Skills: The New Currency

In the second of the series of blog posts covering the topics I spoke about at Recfest, I have been asked to expand on skills based hiring. In doing this, we need to start by looking at the assumptions we make in our hiring process now, in order to understand the changes we may need to adopt, and the part talent market insights will play in this.

The way we hire now, has not really changed much for over a century. We have introduced and adopted plenty of tech which has sped things up, taken time consuming manual tasks away and significantly increased our capacity for storing and retrieving data, but the decision making in the hiring process follows the same pattern. We make assumptions on skills based on past experience, framed in a CV or resume. 

As a recruiter, I always looked for the same information on a CV to filter responses to narrow it down to a short list. For a long time I thought I was the CV whisperer. That I could skim read the company you worked for, the job title you held and maybe your education. From this I made an informed guess about whether you should proceed or not.

This got you to the middle list. The middle list of the maybes. Mostly, I rejected the CV’s in front of me, to make my list manageable. Once I had my middle list, I either called (or emailed) to ask a few questions of the candidates and check they looked fit to move the short list and present.

The short list was generally people who had done a similar role, who got past the disqualifiers set by the hiring manager. This usually centered on the must have experience, defined by number of years. If you ticked those boxes, you progressed.

I had a successful career as a third party recruiter because I was very good at properly understanding what experience the hiring managers really valued, and could screen and present what they asked me for. This generally meant that I showed the hiring managers the CV’s they asked for, prioritised by the type of experience they valued most, again largely job title and employer.

The more I worked with a hiring manager, the more this became ingrained in what I thought was gut feel. I knew hiring manager A would interview and ultimately hire candidate B over candidate C because they had hired people like that in the past. Candidate C might look the same on paper, but I knew that the hiring manager had a personal preference for people from one employer over another, regardless of the quality of the individuals to actually perform the role.

Experience trumped skill every time because that's how decisions were made in short times, over who got progressed and who got rejected. The decisions were made based on skim reading the CV, and knowing the path of least resistance to get interviews and fill the hiring funnel with similar looking CVs, knowing that one of them was going to be liked and hired. The candidates all looked similar in terms of experience, and were selected as probably able to do the job, and once in the funnel, it was the one who was liked most by the hiring managers who got hired. It really was a popularity contest. The hiring managers were happy, and I outperformed many of my colleagues.

Over time, I was able to turn this matching method into a formula that meant that I could teach it to others on an industrial scale, teaching thousands of recruiters the same methods that provided the path of least resistance to making hires. I have seen the same methods automated into products to enable the same matching and shortlisting to be performed at a scale no team of humans could ever be capable of.

I’m not trying to take the credit for inventing any secret source, this simply reflects how many recruiters worked pre and post the digital age. A good part of my career was focused on translating how we worked in the analogue age, to the digital age, and then how we might automate that.

What has changed now then, that makes me think that we need to rethink this? Firstly, jobs have changed. It is less rinse and repeat, hiring for what we have hired before, from jobs that look similar to the ones performed by people in the labour market now. We are hiring for new roles, requiring new skills. Skills that don’t have x years of experience. Where the last few job titles and employers give less clues as who might excel in the role. We can not make the same old assumptions to get people hired.

People are changing industry sectors at a much greater rate than ever before. Historically, at least 80% of people stayed in the same career lane because that was where they could command a premium since people were hired from similar companies. The dramatic rise and fall of sectors has changed that. We are as likely to be looking at candidates looking for a change in the sector. That means we need to look for skills, rather than rely on familiar job titles and employers. The hiring grounds we are used to.

The definitive shortage of candidates with the skills we need has meant rethinking the task. That means defining roles by skills, rather than experiences needed. It means today's recruiter needs to be able to break down the spec by skills, understand what might be transferable and start searching in new places. Recruiters need to be able to organise job families by skills, understand career paths and skills that can be acquired. It also means a lot of push back on hiring managers to focus on skills rather than experience if they want to hire. Recruiters need to be the expert voice in the conversation.

This is where I see talent market insights being deployed in organisations. Using a taxonomy of skills to define a spec, based on what the workforce have now, to understand where we should be looking.

Time to shift to hiring for skills, and rethinking our whole hiring process.

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