiring managers understand which skills are essential to the job, they can guide a conversation that focuses on what candidates can do, rather than on what they think the organization wants.

Curate Your Candidate Pool With Skill-Focused Curiosity

Candidates and hiring managers alike are used to looking for key credentials and accomplishments as they build their talent pool. To hire for skills, however, look beyond what a candidate did to how they accomplished it, as well as how they might learn how to do something they haven’t done before.

“Take the food servers who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” writes LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky. “They have 70 percent of the skills needed to be a customer service specialist, which is one of the most in-demand jobs on LinkedIn. But they don’t know that, and the people hiring customer service specialists don’t know that.” Employers who focus on skills rather than past career tracks can find qualified candidates more easily.

Look outside job roles as well. When candidates list volunteer activities in applications, explore these as well. Such events often reveal what candidates find fulfilling, which in turn can disclose hidden skills and strengths, says legal recruiter and communication coach David Parnell.

“Instead of filtering out those who do not fit, companies need to focus on who has the skills they urgently need,” write Joseph Fuller and fellow researchers at Harvard Business Review. Companies that adopt an inquisitive, skills-based approach to hiring are better able to find candidates with the skills they need, including the skills required to learn new abilities and processes on the job.

Daisies on green nature background, stages of growth; hire for skills and capabilities concept

Respond to the Human Element in Recruiting

Digital tools can help human resources staff manage applications and explore hidden skill sets. To fully understand what candidates can do or have the potential to do, however, treat technology as a means rather than an end to building a human relationship.

What Lies Beyond the Tech Revolution?

Much advice given to job candidates today focuses on how they can interact not only with human resources staff, but also with automated applicant tracking systems. In a 2021 article, for example, Jon Shields provides advice for creating a resume that won’t get lost or mangled by automated software.

The buildup of technology over the last few decades has resulted in both companies and candidates thinking about how to navigate the hiring process around technological concerns, from surviving the ATS to hiring for specific tech skills like coding. Future workers, however, will need skills that go beyond the mere implementation of technology.

Currently, many companies think of digital and technology-related skills as abilities their candidates and staff need to have. As technology becomes more seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives, however, the most important skills won’t be an ability to build new technologies, but to bridge the gap between the work of computers and the world of humans.

“There’s going to be a point where all the technology has been built and you no longer need a gazillion software programmers and data scientists,” says Julian Lambertin, managing director at KRC Research in Europe. Instead, essential skills for human staff will include the ability to think critically and analytically about technology’s outputs, use that information to solve complex problems, and build relationships between people.

The ability to use and understand digital tools is important for new and existing staff members. As recruitment platforms and other technology become more adaptive, however, human staff will need to redirect their focus from building these tools to using the insights they provide.

Where Does Tech Obscure Transferable Skills?

When supplementing human resources staff members’ ability to parse applications for relevant skills, look for tools that allow for a focus on transferable skills as well.

The ability to glean transferable skills from past positions is essential. Transferable skills may be developed in any career position or field, but candidates tend to leave them off resumes unless they were developed in a position related to the role for which they’re applying.

“Most job seekers think the skills they use for their current job only translate for that particular job title or industry, but the basics for operating in most functions is pretty universal,” says career coach Yolanda Owens.

Omitted information about transferable skills is a loss for both the hiring company and the candidate. The right tools can help fill in the gaps, allowing companies to spot candidates whose resumes may be selling their skill set short.

The best workers rely on their skill sets to learn, grow, and change throughout their careers. Likewise, the companies best equipped to thrive in the coming decades are those willing to reshape their hiring practices. Rather than seeking specific candidates, these companies will cultivate a curiosity about skills and capabilities, using this perspective to drive their recruiting and hiring efforts. Choosing candidates based on their skills, including their learning skills, will help build teams that can handle any challenge in the coming years.

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