Skills-first Hiring Approach: Why & How to Adopt It

Skills first hiring for finding the right match

Picture this: a highly skilled professional is ready to contribute to your team. However, their application is tossed aside because they lack a traditional degree or the 'right' previous job title. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar, as a LinkedIn study reveals that a staggering 88% of recruiters filter out such qualified candidates based on outdated criteria.

This is unfortunate because the same study shows that in the US, talent pools can increase by 19 times when using a skills-first hiring approach, which can mean hundreds or thousands of qualified professionals who might have been overlooked.

That is why, in this article, we will be exploring what skills-based or competency-based hiring is, how you can put it into practice, as well as the many advantages it brings to both employers and skilled workers.

What is skills-first hiring?

Skills-first hiring is a recruitment strategy that focuses on the specific experience, trait or talent a candidate brings to the table rather than any formal credentials (such as educational qualifications or past job titles).

We will be looking at the benefits of this particular approach in more detail, but it is important to note that certain professions will understandably still require a degree or some other proof of certification. Doctors, for instance, will always need to have completed relevant education and licensing exams to work in the medical field.

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Nevertheless, in numerous other sectors, insisting on a university or college degree may be unnecessary, as practical skills and real-world experience can hold more relevance and directly contribute to job success. This is especially true when candidates have acquired practical experience and knowledge through unconventional means, such as self-directed learning (online or otherwise), previous on-the-job training or certifications obtained outside of formal education.

Simply put, the strict requirement for an academic degree may lead employers to overlook strong candidates who may not have had access to higher education but do possess relevant and applicable skills.

Breaking down the components: hard skills vs. soft skills vs. transferable skills

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Generally speaking, HR professionals look for a reasonable blend of the following three types of skills: 

Hard skills

Hard skills, also referred to as technical skills, are acquired through formal education or practical experience. They are tangible and quantifiable competencies typically tailored to a specific job, and you can assess them through certifications, portfolios, skill assessment tests or accomplished projects. Examples of hard skills include data analysis, proficiency in a foreign language, pharmacology knowledge etc.

Soft skills

Soft skills include personal attributes such as communication, teamwork, flexibility and time management that enhance an individual's interactions and performance. They are challenging to quantify but remain extremely valuable in professional settings, with more than 61% of professionals saying that soft skills are equally important as hard skills in the workplace. 

Transferable skills

Transferable skills or portable skills are attributes you can apply from one job to another. Emphasizing these skills allows recruiters to identify candidates who can easily adapt to new tasks and environments even though they don't have a direct match with the job requirements. Both hard and soft skills can be transferable. Skills first hiring: A ceramic object symbolizing transferable skills Image source: Unsplash

How to adopt a skills-first hiring approach

Now that we understand the basics of this approach, let’s go over how you can start implementing the new concept of skills-first hiring in your recruitment practices.

Here are key steps to implement this strategy and achieve a successful hire:

Create skills-based job descriptions

Writing job descriptions that outline skills required rather than qualifications enables potential candidates to assess their suitability for a certain open position based on their actual capabilities. A clothes pin symbolizing the idea of finding a good fit through skills first hiring Image source: Unsplash

To get started with a skills-first job description, consider the following DOs and DON’Ts:


  1. Clearly define the specific skills essential for the role

  2. Differentiate between essential and desirable skills to focus on core requirements

  3. Integrate both hard and soft skills to show the importance of interpersonal and communication abilities

  4. Explain how each skill contributes to the delivery of the role in question

  5. Use inclusive language to encourage a diverse range of candidates to apply (e.g., if the job role allows, say “no university/college degree required”)


  1. Use too much industry-specific jargon that might confuse potential candidates

  2. Be overly prescriptive about the source of skills (e.g., don’t mention working in specific industries if the skills for the role could’ve been acquired anywhere – an office manager from one field can be just as effective in your field!)

  3. Underestimate entry-level or lower level skills, as some people who have thus far held an entry-level position may well be ready to take on more responsibility in a higher-level one

  4. Rely solely on job titles; instead, describe the skills needed to perform the tasks effectively, as job titles are not necessarily adequate markers of skill or experience

Send skills-based pre-employment tests

To measure a candidate's actual skill level, implement pre-employment tests tailored to the job’s specific requirements. These tests provide a practical and objective assessment of a candidate's abilities.

Here's what skills-based pre-employment tests should include:

  1. Real-world scenario simulations: Design tests that simulate real-world scenarios candidates might encounter in the role 

  2. Objective evaluation criteria: Establish clear and objective criteria for evaluating test responses – an AI recruitment tool can help you avoid bias while assessing a candidate's skills by analyzing data objectively (standardizing evaluations, excluding identifiers that might trigger unconscious bias, like name, gender, race, educational background, age and so on)

  3. Incorporation of both hard and soft skills: Develop tests that assess both soft and hard skills

  4. Accessibility and user-friendly interface: Ensure the tests are accessible and user-friendly – a seamless testing experience improves a candidate's impression and reflects positively on the organization's commitment to a fair evaluation process

  5. Feedback mechanism: Implement a feedback mechanism to communicate results constructively – this not only aids in candidate development but also fosters transparency in the hiring process

Use skills assessment software for interview evaluation

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You can streamline the video interviewing process by incorporating skills assessment software and AI recruiting technology that automates the evaluation of a candidate's skills and ensures an unbiased assessment. 

The Metro client story: how VireUp improved the hiring journey

One remarkable success story is that of Metro, a company that automated its early talent recruitment process with VireUp. Thanks to VireUp’s video interviewing platform, Metro not only streamlined its hiring process but also experienced significant improvements in candidate quality and overall efficiency. They performed over 500 automated video interviews while cutting recruitment lead time in half, increasing candidate throughput six times and having a 91% candidate CSAT score.

Simply put, VireUp truly makes hiring a breeze: it helps create tailored competency-based interview questions and even assesses spoken English skills automatically during interviews. The platform also uses explainable AI to analyze interviews sentence by sentence, providing evidence to recruiters without the need to watch the entire interview. With coaching-level feedback for candidates, it can help you earn the title of Employer of choice!

Bonus: Here's a webinar on how to master remote interviews!

Continue working on your employees’ skills-building 

Hiring by focusing on the right skills is not enough. Skills development shouldn't stop at the hiring stage. Companies should invest in ongoing training and development programs to nurture and enhance the skills of their existing workforce. That way, you'll always have a very well-skilled team that is quite adaptable, too. 

You can provide various resources to facilitate ongoing development for employees, such as:

  1. Online courses and platforms (e.g., Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Skillshare, Khan Academy)

  2. Professional development workshops (e.g., on leadership, communication, time management and other soft skills)

  3. Mentorship programs (e.g., pair employees with experienced mentors within the organization to foster knowledge transfer through one-on-one work)

  4. Conferences and seminars

  5. Certification programs

  6. Foreign language classes

  7. Peer-to-peer learning

Investing in a combination of these resources can go a long way to creating an effective ongoing development scheme that will nurture and enhance the skills of your existing workforce.  A man and chairs Image source: Unsplash

Why should you adopt a skills-first hiring approach?

The shift toward skills-first hiring practices is a strategic move that brings numerous advantages to employers, such as:

  1. Increased talent pool: By focusing on skills rather than traditional qualifications, companies open themselves up to a broader and more diverse talent pool. Globally, a skills-focused approach to hiring increases the talent pool of workers by 9.4 times on average, and this number rises for specific countries like Brazil or the US. Research also shows that the proportion of women in the talent acquisition pool would increase 24% more than it would for men when it comes to jobs where women are underrepresented.

  2. More quality candidates: Skills-based hiring allows employers to identify candidates with the exact abilities required for a role, leading to a higher quality of hires.

  3. Less bias: Traditional hiring practices can accidentally introduce bias into the selection process. Skills-first hiring reduces this by not favoring candidates from specific educational or professional backgrounds.

  4. Higher retention: Matching skills to job requirements results in a better alignment between the employee's capabilities and the job demands, leading to increased job satisfaction and higher retention rates.

Challenges and solutions: Overcoming obstacles in skills-first hiring 

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Skills-based recruitment does have its challenges, too. Here’s a closer look at some of them, together with the strategies employed to overcome them:

1. Cost and implementation

  1. Challenge: Companies may seek cheaper alternatives to advanced skill assessment tools.

  2. Solution: Recruitment automation tools are a strategic asset that can help you achieve up to a 45% reduction in recruitment costs, so treat them as an investment in hiring people that will shape the future of your organization.

2. Resistance to change

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  1. Challenge: It can be hard to effectively communicate and manage the shift to skills-first hiring.

  2. Solution: You should clearly articulate the benefits of the approach, support your claims with data from relevant studies like the one LinkedIn did and address concerns.

3. Measuring soft skills

  1. Challenge: It is difficult to quantify soft skills since they are more nuanced and context-dependent.

  2. Solution: You can conduct a behavioral interview evaluation by asking about specific experiences, which can help assess candidates’ communication, teamwork, problem-solving and other soft skills. Assessment tools like VireUp can help you develop skills-based questions tailored to the role you’re hiring for. Other tools you can use are psychometric tests and simulation exercises that allow candidates to show their skills in a controlled environment.

By tackling these challenges upfront, companies can make their recruitment process more effective and responsive to change. 


As we’ve seen here, a skills-focused hiring approach redirects attention from degrees and past job titles to tangible skills. This ultimately allows companies to tap into bigger talent pools and build a diverse, highly skilled and adaptable workforce. 

Ready to transform your hiring process and improve recruiting metrics? Schedule a demo with our team at VireUp to learn more about how our video assessment platform can help you bridge the gap between traditional hiring and a skills-first approach!


What is a skills-first approach?

A skills-first approach is a hiring strategy that prioritizes a candidate's specific skills over traditional hiring models that require educational qualifications or specific job titles. It involves evaluating candidates based on their proficiency in key areas relevant to the job.

What are three skills employers look for?

Employers typically seek a combination of hard skills, soft skills and transferable skills. Technical skills are job-specific competencies, soft skills show interpersonal and communication abilities, while transferable skills, like leadership and analytical thinking, can be applied across various roles.

What are soft skills for getting hired?

When considering soft skills, HR managers usually look for communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving and time management skills. These in-demand skills are vital for a positive work environment and successful collaboration within a team.