Struggling with Large Numbers of Job Applications? How to Avoid Overlooking the Best Candidates

The impact of the pandemic on the economy has left millions unemployed and looking for work, while also greatly reducing the availability of jobs across the country. However, a shortage of jobs isn’t the only barrier to employment for more than two-thirds of those who are unemployed and do not hold a bachelor’s degree.  During the last recession, the number of job postings that required at least a college degree rose by more than 10 percentage points. When there are more applicants than jobs, employers have historically turned to degree requirements in an attempt to filter out candidates they do not think will be capable of doing the job, resulting in degree inflation. But there is a better way to assess candidates without unnecessary degree requirements. We recently spoke to an employer who utilized skills-based hiring practices (SBHP), an innovative method of hiring that focuses on candidates’ skills instead of proxies for skills such as degree pedigree or previous job titles, to ensure every candidate interviewed had the right competencies to succeed in the role.

Brad Wood, Director of Operations & Strategic Initiatives at River Valley Resources, and graduate of the inaugural Skillful Indiana Governor’s Coaching Corps (SGCC), learned about how to implement skills-based hiring practices at his organization during his time at the SGCC. He also gained access to tools that could help him put these practices in place through the Skillful Talent Series Bootcamp. Since River Valley Resources is a large organization, Brad decided to implement SBHP first in the programs he oversees and at the time Brad’s programs needed two career coaches, allowing Brad to apply a new type of hiring. 

“The Skillful Job Posting Generator helped me prioritize the skills that we mapped out and focus on core competencies and preferred competencies; This process was extremely helpful.”

Prioritizing skills in a job posting

For Brad and his team, the process of hiring new career coaches began with a skills-based job posting instead of the traditional job posting his organization usually utilized which included credential requirements. “Before the Skillful Talent Series, I didn’t know that there were tools out there that could help me implement skills-based hiring practices. Learning that from the boot camp has made my hiring process go a lot smoother,” said Brad. One of the tools he learned about was the online Skillful Job Posting Generator, which he used free of charge to create a skills-based job posting. To do this, Brad first sat down with his team and they talked through what skills they were looking for. “We talked about what skills the ideal candidate would have. We discussed what competencies a candidate could demonstrate that would make them a phenomenal worker,” said Brad, “Once we had the competencies we were looking for, the Skillful Job Posting Generator helped me prioritize the skills that we mapped out and focus on core competencies and preferred competencies; This process was extremely helpful.” Once the job posts were published River Valley Resources received twelve applicants in total for both career coaching positions, although they were expecting at least double the applicants. Brad said, “I think having a job description that was crystal clear about the skills we needed helped reduce the number of applicants. We didn’t get as many applicants as we thought we were going to get, but the applicants we did get were a great match for the job.”

Shifting to skills-based interviews

The next step for the River Valley Resources team was to interview the candidates. For this step, Brad leveraged materials from the Skillful Talent Series Training Bootcamp and coached his team through what a skills-based interview looked like and what questions were best for this approach. The candidates were asked behavioral questions, such as: Tell about a time when you had to establish solid boundaries with somebody you were working with, instead of culture fit questions which can exclude people from different backgrounds. According to Brad, the team interviews went remarkably smooth, “Individual members of the team came up to me afterward and said, ‘This was the best process I’ve been a part of when hiring somebody.’” Brad believes the job posting and the skills-based questions asked during the interview helped the team get a good indication of who would be a good fit for the job and who wouldn’t. “If you do the traditional interview, you don’t get that indication, it’s usually after you hire someone that you can tell whether you’ve made a mistake or not.” 

One interviewee was a woman with more than a decade of experience in the field, but no four-year degree, and this is the type of qualified candidate that could have been deterred from applying had the job posting required unnecessary credentials.

Although Brad is an advocate for skills-based hiring practices, he knows for River Valley Resources, a large organization operating in 16 counties in Southeast Indiana and with 10 different programs, not requiring a four-year degree isn’t feasible for all programs. Adult Ed, for example, is a program that requires instructors to have a four-year degree to meet state standards. “I can see other programs implementing skills-based hiring practices because for them it would be less of a paradigm shift,” said Brad, so to get buy-in for SBHP from the rest of his organization, Brad included his executive director and his HR lead in the hiring process; so, they could see the new approach every step of the way, from creating the job posting to offering the candidates a job. “It was extremely important for me that they witnessed first-hand how much easier this process is and how much easier it will be to have that perfect person for that position,” said Brad.

“There’s an economic benefit to skills-based hiring. There is a long-term benefit of keeping somebody around"

Effective hiring and effective onboarding

Brad wants to encourage other employers to hire people based on skills. He shared an anecdote with us about why hiring workers with the right competencies and who understand what the job entails is so important: “One of our economic development people said he was talking with a local company and they were estimating that it takes about $40,000 to train people, and that company had just finished training a worker that quit two days later. There’s an economic benefit to skills-based hiring. There is a long-term benefit of keeping somebody around,” said Brad, “If you can implement skills-based hiring practices it’s going to pay off in the long term. You’re going to be successful, and your employees are going to be successful because you’re hiring the right people by finding the right people.”

To spread the word about SBHP, Brad brought together key players in his area to bring the Skillful Talent Series Train-the-Trainer Bootcamp to other organizations that also work with employers. The new hire for River Valley Resources started in early November and Brad is confident skills-based hiring practices will also help his organization onboard new hires more effectively.

 To learn more about how you can implement skills-based practices visit our employer page where you can sign up for a Skillful Talent Series online workshop.