Hiring

4 Reasons Not to Base Hiring on Skills

The competition for talent isn’t going away. Nor is the need to hire people who know how to do the job and won’t leave. With the average life expectancy of an employee on the job in the U.S. shrinking — from 4.6 percent in 2014 to 4.2 percent in 2016 — we’re all looking for that perfect way to predict hiring success.

Among the questions hiring managers face: Rely on the old standby and hire based on gut? Or go straight to the science, and if so, what data? Skills tests do give a crisp, black-and-white reality as to what a candidate can do the moment they walk in their new employer’s door — such as make spreadsheets or program in Java. And hiring employees who have already learned the specific skills a job requires, so they can roll up their sleeves and get straight to work, is always a key objective.

But both approaches are a myth. Recruiters spend an average of 6.25 seconds reading each resume, in large part because some 250 resumes are submitted for every corporate job opening, and only 50 percent of those applicants are even qualified to apply. But locking into skills to hire gives not only an incomplete picture, it’s short-sighted. There are many reasons why, but let’s start with these four essentials.

  1. Hiring on the basis of specific skills is no guarantee of success on the job.

Even in positions that require very specific skills, hiring for specific competencies — sometimes known as micro-skills — is not a prediction of success. While skills tests measure for very focused and specific purposes — such as operating a particular production line or handing a software program, they are not a good indicator of long-term success.

The reason is so simple it’s easy to overlook: Tests that measure present-day proficiency are designed to do just that. Retention is based on many factors, but all have to do with how the employee experiences their work and their workplace. What engages an employee, and promotes retention is not their ability to crunch an excel sheet, and what keeps them productive may have to do with everything from ability to learn to having a personality that fits their job. The bottom line here is that you need a fuller way to predict success.

  1. You may not even be hiring for those skills next year.

Everything about how we work is undergoing a transformation right now, and that’s affecting nearly every single industry. You may not be using that same machinery or software next year. You may not even be using employees if you do. We don’t really know how radically work is going to be altered by AI and robotics, but we do know they are coming to our workplace soon.

And that’s certainly not the only change. As we transition to a blended workforce economy, your employees may soon be combined with gig workers and freelancers as well — that is, if they’re not already. 93 percent of companies are already relying on a workforce in which freelance workers team up with employees. One key reason, according to employers, is that freelancers have stellar niche skills, often better than your own employees. Depending on the project, you may want to bring in a crack team and shift your own personnel to a different project, requiring different skills.

  1. Emotional intelligence and aptitude may be more important than specific skills.

There are too many examples these days of companies who clearly didn’t hire for emotional intelligence, the ability to deal with people, or the awareness that their actions would trigger a cascade of consequences for their employer. The fallout in this digital and social era is instant—and devastating. The takeaway to me is that you need to hire for more than skills. But even outside the news cycles, and even in companies that are not providing a people-centric service, screening for the right behaviors, cognitive aptitudes, and basic skills is clearly a best practice with a long payoff.

A recent study by LinkedIn found that nearly two-thirds of employers surveyed look for two key qualities in their hires first: Problem-solving skills (65 percent) and the ability to learn new concepts (64 percent). Along with critical thinking and the ability to apply new information, these qualities can be effectively screened in a cognitive aptitude test. And according to Criteria’s research, there’s a clear correlation between cognitive aptitude and job performance: Testing for cognitive aptitude is twice as accurate a predictor as a job interview and three times as accurate a predictor as experience. And the higher up the ladder the position, the more accurate these tests are.

  1. Training on the job has more value than you might think.

There’s another, overlooked magical ingredient to the secret sauce of retention: On the job training. 94 percent of manufacturing executives viewed training problems as one of the best ways to close the skills gap, according to a recent whitepaper by Criteria Corp. But training has additional benefits, and these benefits also speak to the question of testing for skills. The answer: Keep it basic, and use training to not only develop the specific skills but also enhance the connection between employer and employee.

How? On the one hand, training can function as an extension of the employer brand, framed and presented to reflect company mission and message. On the other hand, it becomes a key facet of employee experience, a demonstration that an organization values its employees enough to invest in their growth. As cited by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), success on the job is determined in as little as two weeks to three months. Onboarding is a key factor in the outcome, according to SHRM’s report. Including skills training in an effective onboarding program may come to be even more of a critical and practical step for any company that wants to retain its talent. Seen in this light, screening hires for their innate aptitudes and behaviors makes even more sense.

So, What to Do?

Understandably, no hiring team wants to send new employees to the work site who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s true that many organizations are still wedded to screening for skills for that very reason. But in this transforming world of work, we need to hire employees who can learn and want to grow and develop.

The best hiring decisions are formed after considering the whole spectrum of employee behaviors and performance, by blending aptitude with the appropriate behaviors and then adding in education and experience. Given the pressure to retain our human capital, that’s the best way to protect our strongest investment—people.

This post is sponsored by Criteria Corp.

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