Why Skills-Based Hiring Starts with Your Job Descriptions

February 22, 2021

Photo of woman in an office holding a coffee cup smiling

Skills, not schools. Performance, not pedigree. Results, not requirements. 

These expressions all speak to the goal behind skills-based hiring: when you need to hire someone, you care about what they can do — not where they’ve been. It’s about weighing a candidate’s competencies over their credentials. 

This way of hiring can be a win-win: it extends opportunities to deserving candidates, while giving employers greater access to often-overlooked but highly qualified talent pools. In other words, it can help you build a more diverse workforce while also increasing the odds that you find the right person for the role. 

There are signs that companies are embracing this way of hiring: some high-profile companies have stopped requiring bachelor’s degrees for many roles. And according to new LinkedIn data, over the last year, there’s been a 20% increase in managers hired who don’t have a traditional four-year degree.

That’s a meaningful improvement, but there’s still a lot more employers could be doing to ensure they are hiring based on a candidate’s abilities. And that starts with one of the first steps in the hiring process: writing the job description. 

Read on to see why skills-based hiring is gaining steam and how rethinking your job descriptions can start your hiring process on the right track. 

The benefits of skills-based hiring: greater diversity and stronger retention

In some cases, employers are probably using the school as a shorthand to prejudge the candidate’s skills. She went to Harvard, so she probably has strong leadership skills. He went to Stanford, so he must be a talented programmer. Education is being used as a proxy for skills, but research shows it’s a poor proxy

While it may be an understandable shortcut, it can also be a short-sighted one. The educational system is far from a perfect meritocracy. Many people are shut out from opportunities just because of where they grew up, went to school, or landed their first job, leaving them with a weaker professional network.  

In other words, a hiring process that overweights certain types of education, experience, or personal referrals can lead to a very homogenous workforce. 

Another key benefit of skills-based hiring is that it can also help your company improve retention. Employees without a traditional four-year degree stay 34% longer than employees with such a degree, according to new LinkedIn data. 

While this could be a sign that it’s more difficult for them to find their next job, it could also be a sign that they’re simply more engaged and feel like the company is betting on their success. As LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report showed, 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. 

Skills-based hiring starts with rethinking your job descriptions 

Skills-based hiring involves the entire hiring funnel, but it begins with the job description. 

The first thing you can do to make your job posts more skills-based is to consider relaxing or removing any job requirements. Instead of listing a litany of requirements, focus on the responsibilities of the role: what kind of performance you expect to see from the new hire and what skills they’ll use in their day-to-day job. 

In fact, new LinkedIn data reveals that U.S. job posts that mentioned “responsibilities” without mentioning “requirements” received 14% more applications per view than job posts that mentioned “requirements” but not “responsibilities.”

Try focusing on the results you’d like to see, rather than the type of person that you think could deliver those results. Highlighting the desired skills — the candidate’s ability to perform certain tasks — gets to the same results without creating an unnecessary barrier to entry, like a requirement for a four-year degree

Providing these details also helps candidates understand the role and reflects well on your company. For instance, when LinkedIn ran a job description heat map study, our sample job post included a “responsibilities” section with explicit performance expectations. It was one of the most highlighted sections, indicating candidates thought it was especially helpful.

One of the study’s participants shared their surprise and appreciation of that results-based section in these words:

“Well, the fact that the posting showed success criteria for the first year was impressive. . . .  That information is super helpful to me as a potential candidate so I can know what my targets are, but it also shows a level of seriousness that the company has defined that up front.”

So not only can a skills-based job description help you find the best person — it can also improve your employer brand and boost your appeal to candidates. 

A skills-based job description is only the beginning  

Of course, the job post is one of the earliest steps in your hiring process. Once you’ve removed unnecessary barriers to entry, you’ll still need a skills-based way to assess candidates and find your finalists. If you’re looking beyond education and experience, what should you evaluate? 

Stay focused on skills — and the assessments that can measure them. From hard skill evaluations like HackerRank’s coding tests to innovative soft skill assessments to job auditions, there are plenty of ways to gauge a candidate’s ability to perform without relying on their education or experience as proxies. Even asking unexpected interview questions can let you see how a candidate processes information and problem-solves in real time. 

By rethinking the way you screen candidates at the top of the hiring funnel, you can help ensure that the hires at the end of that funnel have the right skills for the job — regardless of their credentials. 


For the scope of this analysis, people without a traditional four-year degree are defined as active members with at least one position on their LinkedIn profile and an explicitly listed education field that lacks a bachelor’s degree or higher. Degree holders are similarly defined as active members with at least one position on their profile and an explicitly listed college degree (bachelor’s or above). While the rest of this data is global, the job description analysis was limited to the United States, November – December 2020.

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