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What Does A Skills-First Approach Look Like In Practice?

The beauty of a skills-first approach is that it can – and should – be applied across the full talent lifecycle. Indeed, using a common language for all talent-related decisions, across functions in your organization, means you can think more holistically about the human capital that your business has and needs.

This is what we call Talent Lifecycle Management. 

With the right data, technology and culture in place, organizations can realize the power and potential of skills, for every stage of the talent journey.

Skills-based hiring

Skills-based hiring is an approach to recruitment that focuses on evaluating and selecting candidates based on their specific skills and abilities, rather than relying solely on traditional measures like education, job titles, or experience.


Companies deploying this method recognize that skills are the foundation of an individual’s potential to perform well in a particular role; they understand the importance of matching those skills to the requirements of the job.

Skills-based hiring requires a new approach, which works as follows: 

  1. You centralize the skills needed for any role in your organization with a Job Architecture that is actually used within Talent Acquisition.

  2. Hiring managers and recruiters collaborate to clearly define the skills and competencies essential for success in the position. This involves analyzing the core tasks and responsibilities associated with the role and identifying the specific skills necessary to perform those tasks effectively. (AI is a useful way to speed up the creation of job descriptions, and then to quickly refine them. With the right data around the skills in your pipeline, your organization and the wider market, explainable AI can show you a slate of potential candidates as soon as you open a requisition, and again with every tweak and recalibration of the skills required, or the seniority level, or the context of someone’s experience.)

  3. You may be able to Source potential candidates from within your CRM. (With Beamery, the skills defined in the Job Architecture are added as default to Contacts within the CRM platform – so you can find quality candidates, who are perhaps already highly engaged with your employer brand, faster.)

  4. During the recruitment process, candidates are evaluated on their skills through various methods: interviews, practical assessments, case studies, or skills tests. The assessment methods can vary depending on the nature of the skills being evaluated. For example, technical skills may be assessed through coding challenges or simulations, while communication or problem-solving skills might be evaluated through behavioral interviews or situational exercises. (With Beamery, the matching score considers the skills and proficiency as defined by the Job Architecture – so you can find the ideal fit, faster.) 

  5. Objective evaluation criteria should be established, to ensure consistency and fairness in assessing candidates’ skills. These criteria help eliminate biases and subjectivity by focusing on observable and measurable indicators of skill proficiency. Standardized rubrics or scoring systems may be employed to assess and compare candidates’ skills objectively. 

  6. Explainable AI can be deployed to help uncover skills that a candidate is likely to have (but didn’t list on their resume) or be able to learn (adjacent to skills they have).

  7. Candidates with the required skills are identified as strong matches for the role. From there, hiring decisions are made based on the candidates’ skills (and adjacent skills), cultural fit, and potential for growth. In other words: skills play a central role in determining a candidate’s suitability for the role. 

Skills-based hiring offers several advantages, including improved candidate selection accuracy, increased diversity and inclusion, reduced bias, and enhanced productivity.

By focusing on skills, organizations can align talent more effectively with job requirements, resulting in better job performance, higher employee satisfaction, and increased organizational success.

In our recent survey of business leaders, Navigating The Changing Talent Landscape, 81% said skills-first hiring can make work work better for everyone.

With a dynamic database of the skills your organization already possesses, you will also be served recommendations of internal candidates for each role. This is likely to lead to sizable efficiencies, as you don’t need to go externally every time there is a new skills gap to fill. 


Skills and career development

A skills-based approach to career development emphasizes the acquisition, enhancement, and application of specific skills and competencies to support individual professional growth and advancement.

Rather than solely focusing on job titles, tenure, or hierarchical progression, this approach places skills at the forefront of career planning and development. It helps people to build a versatile skill set that can be transferred across roles, industries, and even career paths.

As a starting point, you need to understand the career goals and motivations of your employees. You can then assess and identify the skills your employees currently possess, along with the skills they aspire to develop, in order to reach those goals. 

Having a clearly defined Job Architecture helps employees better understand how to progress – they can see the gaps between those existing skills, and the skills required to progress in a desired career direction. Uncover areas where employees need to acquire or improve skills to align with their career goals – or to meet business needs.

From the company perspective, you want to match the skills of the individuals you have inside the organization to the skills needed for the work. The best way to do this is through an internal Talent Marketplace, which is a transparent way to create opportunity for everyone in the organization. 

75% of CHROs are interested in Talent Marketplaces as a way to deliver on a skills-based approach. (Aptitude Research)

The Talent Marketplace recommends opportunities to employees based on skills they need or want to develop: the work they can do either as short-term projects, internal gigs, or longer-term development assignments.

As well as full-time roles, it may also open doors for internal or external contract work, external gigs, or freelance work. This approach to talent mobility lets people take ownership for their own progress and development.

Through a Talent Marketplace, employees can proactively seek opportunities to acquire new skills. This can include formal education, professional development programs, online courses, workshops, certifications, mentoring, or – with the projects or gigs outlined above – on-the-job learning. It can also connect people to people. 

With a skills-based approach, individuals can engage in networking activities that are centered around skills rather than traditional job titles or organizations. They connect with professionals who possess complementary skills, participate in skill-specific communities or interest groups, and participate in skill-based collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

Instead of relying solely on linear career paths, individuals within a skills-first organization focus on crafting dynamic and adaptable career plans. They assess how their skill set aligns with evolving market demands, emerging trends, and future opportunities.

This approach allows for greater flexibility and the ability to pivot to new roles or industries as needed. For the employer, it boosts retention and engagement, helping you unlock productivity and keep hold of institutional knowledge. 

As 49% of respondents noted in Navigating The Changing Talent Landscape, a skills-first approach supports transformation initiatives by “better mobilizing skills of existing employees”. 45% said it could improve employee engagement and productivity. 

As an employer, you should be able to offer skills-based pathways for your workers: looking at what skills they have now, and what skills they would need – and therefore what training or development they can take – in order to take various different “steps” within the organization. This makes employers more agile and therefore more resilient, while making employees feel valued and cared for. 

“Skills-based practices can help employers upskill workers and provide learning opportunities to enable internal mobility and boost retention… provide on-the-job training and continuous-learning programs, and develop internal road maps to promotion from entry-level roles without requiring a degree.” – McKinsey

Skills & Workforce Planning

Skills intelligence is the central pillar of more strategic workforce planning. It helps organizations to quickly adapt to changing market demands and business needs.

By analyzing employee skills and competencies, organizations can identify where they have the skills needed to address new opportunities or challenges – and build a more agile, resilient talent strategy.

A skills-based workforce planning solution brings together a dynamic Job Architecture, based on skills (what you need), workforce insights (about the skills you have), and perhaps even labor market data (to help with possible future skills needs).

Continually bringing these insights together will help you make the right build/buy/borrow decisions around talent, that deliver business objectives at all levels. 

Workforce planning can actually be embedded through the organization – empowering department leads through to managers – when it is based on a common understanding of skills and a dynamic Job Architecture. 


For example, if you decide to launch a new product line, you can quickly identify employees who have the necessary skills to support that launch, in a given market, and redeploy them as needed.

By having this data readily available, and using explainable AI to match people to tasks or projects based on the work involved, organizations can respond quickly to new opportunities or challenges, ensuring that they have the right people in the right roles.

It should also be possible to fill your talent pipeline with the right skills profiles to ensure you can reach your goals in the coming months and years, even as they change. 

Instead of thinking about headcount plans, your business can plan for skills. By understanding the skills of today’s workforce, and what skills could be acquired – particularly through upskilling or reskilling people with potential – companies can plan for the skills they need, and where they might find them.

You can also start to gauge how long it will take, and how costly it will be, to train people to meet future needs, so you can better prepare. 

Skills and DE&I Outcomes

A skills-based approach, when adopted in conjunction with explainable AI, also allows businesses to meet their diversity goals, and create a more transparent, equitable and inclusive workforce.

You can discover talent that has been overlooked. Recruiters and hiring managers will find that people they may not have otherwise considered are put forward for roles, because – although their previous job titles don’t seem like a perfect match – their skills (and potential) could be ideal.

This has a positive impact on diversity within an organization, and can reduce bias at every stage of the talent lifecycle.

“80% of business executives say making decisions about hiring, pay, promotions, succession, and deployment based on people’s skills rather than their job history, tenure in the job, or network would reduce bias and improve fairness; and 75% say hiring, promoting, and deploying people based on skills (vs. tenure, job history, or network) can help democratize opportunity and improve access to it.” – Deloitte

You can also use skills data to match people to suitable mentors, including those that come from similar backgrounds, as well as the learning opportunities as outlined above.

You can automate recommendations, so that those with lower confidence in their own skills and abilities are “encouraged” to apply for a given opportunity – widening the playing field.

A skills-first approach takes companies beyond a ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach to opportunities and promotions, and uses objective criteria to not only find the best fit for each task, but shine a light on undervalued or underappreciated talent inside your organization. 

Learn more about becoming a skills-first organization by downloading our free report.