by John Carrozza, principal consultant
Riviera Advisors, Inc.

When hiring a new person into your organization, it’s very likely that you will review the resume, CV or professional profile and assess how that 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 employees for their skills is a much safer – and longer-term – bet.

Hiring for skill means your workforce is better prepared for the changes your business may need to make in the future – and those employees will likely be more adaptable to the future organization you are starting to envision.

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

1. Don’t get too caught up with ‘fit’

Hiring for culture is extremely important. However, hiring for what ‘fits’ today is extremely limiting. Think about where your business will be in three to five years – will the prospective employee fit what you need then? Every area of your business likely is evolving; make sure your talent acquisition activities are, too.

2. Avoid the shiny pedigree appeal

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

3. Leverage technology, but don’t fully rely on it

There are amazing tools today to search resumes for key words that can help create a shortlist of job candidates. Where the technology cannot help you is in uncovering why/when/how do people entertain new career opportunities, and what they need or want before you start selling the job and the organization. Be sure to learn candidates’ aspirations for growing their career and constantly enhancing their skill sets.

4. Sharpen your assessment skills

Further to #2: 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 the individual learned from that 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 the job seeker’s experience. Ask at least two skill-based questions (with followups) for each attractive experiential accomplishment, and you can get to the story of the skills. Coaching the team members 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 on a resume. Some have assumed that surviving a period at that school or at that employer would automatically prepare the individual to deliver what is needed in a particular role. Skill-based hiring involves looking for stories with keywords like: ability to communicate, learning new systems, managing relationships, interpreting situations, forming new ideas, strategic thinking and respecting others’ input.

Many of these skills are much harder to teach, change or develop in candidates regardless of the industry. These are the solid skills that can make an immediate impact and help a candidate 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 that role may quickly evolve – will help your company 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, but know that getting a start on this will give you a competitive edge as the battle heats up to attract, develop and retain your talent.

John Carrozza is a principal consultant with Riviera Advisors, Inc., a boutique recruitment/talent acquisition management and optimization consulting firm based in southern California.

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