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Skills-Based Hiring Might Sound Like a New Idea — But Some Industries Have Been Using It for Years

Source | | Samantha McLaren

Picture this: A cello perched on a lit stage. The music director calls for the next hopeful, who sits down beside the instrument — but doesn’t play it. Instead, the musician proceeds to describe their experience learning the cello and playing with previous orchestras. They also provide contact information for people to call to confirm that the candidate can, indeed, play well. At no point does anyone ask the candidate to so much as touch the bow.

Orchestras would never hire new members that way, just as casting directors would never sign an actor without seeing them perform first. In performance-driven businesses, job auditions have been around almost as long as jobs have been, allowing for more informed and equitable decision-making. And with the recent push for a skills-based hiring process, the corporate world may be on the verge of catching up with this practice. Adam Grant, a professor of organizational psychology at Wharton and host of the TED podcast WorkLifewrote in The New York Times that he prefers “to focus less on what candidates say, and more on what they do.”

On the surface, skills-based hiring may seem like a new and somewhat intimidating idea, and some companies may — understandably — be unsure where to start. But by taking cues from organizations that have gone before you, you can develop assessments that provide meaningful insights into a candidate’s skills, so you can avoid costly missteps and pinpoint the right person for the job. 

Develop objective ways to measure and compare skills like the NFL Combine does

If you’re a fan of U.S. football, you’re probably already familiar with the NFL Combine, the four-day-long scouting event in which hundreds of top college athletes gather in Indianapolis to show off their skills and talents. Since playing in the National Football League requires incredible physical prowess, the organization has developed a series of tests to objectively evaluate and compare prospects’ abilities. These include a 40-yard dash to determine whether they can achieve sudden bursts of speed and a three-cone drill (which actually uses four) to assess their agility.

While your new hire probably won’t need to sprint and jump, you still will want them to tackle important assignments. So, take a page out of the NFL’s playbook by developing tests that put candidates through their paces. Since hard skills tend to be easier to quantify, these are often a good place to start. For example, many tech companies are already using coding tests like those available through HackerRank and iMocha to gather data about candidates’ skills. This allows hiring managers to more easily compare apples to apples during the decision-making process. 

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