Skills-based or de-biased hiring considers an applicant’s skills and abilities as opposed to past experience or achievements.
For decades, the first step in applying for a new job has been getting your CV in order. While most companies will have several interviews or testing stages after the initial application, the skills and experience you’re able to demonstrate on your CV are typically used to whittle down the hundreds of potential candidates to a select few.
But just because the system has been in place for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s not flawed. While CVs do provide employers with a good indication of the level of experience someone does or doesn’t have, they also fail to take into context many of the factors which could be at play in that candidate’s life, such as a need to take a break from work due to illness, an inability to afford unpaid work experience or a lack of opportunity.
These kinds of experiences don’t make anyone less suitable to do a job, but they may affect the perceived ‘quality’ or ‘impressiveness’ of a CV – making it a lot harder for that candidate to progress and prove themselves at interview.
At a time when many businesses are (rightly) taking steps to boost diversity among their workforce and remove unnecessary barriers in the hiring process, conversations about whether or not CVs are a useful way to find new staff are beginning to surface. And that’s what’s led to the creation of a new kind of hiring process called skills-based hiring, which is being championed by the de-biased hiring platform, Applied.
Already adopted by organisations including Penguin Random House, Comic Relief and Harper Collins, skills-based or de-biased hiring focuses on a candidate’s skills and ability to do a job rather than their CV, academic background or ‘cultural fit’. It also includes significant changes to the application process for potential candidates, as there’s more of a focus on assessments and tests to ensure you have the skills you need to carry out the role.
Speaking about the impact skills-based hiring has had on their hiring process as a whole, a spokesperson for Penguin Random House explained: “Applied is a tool we use as part of our inclusive hiring strategy at PRH and is typically used for company-wide programmes, such as our positive action traineeship The Scheme and Summer Internships where we’re looking to recruit on potential rather than experience.”
They continued: “Applicants’ responses are anonymised and assessed against a standardized set of structured questions, which are then assessed by multiple raters, with the highest-scoring applicants invited to take part in learning and selection events. It’s part of a wider focus we have on ensuring we embed inclusive ways of working throughout the recruitment process, as we work towards achieving our goal of representation in all teams, at all levels.”
While skills-based hiring is still kind of rare (especially as you move up the career ladder), chances are it’s going to become a lot more popular over the coming years – and that means you’ll need to familiarise yourself with how best to excel in this kind of environment.
To help you get started, we asked Khyati Sundaram, CEO of the de-biased hiring platform Applied, to tell us more about how you can prepare for a skills-based interview. Here’s what she had to say.
Don’t rely on your CV
Because CVs are less important in a skills-based process, you’ll want to make sure you’re able to highlight your skills and relevant experience in other ways.
“CVs don’t count for much in a skills-based hiring process, because proxies on a CV (such as previous employers or academic background) can lead employers to make assumptions about a candidate’s abilities which aren’t at all accurate or predictive,” Sundaram says.
“Instead of talking about what you’ve done up until now, a skills-based hiring process will require you to apply what you know to questions and scenarios directly relevant to the role you’re applying for. You should still make sure your CV is up to date and free from typos – but don’t expect to lean on it or talk about what’s written on it very much during your interview.”
Prepare to answer ‘work sample’ questions
Instead of demonstrating your experience through tasks and roles you’ve completed in the past, skills-based interviews use ‘work sample’ questions to uncover whether or not you have the core skills you’ll need to complete the role you’ve applied for well.
“Work sample questions take parts of a job and turn them into hypothetical tasks,” Sundaram explains. “The philosophy behind them is to simulate the job as closely as possible and test for core skills, rather than making assumptions about what a candidate is good at based on what they’ve told you.”
Sundaram continues: “To prepare, read the job description carefully and write down the specific skills required for the role. For example, for a marketing role key skills might include running a paid social media campaign or drafting key messaging. Brainstorm everything you know about each of these core skills and think about how you might apply your knowledge within the context of the company you’re applying to.
“You could even ask a friend or trusted colleague to create some mock ‘work sample’ questions for you to practise, based on the skills required.”
Understand the difference between ‘core values’ and ‘culture fit’
Instead of looking at how you’ll fit in with the rest of the staff, a skills-based hirer will be interested in finding out about your core values, and whether they align with the mission of the business you’re looking to work for.
“The difference between ‘core values’ and ‘culture fit’ is really important in skills-based hiring,” Sundaram explains. “Assessing for ‘culture fit’ is dangerous as a company’s culture is likely to reflect the dominant demographic, meaning anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘norm’ isn’t likely to get hired due to unconscious bias.
“Rather than trying to show that you’ll be good fun at Friday drinks, immerse yourself in the company’s values and prepare to talk about how these align with your own. Be yourself and show how and why you believe in what the business stands for – this will tell your prospective employer a lot more about how you’ll perform and add value, and how likely you are to stick around.”
Prepare for a structured interview
The main difference between a structured interview and a ‘normal’ job interview is that you’ll be asked the same questions as every other candidate in the same order – so you won’t get specific questions about your past roles or experience.
“The idea is to standardise interviews so that apples can be compared to apples – structured interviews mean talented candidates from outsider backgrounds get a fair chance to show off their skills, as well as candidates who’ve struggled to gain experience to date due to hiring bias,” Sundaram says.
“Structured interviews are fairer and more predictive than unstructured interviews, and mean you no longer need to worry about being disarmed by trick questions, informal chats or an employer’s ‘gut instinct’.”
Sundaram continues: “Prepare for work sample questions and get ready to respond to hypothetical case studies and carry out job simulation tasks (for example, running a mock client meeting or doing a sales pitch). These questions test for skills learned through experience, rather than hiring people based on what they look like on paper.”