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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

18 reasons to hire based on skills, not past job titles

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Anita Jobb AvatarAnita Jobb
December 19, 2023

One of the key reasons why it is so hard for so many employers to hire well is that the assumptions they make about the likelihood of an applicant succeeding are, well, fundamentally flawed. Take, for example, the reliance of many employers on screening based on the credentials listed on the applicant’s resume / CV.

Resumes and CVs are inherently backward-looking documents: they list work and educational experiences that the applicant has accomplished, but the employer isn’t really interested in what the applicant has done. Instead, the employer is interested in what the applicant is likely to do in the future. Sure, understanding the past helps you to predict the future, but is a list of work and educational experiences the best predictor of the future, or are there better options available to employers?

When employers decide to hire someone, they implicitly understand and can usually articulate the soft- and hard-skills they want. Instead of subjectively guessing at whether an applicant’s past jobs mean that they possess those soft- and hard-skills, wouldn’t it be better to objectively measure those skills? Put another way, instead of an employer inferring that you have good cashier skills because you did that job for three years, wouldn’t it be better for them to have you take a test — an assessment — that measures the skills necessary for one to be a good cashier in the employer’s environment?

We recently asked 18 experts to weigh in on the pivotal question of hiring for skills instead of past job titles. From the practical insights of a coach to the seasoned perspective of a founding partner and attorney, all believe that proven skills should trump past job titles in the recruitment process.

Take Advantage of Skill-Based Hiring

Hiring through skill-based assessment can support hiring the professional who is best suited for the role, as it can indicate whether they have the skills required to perform and excel, rather than relying solely on their experience, some of which might be non-transferable. 

This approach can also lead to a more satisfied employee who is ready to be with the organization for the long term, considering that they derive a higher degree of job contentment for themselves while contributing to the organization.

Nidhi Shrama, Coach

Uncover Hidden Talents

One main reason is that it focuses on what the candidate can actually do in practice. For example, I once coached a retail worker who demonstrated exceptional emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. These attributes, not typically highlighted in a retail job title, were key in his transition to a successful career in human resources. 

This shift in hiring perspective allows for the discovery of hidden talents and supports a more dynamic, diverse, and capable workforce. It’s about valuing potential and adaptability, which are key in today’s work landscape.

Bayu Prihandito, Certified Psychology Expert, Life Coach, Founder, Life Architekture

Discover Diverse Talent 

One strong argument made by the Festoon House manager for giving abilities precedence over job titles throughout the hiring process is the increased access to a more varied pool of people. Merely depending on job titles may restrict the pool of possible applicants, leaving out people who have important talents but may not have had titles that correspond with them.

We previously employed a lighting technician, for example, whose prior title didn’t accurately describe their skill set. During the interview, this person demonstrated great technical skills even though they did not have the traditional title of “Senior Technician.” We were amazed by their creative problem-solving skills and practical knowledge of complex lighting setups. Even though they had a strange title, their abilities helped our team become more capable and made a big difference in the completion of challenging projects at Festoon House.

Businesses may access a more varied talent pool by prioritizing skills, which can help them harness the potential of people whose abilities may exceed their job titles. This strategy encourages creativity, introduces new viewpoints, and enables companies to access a larger pool of knowledge, all of which contribute to the expansion and prosperity of the enterprise.

Matt Little, Owner, Festoon House

Search for Growth Potential 

Focusing on skills allows employers to identify candidates who hold an affinity for growth and development, even if they haven’t held an exact role or job title before. A diverse skill set is a strong indicator of a candidate’s ability to adapt and grow within a dynamic work environment, as it shows they’re adept at quickly grasping and applying new concepts.

Additionally, candidates who haven’t held an exact role before will bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to the table. Their growth potential also makes them more likely to stay with the company long-term, which can lead to increased employee retention and lower turnover costs.

At Resume Genius, we had a candidate apply for a content writing position, but because of their versatile skills, we ended up hiring them for a more technical role. Despite having no prior experience with many of the tools required for the position, they quickly mastered each tool and became the team’s go-to person for any data-related questions or projects.

Geoffrey Scott, SEO Content Manager and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CRPW), Resume Genius

Seek Skills that Outweigh Job Titles

Skill is the hallmark of any job and is highly sought by employers when choosing to hire a candidate. One reason why employers should focus on skill, rather than previous job titles, when hiring a candidate, is that the skill level may be higher than a person’s current job title would indicate. 

For example, an intern who has been apprenticing in mechanical engineering recently graduated with honors yet still holds the same title as he did during his internship period. While his former title was “intern,” his knowledge of mechanical engineering surpasses what one would expect based on this previous job title alone. 

Thus, employers should consider skills over just job titles when determining which candidate to hire in order to get the most qualified person for the position.

Carly Hill, Operations Manager, Virtual Holiday Party

Ignore Inconsistent Titles

Job titles can have different meanings at every company. I specifically spoke to a “director” of a marketing agency during a job interview. I asked him why, as a “director,” he would want to work as a “marketing specialist.” He informed me that everyone at the company he worked at was promoted to “director.” 

Because of that exact situation, I ignore job titles and look at their experience, and I ask them about previous projects, certifications, and situations relating to the position we are hiring for.

Jeff Michael, Ecommerce Business Owner, Supplement Warehouse

Conduct a Direct Skill Assessment 

A more accurate evaluation of a candidate’s prospective contributions is ensured when talents are prioritized above job titles. 

Emily (one of my assets) had exceptional organizational abilities and a natural sense of task coordination under duress, even though her prior work did not involve project management. Her competence demonstrated that a person’s job title may not always accurately reflect their entire skill set, underscoring the importance of conducting direct skill assessments.

Paul Phelps, Managing Director, Solent Power

Read Further into Experience Details

While some job titles might overlap from company to company, there isn’t a universal definition of the duties that fall under each title’s umbrella. One marketer’s experience at Company A may be radically different from another’s at Company B, so the title alone can mislead you into making assumptions about a candidate’s abilities based on your own definition of a job title.

Rather than looking at their title, read further into the details of the candidate’s experiences and cited skills. Look at what they explicitly tell you they can do, and ask clarifying questions if something important isn’t mentioned. If you hire by previous title alone, you may hire someone completely mismatched or underqualified for the role.

Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr

Look for Versatile Skills

When looking for someone to come on board for my business as the Lead of Audio, there was a heavy focus on podcast-related work. The person chosen was an audio engineer who had only ever worked in the music business. He had helped mix and master best-selling records but didn’t have any experience doing what was needed. 

That is where his skill set came in. He had the skills necessary that transcended job titles and could work in whatever scenario. Whether it was fine-tuning podcast episodes or editing nature soundtracks, it was clear he would be able to deliver.

Isaac Mashman, Founder, Mashman Ventures

Predict Future Success

Right now, we’re navigating a really tight labor market, compounded by a significant skills gap. Sticking to old hiring practices won’t work, and hiring for skills over titles isn’t just wise; it’s imperative. Here’s what I’ve found: A candidate’s past achievements, especially in areas where they’ve shown aptitude, are often more indicative of future success than the job title on their business card. 

By prioritizing skills and past successes, we open up to a wider, more diverse pool of talent. This isn’t just about filling a position today; it also builds a workforce equipped to adapt and evolve with the changing market. It’s like building a team not just for the game at hand but for the whole season ahead. We’re hiring for adaptability and future growth, which is exactly what we need in these rapidly changing times.

Michael Morgan, Managing Director, Medallion Partners

Hire for Responsibilities Over Titles

Hire for responsibilities, not titles. Fortunately, many responsibilities overlap between different titles, making it easier to fill gaps in a talent shortage. The average professional changes their career five to seven times over their lifetime, so you’re missing out on a big pool of talent if you hire for job title over abilities and attitude. 

Often, people changing careers are precisely the kind of people you should prioritize hiring because they’re showing that they’re not afraid of challenges and are actively pursuing what they want.

Hardy Desai, Founder, Supple Digital

Recognize Overlooked Talent

Too many hiring managers miss hidden gems glowing with raw talent but lacking shiny job titles. I often persuade shortsighted gatekeepers to ignore a lack of big-name pedigree and focus on skills instead. Just yesterday, an autodidact with self-taught TensorFlow brilliance awed me in an interview, effortlessly proposing ingenious solutions. 

We can’t afford to be so pedigree-focused when racing against fierce AI competitors. I take big swings on overlooked skills rather than prior titles or brands, and it really pays off.

Lou Reverchuk, Co-Founder and CEO, EchoGlobal

Include Flexibility in Skills-Based Hiring

Skills-based hiring is a common occurrence, as it’s a faster way to examine a candidate’s value to your business. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the more traditional route of job titles. The only issue with using job titles is that you run the risk of pigeonholing candidates.

If you’re flexible in your hiring policies, you can easily make room for those with relevant skills who don’t fall into the typical categories that you may be focused on. In my personal experience, I’ve met candidates who worked in operations but had the skills and mindset of a leadership position. 

By hiring them into a leadership position, they were able to grow and develop into someone who would be a great fit for that position, as opposed to someone stuck in a rut of one of their old job titles.

Matthew Ramirez, Founder, Paraphrasing Tool

Focus on Practical Experience 

Often, lower-level employees are tasked with the most involved tasks. Employees hired through skill-based hiring may have far more valuable experience. Even if different candidates had a higher position in a company, it might not translate into practical knowledge. 

For instance, a manager of your IT team may be mostly involved in supervising. But if you want an expert in IT, they may not have much experience in it. You want to hire people who have demonstrable experience in a particular skill, even if they are at a lower level in their job. These roles may have been the best learning experience for them.

Jonathan Rosenfeld, Owner and Attorney, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Inc

Remember Skills Indicate Role Fit

Skills are the future—this is applicable to both soft skills and technical skills. It is becoming more and more obvious that being adept at skills is more important than basing your “worth” on the previous company you were with or whether you held a high-level position. 

Companies operate differently from each other, and two similarly titled roles may have different expectations or skills required for the person fulfilling the role. That is why you can’t expect it to be a done deal when you walk into an interview. 

In my time as a hiring manager, I have seen a lot of people try out for jobs that they ought to be perfect for, but because of the skills required across industries, they won’t be the right fit for it. When there are enough skills to overlap, you can take the chance and hire them, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Ben Richardson, Director, Acuity Training

Prioritize Skills Over Titles

It is widely recognized that hiring should be based on skill rather than job title. Very few recruiters and leaders involved in the recruitment process consider job titles alone. 

While job titles can be useful for identifying candidates to approach, they often do not accurately reflect what a person has actually done for a company. This is because many companies create job titles or assign titles that may not have a consistent meaning across different organizations. For example, the title “Engineer” is frequently used in job titles for employees who are not engaged in any form of engineering, leading to confusion about their actual roles and responsibilities.

Ultimately, job titles serve merely as a reference for companies to categorize potential candidates. The crucial factor in hiring decisions should be the candidate’s skills, as these are what determine the quality and suitability of an individual for a position.

Lauren Carlstrom, COO, Oxygen Plus

Verify Skills, Avoid Mistakes

Understanding that a potential employee is willing to leave their current job for a specific position can indicate that crucial elements may be missing from their current role. It’s rare for someone to leave a job they are content with, so employers should be cautious of assuming that a particular skill listed on a resume is necessarily accurate. 

I hired a woman from Mexico through the H-2B visa program to work as our Digital Marketing Manager. She underwent a year-long vetting process by U.S. Customs before being approved for the TN Visa program, which allows professionals to work for a company in the U.S. After she arrived, I gave her a list of tasks to do based on her resume. 

However, two months into her job, I noticed unusual login attempts on my accounts. It turned out that she was actually a graphic designer who had given access to others in Mexico to run my campaigns. When I confronted her about this, she grabbed the mouse from my hand and quickly clicked out of the “account access” tab.

I then moved her to my office and sat beside her, asking her to show me how to create a new Google Ads campaign. To my surprise, she didn’t have a clue. I then asked her to help me promote a video on TikTok, but she didn’t know where to start. It became clear that she had misrepresented her qualifications and had no idea about the work she claimed to be skilled in. 

As a result, I sent her back to Mexico immediately. It cost me over $6,000 to bring her here only to find out that she was unqualified for the job.

Tammy Sons, CEO, TN Nursery

Find Potential Growth Through Skills

As the Founding Partner and owner of a law office who has done his fair share of hiring, I would advocate for hiring candidates based on their skills rather than their previous job titles because it allows for a more accurate assessment of their abilities and potential contribution to the firm.

For instance, a candidate may have held a more junior title in their previous role but possesses exceptional research, analytical, and communication skills crucial for success in a legal environment. By prioritizing skills over titles, the law office can identify individuals with a strong foundation and potential for growth.

I recall a recent experience where a candidate with a paralegal background, though lacking a senior title, showcased exceptional legal research skills and a keen understanding of our practice areas during the interview. Opting to focus on their demonstrated abilities rather than their previous title proved beneficial, as this individual has since become a valuable asset to our team, exceeding expectations and contributing significantly to our firm’s success.

Andy Gillin, Founding Partner and Attorney, GJEL Accident Attorneys

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