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Learn about skills-based job descriptions, candidate testing

As skills-based hiring continues to increase in popularity, HR staff should learn best practices for writing the appropriate job descriptions. Learn more.

More HR leaders are turning away from degree-based recruiting and toward skills-based hiring as they seek to close the talent gap.

Skills-based hiring continues to increase, according to a 2023 survey by the skills-based hiring talent assessment company TestGorilla, with the report finding that 73% of respondents are carrying out skills-based hiring, increasing from 56% in 2022.

Learn more about how to write skills-based listings that will attract the right candidates as well as some best practices for testing applicants.

What is a skills-based job description?

A skills-based job description is a job description that focuses on the abilities required for the job instead of education or past work experience.

"When you look at a normal, run-of-the-mill corporate role, usually the job description takes up the majority of the page," said Lauren Winans, principal HR consultant for Next Level Benefits, an HR consulting firm located in Pittsburgh. "The desired skill set is fairly small, [consisting of] just a number of bullets below [the description]."

By contrast, the skills requirements in a skills-based job description will be longer than the job description, Winans said.

4 tips for writing a skills-based job description

HR staff are likely used to writing traditional job descriptions and require some practice at writing listings that focus on skills. Here are some tips to get started.

1. Deconstruct existing job descriptions

A current job description can provide a starting point for a skills-based listing.

"Break down the job into the essential components to understand what skills are required," Winans said.

If a job description doesn't exist, recruiters should examine a typical day in the position and the skills that the person would use, then build the listing from there, she said.

2. Look to managers and successful employees

Recruiters may not know enough about a job to write an accurate skills-based job description, and a manager can provide insight into some required skills.

Advice from managers can help recruiters identify the competencies that someone needs to succeed in the position, Winans said.

"We can't assume, as an HR person or [HR] manager, that we're able to fully encompass everything in a job description," she said. "Getting additional input is always really helpful."

Employees that are currently succeeding at the company can also provide insight into required skills for a job listing.

"Take a close look at the qualities that your most successful [employees have]," said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, an HR consulting firm located in Norwalk, Conn.

These could range from good communication skills to working well with co-workers, he said.

3. Clearly communicate required skills

Job listings are not always clear about the skills that are required for candidates versus skills that would be a bonus but are not needed for the job. Recruiters must make sure they specify their requirements.

A good way to emphasize what skills are required is to share how the skills are utilized in the role and how the skills affect the organization, Winans said.

"Break[ing] down job duties, skills and how they interact will help you attract the right type of candidate," she said.

4. Avoid jargon

Recruiters must avoid using HR jargon or terms that are specific to a certain industry, as doing so could turn away candidates.

For example, a job listing that mentions KPIs may confuse candidates who have not previously worked in a field in which KPIs were frequently mentioned.

Recruiters must use clear and engaging language, making job descriptions easy to understand for any applicant, said Olivia Tapper, head of operations at Pet Portraits, an art company, who works on recruiting for the organization.

Best practices for testing candidates' skills

For skills-based hiring, recruiters must evaluate candidates' skills to make sure they are a good fit for the job.

Recruiters can use talent, personality or skills-based assessments that are usually in the form of online tools or surveys, Winans said. Employers could also hold an open house for jobs requiring particular skill sets during which candidates demonstrate those skills. For example, a company could hold an open house for candidates who have experience driving forklifts.

Recruiters can also ask for examples of a candidate's skill set. For example, companies recruiting for jobs requiring design or writing skills may require candidates to bring work samples.

"We encourage [artist] candidates to present examples of their work, like a designer's portfolio," Tapper said.

However, recruiters must avoid asking too much of a candidate. For example, if a recruiter asks a marketing manager candidate to build a sample strategy, a candidate who is then rejected might feel as if they gave the company great ideas that the company will now use without them.

"The candidate in that position should feel comfortable asking questions, such as what [the company] is trying to [evaluate]," Winans said.

Recruiters should also make sure they give candidates specific directions so the candidate doesn't put in more effort than necessary, Winans said.

For example, recruiters should specify if they want a candidate to only bring an idea for a marketing strategy so the candidate doesn't send them a full, detailed campaign.

Christine Campbell is a freelance writer specializing in business and B2B technology.

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