Career Compass

Diversify Workplaces with Skills-Based Hiring

Episode Summary

This episode of Career Compass covers the ins-and-outs of skills-based hiring, including managerial practices, and how this practice improves diversity in workplaces and recent legislation. Hosts Aly Sharp and Demetrius Norman take a deep dive into this talent acquisition shift.

Episode Notes

This episode of Career Compass covers the ins-and-outs of skills-based hiring, including managerial practices, and how this practice improves diversity in workplaces and recent legislation. Hosts Aly Sharp and Demetrius Norman take a deep dive into this talent acquisition shift with the help of some critical resources below:

Skills-Based Hiring Requires Commitment to Change

OPM Releases Skills-Based Hiring Guidance

SHRM Foundation HR Registered Apprenticeship Program (HR RAP)

Opportunity@Work STARs Program

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Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Aly Sharp: Welcome back to season six of Career Compass, a podcast from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the SHRM Foundation. Career Compass provides future leaders today for better workplaces tomorrow.

Demetrius Norma...: As the voice of all things work, SHRM supports students and emerging professionals with advice, information, and resources for every step of your career.

Aly Sharp: Designed for the student or emerging professional, Career Compass delivers timely, relevant, and critical conversations about work to help you succeed in your career journey. Thank you for joining us for this episode. My name is Aly Sharp, and I will be your co-host.

Demetrius Norma...: And I'm Demetrius Norman, and I will also be your co-host. This season, we are doing things a little different to celebrate SHRM's 75th anniversary. That's right, SHRM is celebrating 75 years of supporting HR professionals and the workplace as a whole.

Aly Sharp: To honor this milestone, we're hosting seven episodes this season, focusing on HR from the past, present, and future with the common thread of driving change.

Demetrius Norma...: We're going to try something a little differently. We'll not have a guest to join us for today's topic, Aly and I will be covering the ins and outs of skills-based hiring with the help of some really outstanding resources. All references for this episode will be linked in the show notes if you want to check them out. Also, just so you know, this episode is valid for professional development credit or PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. We'll provide the code later in this episode. And with that said, let's get started.

Aly Sharp: I wanted to start this episode off by defining what skills-based hiring is in case there are members of the audience that aren't familiar. This form of talent acquisition focuses on hiring employees based on the candidate's skillset instead of their educational achievements or past roles. Organizations look for transferable skills or the candidate's ability to develop them in the workplace. Skills-based hiring results in a broader talent pool for filling open roles. How do you feel about that, Demetrius?

Demetrius Norma...: I like this approach. I think it allows employers and companies to take a holistic approach when selecting the right talent. And it gives them an opportunity to take a look at the entire breadth and depth of the potential employee's or candidate's work experience, also their transferable skills and how they apply to the new role. I think a lot of companies are transitioning to this practice in order to make sure that they're selecting the right talent for the roles within their organization. With that said, Aly, let's talk about what made you want to talk about this on this podcast.

Aly Sharp: Yeah, so many of our listeners may or may not know that this is my second job with SHRM. So my first one was with the membership team, and I actually had the wonderful experience of talking to some representatives from Alaska. And they shared with me that a lot of their emerging HR professionals don't necessarily go to a four-year school or obtain a bachelor's degree, but they still want to be in HR. And I think that that's what sparked this for me. I mean, I can't particularly relate because I do have my bachelor's and I'm studying for my master's at the moment, but I think it's really important to hit all aspects of our audience, honestly. And with that, we're going to dive in.

Demetrius Norma...: Let's dive in. Skills-based hiring is a trend that is widely seen with entry level and mid-career positions due to the lack of required specialized training and credentials. Why do you think that might be?

Aly Sharp: So from the research I found, companies can shape employees that they want to have. They have the opportunity to develop employees to fit the job description based on the skills and training that they do have. So the driving factor of skills-based hiring is that companies have started to stray away from degree requirements on job postings. And we'll get to that a little bit later in more detail. But talent acquisition has begun to realize that there's a stereotype against people who don't have college degrees, when it could be for a myriad of reasons. Maybe they just didn't have the facilities, the money, the support to go to school. Skills-based hiring in organizations like SHRM, SHRM Foundation and Opportunity@Work have focused on breaking down those workplace stereotypes. Something I found particularly interesting was that a 2017 study led by researchers at Harvard Business School found that more than 60% of employers rejected candidates who were qualified in terms of skills or experience but did not have a college degree. But now, about six years later, recruiters are about 50% more likely to search by skills versus years of experience.

Could you talk to me about the types of things that may have led to this shift?

Demetrius Norma...: I think one of the obvious things that led to the shift really was the pandemic. I think all of us had this experience where we had to shift and make adjustments, and we saw that specifically, I'll say in my area, with colleges and universities, and how education had to shift from an in-person to a virtual environment. I think, as a result, we found that or saw that some students made the option to either transfer or transition to a lot of local colleges and universities, i.e, our community colleges. So what we're starting to see now, as schools are beginning to ramp back up, is not only the offering of HR degree programs, but the inclusion of those specialty credentials and other certifications that will afford students the opportunity to not only come out of school with a degree, but also with a credential. So back to that shift, I think what schools are realizing is that employers are opening up and broadening their perspective from that skills-based component.

And so what they're starting to do to get ahead of the market is include those specialty credentials into their degree programs to make it more viable and relevant to the profession and to better prepare students to hit the workforce as soon as they graduate. So I think we'll continue to see it evolve, especially on the front of academic institutions, and we'll also continue to see organizations drive that as they're seeking to hire the right talent for their companies. So it's something for us to keep our eyes on and to continue to watch it. Additionally, there are a few main reasons that this shift to skills-based hiring continues to go on. Companies are still able to determine other ways to measure job readiness, which means that they can match candidates' capacity or future skills to the needs of the business.

With that also means that the focus on upskilling employees and proving that the employer is dedicated to their success is a vital part of skills-based hiring. Some companies, just like those academic institutions, have even increased the use of aptitude tests instead of personality tests, so that they can really prove if someone is capable of doing the job task. And this reminds me of that, those power skills that Johnny often references in his speeches. So this shift has been the focus on changing the negative stigma around candidates not having a degree. And I want to dive into that a little bit deeper. How is the shift helping to remove barriers to employment for historically underrepresented groups?

Aly Sharp: Yeah, so this part I found probably ties in the most with the SHRM Foundation actually and their Employing Abilities at Work and other second chance hiring initiatives that they do. But for most of this question I was looking at some government agencies, surprisingly. Kiran Ahuja is the Director of Office of Personnel Management, and she stated that by focusing on what an applicant can do and now where they learned it, skills-based hiring will expand talent pools. Thus, drawing from the diversity of this country, agencies can be better equipped to tackle the challenges before us. And the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, John Tien, echoed her se sentiment by saying, "Modernizing and reforming the assessment and hiring of employees will allow agencies to better identify and secure top talent, while expanding applicant pools to draw from a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives."

So really, you can see immediately that the focus of skills-based hiring is to get more diverse workplaces, not necessarily based on race, age, gender, but also based on education, work, skills, experience, anything of that nature. And Opportunity@Work is a nonprofit dedicated to rewiring the labor market so that everyone can contribute their skills, talent, and energy in pursuit of a better life. They've established that about 50% of all workers in the United States are at least 25 years old, active in the workforce, and just have a high school diploma. 50%. So when I go back to that study from 2017 where Harvard said 60% of recruiters aren't hiring based on educational background, we're missing out immediately on 50% of the workforce. And that actually translates to over 70 million workers who are learning on the job and developing skills to make transitions for higher paying work. The candidates are out there and folks in talent acquisition just need to find them.

Demetrius Norma...: And I think from an employer standpoint, what we're starting to see is a lot of employers are removing the degree requirement from job descriptions. So you'll see language where it says preferred but not required, whereas in years back, you would see that a bachelor's or a graduate's degree is something that employers would prefer. But in general, we're starting to see employers that are deviating from that degree requirement, which also can aid those who are looking for jobs to reformat their resume to highlight a lot of those accomplishments, a lot of those certifications or credentials that they have, and it causes them to focus more on what they've learned in a particular role and not necessarily the tasks that are related to that. So if I am a problem solver, if I am a person that is helpful in mediation, if I am a quick learner, that doesn't necessarily translate in the task that I'm describing.

So we have to be a bit more creative and intentional about creating and opening up how we look for candidates, how candidates complete their resume, but also probably change the standard questions that we ask to get to those skill-based hiring needs and questions. And I think it's just going to be an ever-evolving process, whereby we find the right fit as we just continue to evaluate how we're doing things and making sure that it's relevant so that we can, again, fill those roles with the right people. The last part that I'll add is inclusion. When we think about this, one of the things that the foundation has is getting folks back to work, getting talent back to work, and it's addressing those who are formally incarcerated entering the workplace. Part of that is opening up and expanding where we look for talent, how we look for talent. And again, when we change our line of questioning and our thought process, I think we'll start to see where employers will get to focus more on that skill-based hiring piece of it.

Aly Sharp: We're going to pause here just for a second. First of all, those of you listening to this podcast who are seeking professional development credit, this program is valid for 0.5 PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. And the code to redeem your PDCs is 23-6CTJU. Please note that this code will expire on April 19th, 2024. Again, that code is 23-6CTJU.

Demetrius Norma...: And speaking of PDCs, one place to earn 28 PDCs while networking with peers, connecting with mentors and expanding your HR knowledge, is at SHRM23, taking place this June the 11th through the 14th in beautiful Las Vegas. The SHRM Annual Conference and Expo, which has drawn more than 20,000 attendees in the past is a can't-miss experience for any current or emerging HR professional. You can register now to take part in a curated student experience featuring career-focused programming and discounted member pricing at just $425 for in-person registration in Las Vegas and only $275 for virtual passes. For more information, visit Again, for more information, visit

Aly Sharp: We're going to jump right back in and talk about some legislation. Not only have states removed the degree requirement from their state job postings, but SHRM actually helped get an act passed with the US House of Representatives.

Demetrius Norma...: So this legislation is called the Chance to Compete Act. This introduces HR best practices such as the use of candidate assessments to improve employee performance and retention. This bill prioritizes candidate evaluations based on knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies, while limiting the use of education when determining if someone is qualified for a role. And it actually dates back to a 2020 executive order, which includes modifying qualification and classification standards to eliminate reliance on self-assessment questionnaires. And staying on this theme with the rest of this season, SHRM is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and our theme is driving historic change in the world of work. What are some things we see from SHRM as the world develops skills-based hiring?

Aly Sharp: Well, Demetrius, as I mentioned at the top of this episode, in the middle of this episode, we've already published quite a bit of really valuable articles on skills-based hiring, especially those from Roy Maurer. If any of our listeners want to reach out to him, search him on our Resources page on our website, get all you need to know about skills-based hiring from him. That's a really great starting point heading into this transition and this shift that we're seeing. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the SHRM Foundation's HR Apprenticeship Program. So this program uses field-developed competency and knowledge standards developed by SHRM. The apprentices are assured that the program delivers the content needed to develop an HR professional ready to take on the 21st century. We're already an industry leader, and I think that we have some great footing to continue to educate HR students and professionals to ensure that everyone can learn the most about this shift.

Also, Honest HR, another great SHRM podcast, has an entire episode devoted to the topic of apprenticeships and the SHRM HR Registered Apprenticeship Program. So I'll encourage everyone listening to this episode, check that one out if you want to learn more. Demetrius, another question for you would be how does skills-based hiring defer from the employer screening criteria, and the question of do you have experience, which is so often a part of applying for a job? I know you probably have more experience in screening candidates than I do, so if there's anything you can share on that, I'd really appreciate it.

Demetrius Norma...: So I think the difference between skills-based hiring compared to employers solely looking at experience is really them taking a look at overall exposure to different areas. So it's not just looking at your resume from a standpoint of where you worked, how long you worked there, but it's what you've learned while you worked there. The ability to manage multiple projects, having the ability to learn on the fly or the ability to pivot in an ever-changing environment, being open and collaborative as we are within our organization as it relates to certain things that are going on. And I think from a skills-based standpoint, you're able to highlight that, whether it is through maybe a credential that one would have, or through asking very direct questions about how the individual works, how they best perform. You're asking about those power skills to see how an individual works under pressure.

A lot of that you can't often see in just overall experience. So if I have 10 years working in a nonprofit environment, I can tell you the task that I've done, but you still don't get an idea of the skills that I've developed unless you ask those focused questions. So I think the difference is deviating from just solely looking at experience only, but also getting to those questions and asking about, "Okay, how did you get to that point and what skills did you developed to make sure that you're able to translate that into what it is that we're requiring you to do in a new role?"

Aly Sharp: Yeah, and obviously it was just about two years ago when I was doing my initial job searching right out of college. And everyone was like, "Put your education experience right at the top. That's the first thing the employer wants to see." And for me, I was uncomfortable with that because that shouldn't really have much weight on getting a job. But I also knew back then there was a lot of weight on having a degree to get into the field that I wanted to be in. But now I really am really, really excited about seeing this shift where people don't necessarily have to just jump right into that resume with, "Yep, I got a bachelor's degree, I should be head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates," because truthfully, you don't have any on-the-job experience just because you have a bachelor's degree.

You learned in the classroom, and I mean, of course that's great because you learn a bunch of different concepts, but you're not given a brief. Especially because I'm in marketing, there's so many things that I learn day to day that I never saw in the classroom, and I am honestly grateful because every day feels like I get to learn something new. I like the shift where your education isn't everything about you. But Demetrius, do you have any anecdotes?

Demetrius Norma...: I can share. And this is a SHRM experience, we're in the process of hiring interns for the summer. And I think just to Aly's point, experience is not something that I'm looking at because we're looking to create an experience for those interns who are coming into the company. So even the types of questions that I'm asking, it's not directly related to their overall experience, it is related to how would you go about giving your supervisor feedback about an expectation that has not been met? How do you ensure that you're able to communicate effectively or what is your communication style? I ask questions, "What is your learning style? Are you a visual learner?" And I tend to go those things because for me, it will tell me how much time and effort I would need to spend with the individual to help get them ramped up on a new software, on a new tool. And a lot of times, you can't get that from experience, that just gives you a snapshot of a moment in time.

So for me, I tend to lean my questions toward that arena to ensure that I have a really good idea of how the person likes to work and how they're motivated and how they like to show up. And it'll also let them know that we're tuned in to what makes them tick. I also ask, "What do you prefer? Do you prefer to have a supervisor that is going to check in with you every day, or do you prefer to have the bandwidth to check in periodically?" That gets into establishing trust, that gets into cultivating a relationship. And again, those are things that you may not be able to readily identify through a snapshot in time on a resume. So it gets back to what I said earlier, it's probably us rethinking the types of questions that we're asking from an employer's standpoint, and also to Aly's point, redesigning that resume so that employers are not just focused on the education but focused on the entire person. We're asking people to spend a big portion of their lives in our office.

So it's our responsibility to make sure that we're creating an environment and taking a look at the totality of who they are, not only outside of our potential organization, but who they'll be when they join the team. So yeah, I'm going through it now with our interns and we have some wonderful individuals in the pipeline. And for me, I look at just the holistic part, the entire person, and it's caused us to make some really good decisions, so yeah.

Aly Sharp: So I mean, Demetrius, there are going to be some folks in the workforce now who see having a degree as the end-all be-all, that gives you experience doing certain things, like writing and communicating effectively in the workplace. But truthfully, in the world of evolving work, I think that that mindset needs to evolve as well, because I mean, they're not asking how well you did in your English class, they don't know that you can actually communicate effectively just because you got a degree. And especially for me, being in marketing, yeah, I wrote a few research papers on marketing, but I didn't have that much writing experience compared to some of my peers in other majors.

So I think unless that requirement really pertains to the work of the job, for example, if you are editing podcasts, why do you need to be able to write a research paper? I mean, it's good to know that you can do research and see what works effectively for podcast launches and editing softwares and things like that, but it shouldn't matter if you can write a 15-page research paper because that's not prevalent to the job work you're doing. Do you have anything else to add on that or do you think I'm going the right way?

Demetrius Norma...: No, I do, I do. And to add to that, I think the bigger picture is every organization has what I would call a script. They have a guide, "This is how we want things to run." So if we think about it in that context and we're removing a degree requirement from the standpoint, if you have the ability and the capacity to pick up a new task and a new skillset, my paying attention to where you went to school and what degree type you had, depending on the industry, may put me in a position where I'm not considering the best talent for a particular role. And so I say that to say that whenever you go into a new organization, you have to learn how they do their work. And so what I would encourage employers to do is to open up and expand how we question candidates and how you entertain new candidates to really focus on their ability to obtain and attain what it is that you are teaching them within your organization as it relates to how your organization does its work day to day.

And a lot of times that is not dependent upon a degree requirement. And Aly mentioned research and writing style. We each have our own writing style, we each have our own vernacular, companies have their own vernacular and code that they use. I didn't know about the SHRM BASK in school because my undergraduate degree program was in music, music and business. So just to provide an example, a lot of times, your company documents may not make it into a degree program so it's important for us as hiring managers to always to keep that into consideration, and with the understanding that if the person has the capacity to learn something new, they potentially have the capacity to do the job that you are asking them to do and to do it well, with the proper resources and with the proper support.

Aly Sharp: Just one last thought on that, and you did mention this earlier in the episode, but that transition from those self-reflection quizzes that you might get sent out in the interview process is now becoming more of a skills-based aptitude test. So then you can even uncover, as an employer, more about what this person is capable of as it pertains to the actual job versus asking them. Because let's not lie, everyone embellishes their abilities a little bit or changes their answer to reflect what the employer's going to want to hear, even if it's not 100% true, we'll give them 90% true. But there's no faking an aptitude test either, especially a math-based, science-based, anything of that nature, where it's true. The answer is either true or false. And it's easy to tell if someone has those skills or if they don't, or if they can learn them. Maybe it's just not their strong suit. And that's also something you can determine from those skills-based tests.

Demetrius Norma...: And I will add, to our students and emerging professionals listening to this, we are not saying drop out of your degree program.

Aly Sharp: Seriously don't.

Demetrius Norma...: We do not want angry parents or guardians calling us or emailing us. You're in school, stay in school. To employers and to everyone who may be listening, what we are encouraging everyone to do is to open and broaden how it is that you look for talent, what it is that you are looking for, and how you base that search, what that criteria, what criteria you're using. What we are encouraging you to do is to open and broaden that perspective because you may be canceling out some talent that's right in front of your face based on one or two things that may not check off the mark. So keep that in mind. Skills-based hiring is the wave of the future, and I think we're going to continue to see it evolve. And we're here for the discussion.

Aly Sharp: And I want to give you the honors of closing out this episode. What guidance or tips do you have for individuals seeking skills-based hiring resources?

Demetrius Norma...: Thanks, Aly. We have quite a bit, and you've actually touched on a few of those resources students can access, but there is even more from the SHRM Foundation. They actually did a study with Walmart on making skilled credentials work and the value of non-degree credentials being used to identify talents in the workplace. I would also recommend that emerging professionals check out the Opportunity@Work Skilled Through Alternative Routes Program, which is a champion for getting people hired based on their skills, proving that they can achieve upward economic mobility and showing companies that they have access to a world of skilled and diverse talent. Both of these organizations provide a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to get even more information on skills-based hiring.

Aly Sharp: Demetrius, thank you so much for helping me bring this episode to life. I know it's a little bit interesting with no guest for the very first time, but I think we're going to start hearing a little bit more about skills-based hiring in the news.

Demetrius Norma...: You are most welcome and it's a pleasure as always, Aly.

Aly Sharp: And with that, we're going to bring this episode of Career Compass to a close. We'd like to thank SHRM and the SHRM Foundation for providing us with this platform. But more importantly, we'd like to thank you all for joining us and hope you stay with us throughout the season as we discuss more topics like this episode.

Demetrius Norma...: For more exclusive content, resources and tools to help you succeed in your career, consider joining SHRM as a student member. You can visit us at to learn more about being a part of a community of over 300,000 HR and business leaders who impact the lives of over 115 million employees worldwide.

Aly Sharp: If you like what you heard on this episode, follow and subscribe to Career Compass on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you have a topic you think we should cover or a guest we should hear from, please email us at

Demetrius Norma...: And lastly, are you looking for more work and career-related podcasts? Check out All Things Work and Honest HR at Thank you again for listening, and we'll catch you on the next episode of Career Compass.