How to Tell if a Candidate's Skills Fit Your Role

January 18, 2017 at 1:11 PM by William Clarke


This is the seventh in a series of ten posts on hiring candidates for characteristics linked to high performance. Each post focuses on a key candidate trait, why it matters and how recruiters can develop processes to correctly and fairly evaluate for it.

So far, we’ve covered the science of first impressions, the important difference between hiring for personality versus character, how to hire candidates committed for the long haul, how to find and hire motivated candidates, how hiring teams can find and hire talent committed to collaboration, and how to identify and hire passionate candidates.

This post will look at how your hiring process can accurately and sustainably identify candidates with the right skills for your roles.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again from hiring managers: “There just aren’t enough good people.” Whether you’re hiring entry level coders, sales managers, or experienced executive assistants, no one seems to be good enough. And maybe they’re sometimes right, but there’s also a tendency to hold candidates to impossible standards.

Whether you’re putting a candidate on a pedestal or holding out for perfect, zero risk, no trade-off cyborg, you’re making it harder to hire the good fit people who actually exist. That undermines your hiring before you’ve even begun. Every month that goes by without a hire is costing you both revenue and productivity while making your team’s strategic goals all the more difficult to achieve. So let’s get hunting.

Define and align.

Before you even begin to look at candidates, define the role. Instead of looking for unicorns, figure out the abilities, skills, and experiences that are particularly crucial to a role. Meet with hiring managers to figure out where the new employee will live in the org chart, who they’ll report to, who their reports will be, and what the core responsibilities and outcomes of the position will be.

Without these details, finding candidates who fit the role is impossible since your recruiters and sourcers won’t even know what they are looking for. A clear idea of what the ideal candidate looks like, allows you also to build up alignment between hiring managers, recruiters and other stakeholders, making it easier to find candidates who match everyone’s expectations.

Send the right signals to set expectations.

Create highly specific, descriptive job listings that clearly note required skills, experience, and the responsibilities of the role. The more accurate your job descriptions, the better your inbound candidates and recommendations will be. On the other hand, if your job listing uses inaccurate jargon or creates false impressions, you’ll alienate otherwise competent candidates and possibly undermine your employer brand too.

A good job description uses clear human language (write as you’d speak) to describe the objectives of the role and the skills and experiences necessary to achieve those objectives. Overselling or creating false impressions will come back to haunt you down the road when candidates with mistaken ideas about the role or your organization find out the hard way that something you said wasn’t true. On the contrary, accurate and honest descriptions attract people for the right reasons.

Screen for the hard skills...

Make sure your screening process is organized around evaluating hard skills. In today’s technological hiring environment, many in demand skills takes years of focused training, classwork and on the job experience to truly master.

You can’t easily learn the ins and outs of machine learning or neural networks without having a lot of prior experience.

Be careful not to confuse confidence with competence during the screens. It’s a common mistake, but the shy, soft-spoken people could be the best hire you never make because you’re listening for cues that actually have very little correlation with ability.

A brief skills assessment sent to every inbound candidate is a great way to screen out those who may not possess the requisite technical abilities. On the other hand, asking all candidates for work samples (if relevant) is a great way to dig into their accomplishments without demanding too much of their time. These data points will save the time of your hiring team and candidates by ensuring that those people advancing in the hiring process actually have the skills they need for the role.

...and don’t sleep on the soft skills.

For many jobs, soft skills, like the ability to interact with people and hold conversations, are equally as important as hard skills, yet hard skills like data science, computer programming, and engineering often get all of the attention. Yet of the 10 skills The Muse identified as the most important skills in 2020, nine are soft skills! A 2013 Adecco survey found that American executives saw the soft skills gap as larger and more important than the lack of hard skills.

The ability to work as part of diverse group, both onsite and remote, while also having the knowledge and aptitude to navigate complex problems in an increasingly connected workplace will become increasingly crucial in the future workplace –but that doesn’t mean those skills aren’t invaluable already. The modern workplace requires problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. Without those skills, even a technical swiss army knife of a new hire may fail to gel with their team. As in most things in life, you’re looking for balance.


Instead of looking for the perfect candidate, focus instead of finding the right pool of candidates. A well-calibrated search for the essential skills, experiences, and abilities will lead you not just to one great possibility, but to a group of them. A well-defined role with a structured interview process will reveal your best candidates while giving you the information you need to make informed decisions to find the best possible hire.

Other posts in the series (so far), Evaluating the Traits of High-Performing Employees:

1. What The Science of First Impressions Can Tell Us About Recruiting

2. The Dangers of Hiring Candidates Based on Personality

3. Attracting, Hiring, and Retaining Talent For The Long Term

4. How to Identify and Assess Motivation in High-Performing Candidates

5. How Hiring Talent Breeds a Creative, Scaleable Organization

6. Why Passion is the Keystone to Success

Related Articles:
Implement Interview Load Balancing and Never Give a Candidate a Bad Interview Again 
What Happens When You Standardize Your Interview Process 
Why You Should Be Hiring For Culture Add, Not Culture Fit 

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