How to Find the Best Candidate with Skills-Based Hiring

14 Jul 2021 · 5 mins reading

Grace Smith


Two of the biggest problems with tech hiring are:

  1. Finding qualified candidates
  2. Finding them fast without compromising on quality

Hiring the wrong person is costly

Those costs add up! Consider the costs of:

  • Involving existing team members in the hiring process
  • Advertising the role
  • Training new team members
  • Hits to team velocity whilst they train new team members
  • The sunk time costs of effort spent on the entire process

It's no surprise then the cost-per-hire for a UK senior developer can exceed £20,000.

But finding and hiring the ‘right’ candidate is easier said than done...

In 2020, Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey revealed that only 17.3% of the 65,000 developers who responded were actively looking for work. The remaining respondents were either passive job seekers (57.6%) or uninterested in new opportunities (25.1%).

Keeping this data in mind, how can we maximise the chance of finding the right developer?

The Current Developer Landscape

Developers are in high demand and short supply. They’re used to learning new skills because the landscape changes fast. This is why we place a higher emphasis on fundamental knowledge.

Fundamental knowledge consists of things that are integral to your field of study. As certain tech rises and falls in popularity, fundamental knowledge remains useful.

The same fundamental knowledge will help a developer to pick up a new technology. It acts as an accelerator for the acquisition of newer, popular skills.

One method to ensure candidates are being evaluated fairly and accurately is a skills-based hiring approach. This works well, providing you firstly establish what the fundamental skills are that you need!

What is Skills-Based Hiring, and Why Does Matter?

McKinsey & Company states that skills-based (or competency) hiring is an approach where candidates are assessed:

...based on their holistic skill set (including adjacent skills across industries), rather than industry experience or certain educational credentials

With skills-based hiring, employers take a stance which values a candidate’s competencies — the skills that they are able to demonstrate which would make them an asset to recruit — over whatever qualifications they may have on paper. Qualifications which are neither a predictor nor guarantor of success.

The benefits of this are widely reported, with companies citing:

  • Lower turnover
  • Higher productivity
  • Higher rates of diversity and inclusion

All which adds greater value to a company. But how can companies integrate this approach into their hiring process?

Skills-based hiring starts with the job description

Including too many job requirements can exclude suitable candidates. Not good!

A common stat you may have heard is “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”

It’s not only women that are more likely to be excluded. A survey by Tara Sophia Mohr for the Harvard Business Review found that roughly equal numbers of women (40.6%) and men (46.4%) are likely to ignore a job if they don’t meet all the qualifications.

Let that sink in for a moment. Companies often treat the Requirements section of a job ad like a bucket list of wants and desires. Yet data suggests that this tendency prevents a lot of people from applying. Given that developers are in high demand and short supply, maybe it’s time for more companies to reflect on this. A relaxing of the include every requirement we can think of approach might be the difference between you finding or not finding the right person for the role.

A Workable Way Forwards

When creating your next job advert, consider:

  • Which skills are necessary for candidates to have before starting the job?
  • Which skills can be easily learned once in the job?
  • How much time (and money) are you willing to invest teaching those skills?
  • What should a successful hire expect to have achieved in the first few months?

Not only are the answers to these questions important to employers, but to candidates as well. Setting clear and specific goals for candidates is something that is appreciated. It sets them up for success further down the road.

Another point to consider is exactly how you will assess candidates for the required skills.

Fairer Assessments, Better Candidate Experience

Our pre-built assessments focus on fundamental knowledge – what is needed to perform well in a role. Companies use this method as a screening tool. This saves both time and effort for all involved in the hiring process.

Assessing CVs and marking technical tests is a very time consuming task. It’s fairer to start by assessing whether applicants have the skills you need. This reduces the need to review mountains of CVs in a desperate attempt to guess their knowledge.

Using a tech assessment as a screening tool strikes a balance between the time of the candidate and hirer. Both want each other and both value their own time.

The most important thing is this — if you’re unsure about your current hiring process — try to involve team members with the relevant technical skills in the process. This could be in-house, or if you don’t have that luxury, through a dedicated assessment provider. The insights gained can improve the quality of your hiring pipeline. This will bring you closer to that goal of hiring the right person.

This is a simple, yet effective change you can make to level up your technical hiring process.