4 skills-based alternatives to traditional success predictors in hiring

4 skills-based alternatives to traditional success predictors in hiring

What should hiring managers and recruiters look for in candidates during the hiring process?

Traditional hiring methods offer an easy answer: Look for candidates who graduated from top schools with good grades, have relevant experience from big-name companies, have the right connections, and perform well in an interview. 

But none of these traditional hiring metrics are accurate predictors of job performance. They are actually minefields for unconscious bias, discrimination, and nepotism.

Hiring managers should collect hard data about a candidate’s cognitive ability and skills instead of using unreliable metrics like degrees, resumes, and self-reported prior experience. 

Skills-based hiring is the new way to recruit that offers a wide array of assessments such as cognitive ability tests, personality tests, culture tests, and role-specific tests to accurately predict job performance. 

Although this approach helps employers hire the right candidates, skill-based hiring is not one-size-fits-all. 

It’s a nuanced hiring strategy that accounts for the fact that different jobs require different skills and gives employers the tools to predict which candidate has the right skills to succeed in a particular role. 

Accurately predict success with skills-based hiring

4 traditional success predictors and their skills-based alternatives

Traditional hiring methods are ingrained in our culture, but they’ve become outdated

Relying on a candidate’s resume, experience, personal connections, and interview performance may seem like a logical way to hire, but this strategy doesn’t actually benefit the employer or the candidate. 

Sure, the candidate might impress an employer enough to get the job, but focusing on a candidate’s interests or education level have extremely low validity in predicting future performance. 

This potentially saddles an employer with a bad hire and puts the candidate in a role they aren’t prepared for. 

Let’s take a closer look at how traditional hiring methods use flawed approaches to predict job performance. 

4 traditional success predictors and their alternatives

1. Traditional hiring approach: Judging education level

Educational degrees seemingly imply a lot of information that an employer can use to make a prediction about a candidate’s job performance. 

The thought process goes something like this: 

  • The candidate went to a great college, which means they are smart, responsible, and hardworking
  • They must have had a decent grade point average to graduate, which means they were able to maintain high performance over a period of several years
  • We have a few other employees who attended that school, which means they are a great fit with our culture

These conclusions are understandable, but nothing about a degree proves that they are true. 

When employers place a heightened emphasis on degrees, it’s called degree inflation. As of 2022, only 9% of employers removed their degree requirements for entry-level jobs. This is a concerningly low figure when considering the consequences of degree inflation: 

  • Shrinks your talent pool: Eliminating candidates without degrees ignores significant amounts of candidates who have demonstrable skills. 
  • Reveals little about actual skills: A Jobs of Tomorrow report shows that there will be an increase in available data and AI-related jobs like engineering, cloud computing, and product development. The skills required to do all of these jobs aren’t necessarily learned with a college degree. 
  • Does not accurately predict job performance: Degrees can’t tell an employer much about a candidate’s cognitive ability, personality, soft skills, and ability to complete role-specific tasks. In fact, a study by Cengage Group shows that nearly half of college graduates do not apply to entry-level jobs because they feel they don’t have the right skills. 

Attending a college or university can be a life-changing experience that positively impacts a candidate. That doesn’t mean they have the necessary skills to succeed in a particular job. In reality, most skills are developed through practice, not taught in school. 

If you’re a college graduate, how many tests have you taken that pertain to your exact job duties? The likely answer is “none.” So, why should a college degree be a dealbreaker for a job application?

The alternative: Cognitive ability tests affirm the skills that degrees can’t

Employers should shift their focus from degrees to data-backed alternatives to predicting job success, like cognitive ability tests. 

A meta-analysis by Frank Schmidt examined several different combinations of methods used to predict job success. 

In the three highest-validity combinations, cognitive ability tests were used each time. 

In other words, cognitive ability tests are one of the best predictors of job success that we have

But what are they exactly? 

Cognitive ability tests are pre-employment tests that measure a candidate’s cognitive reasoning skills. 

Cognitive reasoning is a person’s ability to understand and analyze information by sorting it into a logical structure. It refers to a person’s ability to grasp information quickly and filter out unnecessary data that slows down thinking and processing. 

Cognitive ability tests measure: 

  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Numerical reasoning 
  • Reading comprehension 
  • Spatial reasoning

Cognitive ability tests are a better alternative to degrees because the skills they measure are all linked to a candidate’s ability to succeed at most jobs. Degrees don’t provide hard data on skills – only inaccurate predictions. 

Let’s say you’re hiring a senior manager, for example. A cognitive ability test measures a candidate’s quick-thinking ability and skills related to complex decision-making. 

When hiring for a junior role, a cognitive ability test measures how quickly a candidate can learn, indicating that they may have a high potential to succeed in the future – a great success predictor. 

2. Traditional hiring approach: Relying on experience in resumes

Hiring someone who has experience performing in a similar role seems like a common sense predictor of job success.

Surprisingly, this traditional hiring method actually has little to do with predicting future performance. 

According to a 2019 meta-analysis by Chad H. Van Iddekinge, there is no correlation between a candidate’s previous work experience and their future job success. 

Here’s why: 

  • Culture change: A candidate may have thrived at their previous workplace because of the unique culture that existed there. Even if you assess that a candidate will most likely mesh well with your company culture, the candidate may not be able to adjust. 
  • Job titles can be deceiving: The same job title in two different companies may have vastly different roles. Nearly three-quarters of jobseekers say they felt regret once they realized that their workplace was different than they were led to believe. 

How do employers typically learn about a candidate’s experience? Reading resumes, of course. 

Our own research shows that more than half of surveyed employers could not tell from reading a candidate’s resume if the applicant had the skills needed for the job. 

To put it simply, resumes are not the best tool for hiring

A resume can organize a candidate’s experience and tells a story about what that candidate has accomplished in their work history. 

But this story does not provide any hard facts about a candidate’s skills, personality, cultural contribution, or cognitive ability. 

Resumes are: 

  • Marketing documents: They are intended to present the candidate in the best possible light, emphasizing strengths and downplaying weaknesses.
  • Difficult to rank objectively: Nearly half of the survey respondents said it was hard to measure which resumes were the best. The only quantifiable metric in most cases was years of experience, which tells an employer nothing about how a candidate will actually perform. 
Focusing on a candidates interests or education level have low validity in predicting future performance

The alternative: Role-specific tests and culture add tests give an accurate representation of employee fit

Experience on a resume does not show a candidate’s actual skills, but situational judgment tests do. 

Situational judgment tests are more role-specific than cognitive ability tests, presenting candidates with work-related problems or scenarios and assessing their responses. 

Skills-based hiring uses situational judgment tests to acquire hard data about a candidate’s actual skill level. 

What do these have to do with a candidate’s experience? 

For one, candidates can rely on their past experience to figure out how to navigate a particular situation that appears in the test. But whether or not the candidate has encountered this situation before reveals very little about whether or not they can handle it effectively. 

Instead of asking generic questions that may paint a general picture about a candidate’s skills, these tests directly relate to the needs of the position and measure the following skills: 

  • Leadership skills 
  • Resilience 
  • Organization and planning 
  • Decision-making 
  • Communication skills 

A candidate may list these skills on their resume and provide examples based on their diverse work experience. A test proves whether or not they have them. 

Say you’re hiring a strategy consultant and you need someone with a great business acumen. The Business Judgment test evaluates the following skills: 

  • Strategy and innovation 
  • Financing 
  • Sales and marketing
  • Mergers and acquisitions 

If you want to avoid the negative impacts of culture change, you can implement a Culture Add test to measure how a candidate’s behaviors and values align with your own to determine their future success. 

These tests are used for any type of job where situational awareness and an innovative culture are important parts of an organization’s day-to-day. 

3. Traditional hiring approach: Hiring based on personal connections 

Estimates say that around 70% of all job openings are not made public.[1] 

In fact, research shows that more than three-quarters of jobs are filled through personal connections and networking. 

There is no evidence to suggest that a candidate’s personal connection to an employer or hiring manager can predict their future job success. 

Hiring candidates based on who they know is a hiring approach rife with bias and disparities in opportunity – more fortune for the fortunate.

This is because making connections with people who look and think the same as we do is hard-wired into our brains. This tendency, known as homophily, may be a result of the comfort we feel when we’re around people similar to us. 

Homophily plays a significant role in how humans form bonds with each other. Although this phenomenon may help humans make good friends, it doesn’t help them make good hires. 

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, refers to the bias of hiring personal connections as the “network gap.” Research shows that people who are referred for a job are nine times more likely to get hired

But this bias in the hiring process, even when the referral is earnest, has proven to lead to groupthink that decreases innovation and productivity. 

With nearly half of American companies saying they are experiencing a talent shortage, hiring candidates based on personal connections does not appear to be making a dent. 

And why would it? A candidate who is familiar with someone at your company provides zero evidence that that person is a skilled fit for the actual job. 

Networking itself is not bad if done correctly. There is networking etiquette that, if followed, can actually help grow your talent pool.

When an employer is approached by a personal connection, or someone they met through their network, there’s nothing wrong with considering that person for a job opening – as long as they can prove they have the skills to do the job. 

The alternative: Personality tests predict how an employee will actually behave

Companies may feel more comfortable hiring candidates they know personally because there is familiarity and shared values. 

For example, an employer may think: Why should I hire this person that I know little about personally when I have known Josh for years? 

The answer: Nothing about their personal relationship can prove that candidate’s skills or predict their behavior. 

If personality is an important consideration for an employer, personality tests are a great tool.

Personality tests measure and identify a candidate’s personality traits, behavioral tendencies, emotional responses to certain situations, or what motivates them to succeed. 

These tests are the most effective when they are paired with other cognitive abilities tests and role-specific tests, adding insight and clarity to a candidate’s behavior, values, and skills. 

When implementing personality tests, it’s important to: 

  • Use the proper personality test: If you are testing how a candidate perceives the world and makes decisions, you should use the 16 Types test instead of something like the culture add test, for example. 
  • Apply your insights correctly: Don’t let personality traits that have proven to benefit the job opening be affected by your personal bias. For instance, if you are filling a decision-making position that requires some degree of bluntness, don’t dismiss them for seeming unagreeable.
  • Use other tests too: You should never use a personality test as the deciding factor in your hiring process. Skills-based hiring uses a blended approach of different cognitive abilities tests, role-specific tests, structured interviews, and situational judgment tests to accurately predict job success. 

The Big 5 (OCEAN) test, for example, is a personality test that assesses five overarching personality traits to gain insight into employee behavior: 

Personality trait High scorersLow scorers
OpennessCurious, creative, open-minded, and excited about new experiences.Tend to dislike change and are more logical thinkers.
ConscientiousnessDisciplined, goal-oriented, and always planning ahead.Don’t rely on organizational structures to thrive, but can struggle with deadlines. 
ExtroversionTend to be more social, energized when around others, and love being the center of attention. More introverted, prefer working alone, and can struggle with collaboration. 
AgreeablenessGenerally have a lot of empathy, concern, and patience for other people.Tend to be more self-interested, logical, blunt communicators, and can be manipulative at times. 
NeuroticismCan be anxious, lack self-confidence, and struggle to cope with obstacles.Tend to be more laid back and not worry as much about dealing with problems. 

Research shows that conscientiousness is the strongest predictor of job success. Some employers prefer the Big 5 (OCEAN) test because it determines which candidates score highly in that category and which development opportunities are best suited for potential employees. 

4. Traditional hiring approach: Conducting unstructured interviews 

A candidate walks into the room interview and oozes confidence. They have a great smile, appear knowledgeable about your business, and act a lot like one of your favorite employees.

After some back-and-forth, you quickly move to discussing compensation details with them. This sounds like a slam dunk, right? If you’re comfortable hiring someone who hasn’t proven that they can do the job, then sure. 

When it comes to predicting job success, your hiring practice needs to rely on measurable data that shows a candidate’s actual skills, personality, and cognitive abilities. Otherwise, you’re hiring someone you like, not someone who’s fit for the job. 

Hiring managers can fall victim to their own bias when they use unstructured interviews

Unstructured interviews: 

  • Are different every time
  • Put questions in a different order each time
  • Are not necessarily focused on the skills needed for the job
  • Are not standardized and are difficult to compare with others
  • Don’t have clear benchmarks for successful answers 

Traditional hiring methods that rely on unstructured interviews fail to predict job success because they rarely focus on the core competencies of the role and invite bias into the process. 

Let’s say you need to hire a programmer, for example. Traditional hiring practices would typically run an unstructured interview where the hiring manager judges the candidate on the first impression they make. 

The hiring manager can’t help it; interviewer bias is quite common. However, it’s one of the biggest reasons behind bad hires. 

A first impression has nothing to do with whether that programmer is familiar with building cyber security code or can design software programs. 

The alternative: Structured interviews identify skills and eliminate bias

Are all interviews out the window, then? Not exactly. You just need to be a little more standardized with them.

Structured interviews predict performance at a rate of 50% compared to 20% for unstructured interviews. 

When using structured interviews:

  • Questions are formulated in advance
  • Questions relate to core competencies for the job 
  • Interviewers know which types of answers are preferred 
  • Questions are asked in the same order 
  • Interviewer asks behavioral and situational questions 

If you are hiring a social media manager to increase your TikTok following, for example, you can try asking the following questions to each candidate in a structured interview format: 

  • Are you comfortable using TikTok Creator Tools? 
  • What is your experience with influencer marketing strategies?
  • How would you use TikTok to build our customer base? 
  • What recent TikTok trends have you had the most success with?

These questions are bias-proof because they are strictly related to a candidate’s competencies as opposed to what the candidate has in common with the interviewer. 

Behavioral interviews are a crucial component in predicting job success because they give the hiring manager insight into how a candidate has responded to challenges in the past. 

For the social-media manager example, you could ask: Can you tell us about a time your TikTok content strategy failed to gain any traction and how you responded to that?

With skills-based hiring, the interviewer already knows the kind of answers they are looking for that best fit the job’s responsibilities. 

Here is a list of 50 behavioral questions to ask candidates when adopting a skills-based hiring approach. 

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to predicting job success? 

The short answer is no. 

There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to predicting job success, and predictors vary from role to role. 

Skills-based hiring takes into account the nuance of each individual role and industry by blending different tools and assessments to measure success. 

Multi-measure testing is the best way to utilize skills-based hiring because it identifies candidates as unique individuals with a variety of skills that may not show up in one test but shine through in another. 

Testing skills, behavior, situational awareness, and personality traits is part of a holistic approach to hiring that reimagines work as a set of responsibilities that require different competencies. 

Let’s say you are hiring a graphic designer, but the candidate scores lower on the “Extroversion” portion of the OCEAN test. That does not mean that they should be disqualified, because the bulk of their work responsibilities can take place remotely and with minimal interaction with other people. 

If they also score lowly for “Conscientiousness,” that may end up being a strength rather than a weakness. That’s because conscientiousness can impede spontaneity, creativity, and innovation – all of the skills you would hope to find in a graphic designer. 

If the candidate performs poorly in an interview (i.e., their answers are vague and imprecise or they take a while to understand a question), but performs well in the cognitive ability test, you should take all of that information into consideration before making a sweeping judgment about their fit.

It’s important to note that what constitutes a good worker is constantly changing. The Covid-19 pandemic, rapid changes in technology, and evolving consumer needs all inform how to best predict job success. 

It’s up to the employer to utilize the tools of skills-based hiring to meet the needs of their job openings and their business as a whole. 

Accurately predict success with skills-based hiring

Traditional hiring methods fail to accurately predict job success. 

By relying on inaccurate, bias-prone metrics such as degrees, resumes, personal connections, and unstructured interviews, employers are contributing to the perceived talent shortage they’re trying to avoid. 

Skills-based hiring strategies implement different skills and performance assessments to identify which candidates will succeed in particular roles. 

Cognitive ability tests, situational judgment tests, personality tests, and structured interviews all predict job success with accuracy as long as they’re used correctly and with a job’s unique needs in mind. 

For more info, learn how predicting job success with skills-based hiring can further benefit your business in ways such as reducing total time-to-hire and total cost-to-hire. 


Kaufman, Wendy. (February 3, 2011). “A Successful Job Search: It’s All About Networking”. NPR: All Things Considered. Retrieved April 24, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133474431/a-successful-job-search-its-all-about-networking

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