You’ve had it.
You can’t stomach another cover letter.
You’re done with scanning an endless sea of resumes that may or may not be telling you the truth about a candidate’s experience.
You’re ready for a new way to recruit. You’re ready to hire for skills.
Skills-based hiring kicks those worn-out hiring methods to the curb not because they’re time-consuming (they are) but because they don’t guarantee a great hire.
Hiring for skills means assessing your candidates’ abilities: their hard and soft skills, personalities, motivations, and perspectives relevant to the role you’re trying to fill.
In short, it answers the most important question: Can they do the job?
This article walks you through the six main skills-based hiring strategies that have proven to reduce time-to-hire, costs, and turnover and boost diversity, innovation, and productivity.
We’ll cover each strategy, its benefits and drawbacks, when to use it, and the jobs it’s best suited for.
Skills-based hiring is built upon the proven concept that the more relevant data you have about an applicant, the better you can predict their job performance.
That’s where multi-measure testing comes in.
Instead of looking at a candidate’s degree or work experience, multi-measure testing combines multiple assessments, like personality tests, cognitive ability tests, and role-specific tests, to gain valuable insight into how your applicant operates.
Let’s say you’re hiring an HVAC technician.
With multi-measure testing, you can combine one of our technical skills tests, like the HVAC Technician test, with a personality test, like our Motivation test, to reveal specific information about various applicant abilities and attributes.
Using a combination of pre-employment assessments has several benefits for your business and the candidate you hire.
1. Multi-measure testing overcomes unconscious bias by establishing standard criteria for judging all of your applicants.
Unconscious bias doesn’t only refer to race or gender. Humans are prone to biased decision-making based on subtler markers, like educational and financial background or physical appearance.
Multi-measure testing prevents bias from influencing hiring decisions by focusing solely on skills and objectively measuring all candidates.
You ask assessment questions in the same order for each applicant and score answers to find the candidate who fits the skills your organization needs.
At no point in the process does skills-based hiring factor in an applicant’s age, race, ethnicity, or university degree.
In other words, skills-based hiring eliminates degrees, cover letters, and bias-prone interview questions that stray away from skills.
2. Multi-measure testing reduces costs by streamlining your hiring process
Using a combination of assessments eliminates the time spent scanning resumes, scheduling multiple rounds of interviews, and going back and forth with your hiring team about who feels like a better fit.
Multi-measure testing uses concrete data about applicants’ skills to elevate top performers in your talent pool and make your decision process easier and quicker, saving valuable time and resources.
Multi-measure testing maintains a positive candidate experience (80% of candidates want a quicker response time from recruiters) and eliminates the emotional toll that your hiring team can experience with an ineffective hiring process.
Sharen DeLay, the founder of GO-HR, says that grappling with talent shortages, applicants ghosting the process, and not reaching a consensus about a candidate can all put additional stress on your hiring managers.
Additional stress can lead to unforeseen costs related to lost productivity, motivation, and voluntary turnover.
Multi-measure testing eliminates tangible costs related to hiring tasks and the more subjective costs related to employee morale by identifying the right applicant efficiently.
Our report, the State of Skills-Based Hiring 2022, shows that around 90% of organizations that use multi-measure testing and other skills-based hiring practices reduced total time-to-hire, the total number of mis-hires, and the overall cost-to-hire.
But there are some potential drawbacks to multi-measure testing too.
1. Using a combination of assessments takes more time to complete than using one test or no tests
As a candidate, taking the extra time to complete assessments, on top of an already-grueling job search, can feel like a thorn in the side.
But it’s important to remember that multi-measure testing also shrinks the overall time it takes for the applicant to get through the hiring process.
Why? With multi-measure testing, candidates don’t have to update their resumes, craft company-specific cover letters, or sit through multiple interviews with no relevance to the job.
2. Using just one of these tests alone doesn’t give enough information about the applicant
The golden rule of multi-measure testing: Never use a single test to make a hiring decision.
Personality tests, for example, do not accurately predict job performance when used as a sole assessment and can lead to biased hiring decisions.
The US Department of Labor’s Testing and Assessment guide states that personality tests are best used in a larger skills testing program to get the best results.
3. Pre-employment testing that relies heavily on AI is prone to bias
At TestGorilla, we do not recommend using AI in your hiring process because some platforms screen out diverse applicants.
A 2020 report from the Center For Democracy and Technology found that as AI-power skills tests and interviews increase, so does the risk of discrimination they pose.
A famous example occurred in 2018 when Amazon implemented an AI hiring tool that showed bias against women during recruitment.1
You can implement multi-measure testing anytime; however, it is most effective at the beginning of the hiring process.
Identify the skills your organization lacks and what type of role can fill the gap.
In other words, conduct a skills-gap analysis.
Let’s say you’ve decided to hire a sales representative. It’s a good idea to test their technical skills with a test like our B2B Lead Generation test.
But remember, multi-measure testing is only successful when you consider the whole candidate: not just their technical knowledge but also their soft skills, attitude, and behaviors.
Your multi-measure assessment should also include a cognitive ability test.
Cognitive ability tests assess candidates’ thought processes around numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
What cognitive abilities do you require for your sales role?
For example, verbal reasoning and problem-solving are crucial for a role that requires excellent communication and customer support.
Spatial reasoning, on the other hand, is more relevant to architecture, engineering, and research jobs.
Be careful and intentional with your use of muli-measure skills testing. Following best practices ensures that you avoid common mistakes like assigning the wrong tests to applicants, neglecting the applicant’s skills, and only using one type of test.
The interview process can feel like a waste of time for everyone involved.
You liked how the candidate answered your questions, but maybe they’re just good at interviews.
Did you get any evidence that they’re right for the job?
The answer is likely “no” if you run a traditional, open-ended interview.
Hiring for skills means using objective hiring metrics at every stage of the process, even in an interview setting.
Structured interviews rely on predetermined questions you ask in the same order for each applicant interview.
This strategy differs from the typical unstructured interview, where the interviewer asks each candidate different questions, relies on first impressions and instincts, and assesses without using rubrics or scorecards.
Structured interviews have several benefits that put them above traditional, unstructured interviews.
The benefits of structured interviews
How they work
Predict job performance
Structured interviews predict performance about 26% of the time. This result is significantly better than unstructured interviews (14%) and background checks (7%).2
Bias creeps into the hiring process whenever there is too much subjectivity. Structured interviews ask each applicant the same role-specific questions regardless of race, gender, or background.
Increase hiring speed
The interviewer sticks to predetermined questions instead of using loose, open-ended questions.
Easier to compare data
If you ask every candidate the same questions, you can compare the data to find the best fit.
The evidence favoring structured interviews is clear, but some potential drawbacks remain.
The unfortunate reality of any decision-making process is that bias is not completely avoidable.
Research shows that implementing more structure into your applicant evaluation decreases bias but doesn’t remove it completely.
If unstructured interviews virtually guarantee bias, structured interviews fare much better at maintaining objectivity.3
One of the few benefits of unstructured interviews is that they offer a more relaxed environment where the interviewer and candidate can explore topics conversationally.
Structured interviews are more to-the-point and analytical, which does not make every applicant comfortable.
Schedule your structured interviews after conducting your skills-gap analysis and sending your applicants a personality test like the DISC test.
This approach lets you know what type of behavior your applicant is most likely to engage in during the interview.
There’s more than one type of structured interview. Let’s look at the two types of structured interviews you can use.
1. Structured behavioral interviews
Instead of relying on a candidate’s experience from their resume, structured behavioral interviews require the candidate to give specific examples related to their behavior, competencies, and skills in certain contexts.
For example, instead of asking if an applicant is task-oriented and receiving an undetailed answer, a good behavioral interview question can ask: “What is your task prioritization process?”
Asking a question about a candidate’s process requires a detailed answer that gives the interviewer evidence that a candidate is task-oriented instead of taking their word for it.
Here’s an example of a satisfactory answer: “I usually use a to-do list to break the project down into smaller tasks that I sequence based on priority. I handle the most important tasks and work my way down.”
2. Structured situational interviews
These interviews are similar to behavioral interviews, but as the name suggests, they ask candidates hypothetical questions about situations they could encounter in the role you’re hiring for.
Imagine you’re hiring a UX designer. Your previous designer had trouble adapting to users’ pain points that would surface at different stages of building an app.
A good situational interview question you can ask the applicant is: “What would you do if your manager asked you to perform a task you’ve never done before?”
If the candidate explains their process for dealing with unfamiliar or nuanced tasks, they offer evidence that they can handle this aspect of the UX designer role.
As we have seen, assessing a candidate’s cognitive abilities, personality attributes, and role-specific skills is a great way to zero in on talent.
But asking your applicant to do the work gives you an even better sense of how the applicant performs in the role.
Take Jeff, for example.
Jeff was trying to hire writers for Harvard Business Review. He took the common approach of giving applicants a writing assignment to see if they could handle the work they would do if hired.
But then he took it forward by scheduling a follow-up call to ask candidates why they wrote what they did and how they went about crafting their projects.
Jeff was using a skills-based hiring strategy that revealed several benefits.
Work samples and assignments are valuable skills assessments that give hiring teams practical data to evaluate applicants for a role.
1. Helps you understand how the applicant performs
Asking candidates to explain how they would do the job gives you insight into their thought processes and decision-making. If a candidate completes part of the work, you know they are on the right track.
2. Enables applicants to prove their skills
Research from Linkedin shows that 74% of candidates want opportunities to show their knowledge, abilities, and skills during the hiring process. Doing the actual work enables candidates to prove they have the skills, not just the ability to talk about them.4
3. Gives candidates a better sense of the job
Applicants want to know what the job entails. There’s no better way to show your employee what to expect than letting them do the work.
4. Builds a database of responses
Jeff also found that using the same process repeatedly enabled him to gather all of the writing applicants’ responses in a single database and track which responses were better than others to develop the process for future applicants.
5. Hires non-traditional candidates
Work samples and assignments open the door to candidates who could have the skills to do the job but haven’t worked in your industry.
STARs, for example, are workers that learned their skills and gained experience outside of a traditional education or work background. Coding camps, online courses, and certificate programs are examples of non-traditional backgrounds.
When assessing a candidate’s job-specific skills, work samples and assignments cut to the chase. But what are the drawbacks?
1. They are one piece of the puzzle
If hired, applicants must handle multiple competing projects and responsibilities, often with less time than a trial assignment offers. A work assignment is just one piece of the overall job.
2. They’re expensive
You must pay candidates to complete the trial, regardless of whether they performed well or not.
3. They take time
Creating and evaluating assignments takes time. It also requires applicants to take the time to complete them, which can be a turnoff.
If you want to know whether a candidate can complete a role-specific assignment before continuing the rest of the hiring process, start early.
It’s always a good idea to get a sense of your candidates’ personalities, attitudes, and experience before paying them to complete an assignment.
Try offering a work assignment after the multi-measure testing phase and monitor the results.
Paid trial periods take the work assignment strategy a step further by inviting a candidate to work on the job for a designated period.
Some trial periods can last up to 90 days.5
Some companies opt for trial periods because they act as a road test for applicants in the work environment they enter when hired.
Let’s explore some other benefits.
1. Assesses how a candidate fits with your existing team
With a single work assignment, hiring managers don’t get a complete, real-time view of candidate skills like collaboration, communication, and the ability to take direction.
On the other hand, trial periods reveal how a candidate meshes with your employees to assess their technical and soft skills.
2. Educates the candidate about your business
Trial periods enable candidates to learn more about how your organization functions and how they can contribute.
A candidate could be intrigued by your business initially, only to realize they’re not interested in the position after a trial period.
This strategy keeps the candidate and the employer on the same page about responsibilities, workflows, and workplace culture from the beginning of the hiring process.
3. Offers a positive candidate experience
Research shows that 68% of applicants believe that their treatment in the hiring process reflects the treatment they will receive on the job.6
Paying candidates to perform tasks on the job shows them that you are willing to put some skin in the game. It’s a sign of trust that you are willing to incorporate them into your organization before making the final decision.
As with our other skills-based hiring strategies, there are potential drawbacks under certain circumstances.
1. Only good for certain roles
Trial periods are not possible for every role. They work especially well for blue-collar jobs like construction or food service, where the candidate has a clear set of repeatable, in-person tasks that they can be evaluated on.
2. Takes time out of your hiring manager’s day
Candidates going through a trial period are brand new to your organization.
Depending on the nature of the work, you must monitor them closely to get the best information about their skills, maintain safety, and evaluate how they interact with your existing workforce.
Each of these responsibilities falls on your hiring manager or team leader, costing them time that they could spend on other responsibilities.
3. Costs money
No matter how short your trial period is, it costs money.
You have to pay the candidate for their time. You also pay your existing employees to train and incorporate them into the workflow.
4. Can be stressful
Nearly three-quarters of job seekers say that looking for a job is one of the biggest stressors in their lives. Applicants could feel that you constantly evaluate them on the job, which can increase stress and negatively impact their performance.
Because of your substantial investment in a candidate, it’s best to reserve your job trial periods for your finalists.
After applicants have responded satisfactorily to your multi-measure testing and structured interviews, consider a work trial to confirm they can handle a bundle of responsibilities in real time.
Research shows that more than half of employers are using job simulations.7
If you are uncomfortable advancing a candidate to the trial period stage, use a job simulation to evaluate their skills in a particular role.
Job simulations can take the shape of a work sample, but they often consist of certain tasks the candidate must complete if hired rather than a single assignment.
Job simulations can be typing several words per second, drafting a business proposal, making a presentation, or solving math problems.
Candidates participate in job simulations over the phone, online, or in person, but the candidate is not working within your organization as a trial employee.
Job simulations offer several benefits to employers and applicants.
1. Gives you a strong predictor of performance
Job simulations give employers concrete evidence that a candidate can or can’t complete certain tasks. Instead of relying on a candidate’s previous work, job simulations require them to directly show the abilities required for a specific role within your organization.
2. Mitigates bias
It’s impossible to eliminate bias.
But job simulations are a great antidote to the bias-prone phenomenon of degree inflation, for example, because they assess candidates’ role-specific skills rather than where they went to school.
3. Minimizes risk
Work trials give you a front-row seat to candidate performance. But there are some risks involved.
What if they disrupt your workflow, damage a tool or equipment, or steal property?
Job simulations clearly show how a candidate performs without bringing them into your organization.
Job simulations are an easy skill-based hiring tool, but they are not always the best fit for your organization.
1. Takes time and resources
As we have seen with other skills-based hiring strategies, job simulations require time and money.
Deciding what to test for and which simulation to use and scheduling the time to conduct your simulation are all costs you should consider.
Especially if you are administering these simulations in person, logistical factors like space, scheduling, and assigning employees to oversee the process can affect how beneficial job simulations can be for your business.
2. Doesn’t reflect the entire role
Job simulations accurately assess skills related to a part of the job but not all of it.
Asking a market research analyst to create a research proposal is a great way to assess their hard data collection, analysis, and organization skills.
Still, it doesn’t assess soft skills like collaboration, communication, or managing multiple tasks.
You can use job simulations anywhere in your hiring process, but applying them in the screening phase after skills tests or during the final interview phases works best.
Using them late in the process gives you time to weed out applicants who performed well on skills tests but failed to execute the job responsibilities effectively.
They can also be used as a top-off in the final interview stage to confirm that your candidate can execute tasks from the jump once hired.
Gamification sounds like a hip new hiring strategy, but it’s been around for more than 20 years.
This hiring strategy incorporates elements of different games into the recruitment process.
Google, for example, famously tried gamification in 2004 with a mathematical riddle.8
But gamification is a creative skills-based hiring strategy you can use in several ways.
Other types of gamification in HR and hiring include:
Online role-playing games
Gamification sounds like a fun way to engage applicants in your hiring process, but it’s also a proven strategy to fill roles.
For example, Telekom, a German telecommunications company, found that the candidates they rejected based on resumes and cover letters ultimately got the job in their gamification process.
Gamification has several unique benefits to streamline your hiring process and track valuable candidate skills data.
1. Helps candidates better absorb information
When we enjoy what we are doing, we learn more.
Gamified learning improves performance and accuracy and decreases unwanted behaviors. When applied to hiring, gamification helps applicants better understand core concepts related to the role.
2. Entertains your candidates
A cookie-cutter hiring process can be boring for candidates and recruiters. Gamification offers a unique experience for your applicants in which they have fun while showing off their abilities.
3. Replaces job applications
Instead of asking for resumes and cover letters, you can ask candidates to play a game and evaluate their scores. This approach saves time and money for the candidate and your hiring team.
4. Finds motivated candidates
Job seekers often copy and paste job application responses to complete the process faster. But if a candidate completes a hiring game, it shows that they have the motivation to take tasks to the finish line.
5. Hires diverse applicants
Asking a candidate to solve a puzzle or complete an entertaining virtual mission enables little space for bias to enter the process.
Gamification does not give employers access to demographic or personal information that can skew their hiring decisions.
This feature opens the door for talented candidates who can prove their skills in an inclusive environment.
If you are questioning whether or not gamification is right for your organization, it’s important to consider some potential drawbacks.
1. Not everyone likes games
Although nearly three-quarters of the US enjoys playing video games, not everyone wants to play a game to get hired. That’s why it’s important to consider whether gamification is right for your talent pool.
2. Gamification requires investment
Many gamification platforms are available on the market. You need to explore and weigh them against your existing hiring costs.
3. May not accurately reflect the entire position
Chances are the job itself does not take place in a gaming environment.
Gamification gives you valuable insights into applicants’ skills but does not guarantee the candidate fits the role.
You can use gamification at any stage in the hiring process, but it is most valuable as a tool to get candidates involved in the hiring process.
Try posting a hiring game on your job advertisement to attract curious job seekers looking for an entertaining and challenging workplace.
Skills-based hiring gives employers a Swiss army knife of tools to attract, assess, and hire talented applicants.
Multi-measure testing evaluates the whole candidate, from their personality to their numerical reasoning and critical thinking skills.
Structured interviews take full advantage of the time spent with a candidate, asking predetermined questions that dig into their core competencies.
Work assignments and job simulations enable applicants to show role-specific skills and cut to the chase in the hiring process.
Trial periods take finalists into your organization to understand how they fit into your project goals and team dynamics.
Gamification makes hiring fun and gathers valuable data about candidate skills and performance.
You’ve had it with traditional hiring, so here’s your roadmap to a new process that locates all-star talent cheaply and quickly.
Learn more about adopting skills-based hiring practices into your organization to get your hiring process out of the mud.
Dastin, Jeffrey. (October 10, 2018). “Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women”. Reuters. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight-idUSKCN1MK08G
Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). “The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings”. Psychological Bulletin. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.124.2.262
Aamodt, Michael, et al. (May 2006). “Do structured interviews eliminate bias? A meta-analytic comparison of structured and unstructured interviews”. ResearchGate. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308753199_Do_structured_interviews_eliminate_bias_A_meta-analytic_comparison_of_structured_and_unstructured_interviews
Raposo, Devin. (October 21, 2021). “9 Telling Candidate Experience Statistics That Can Help Refine Your Hiring Process”. Linkedin. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-acquisition/stats-key-to-providing-great-candidate-experience
Indeed. (February 16, 2023). “FAQs: Should You Agree To An Employment Trial Period?”. Indeed: Career Guide. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/starting-new-job/should-you-agree-to-employment-trial-period
CareerBuilder. (October 30, 2018). “Job Seekers Are Now in the Driver’s Seat and Expect Next-Gen Recruiting and New Hire Experiences, Survey Finds”. CareerBuilder: Press Releases. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://press.careerbuilder.com/2018-10-30-Job-Seekers-Are-Now-in-the-Drivers-Seat-and-Expect-Next-Gen-Recruiting-and-New-Hire-Experiences-Survey-Finds
Zielinski, Dave. (January 22, 2018). “Predictive Assessments Give Companies Insight into Candidates’ Potential”. SHRM. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/predictive-assessments-insight-candidates-potential.aspx
Olsen, Stefanie. (August 12, 2004). “Google recruits eggheads with mystery billboard”. CNET. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/google-recruits-eggheads-with-mystery-billboard/
“Worldwide Gamers Statistics: User Numbers, Demographics, & Region”. Bankmycell.com. Retrieved June 18, 2023. https://www.bankmycell.com/blog/how-many-people-play-video-games
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