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Skills Based Hiring Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

Thanks for reading! This is a guest blog entry. Lee Harding has been working in the Recruitment and Talent Acquisition industry for the best part of 20 years, he has an amazing blog called The Recruiting Playbook, go check it out for more content!

Skills Based Hiring Doesnt have to be complicated

Scrolling through LinkedIn I see constant posts about the benefits of skills-based hiring, which I think everybody largely agrees on, but one of the things I rarely see is some really practical examples of how to implement it and success stories.

So I thought I’d share one of my own.

One of my former employers, a big Ecommerce Company, had a massive Merchandising department and we were constantly hiring Merchandisers, Junior Merchandisers & Assistant Merchandisers across multiple categories from Womenswear, Menswear, Childrenswear, Footwear, Electrical, Garden and countless others.

At the time I had zero experience in hiring these types of roles, but was asked to take over hiring for this function.

For the previous 6 months we’d really really struggled to fill these roles. And it was obvious why.

I went along to take briefs from numerous hiring managers from the varying categories, and they brief all looked similar:

  • “They must have x years experience in a merchandising role”

  • “They must have a passion for Womenswear/Fashion/Electrical/Childrenswear and experience in this category”

  • “They must have experience of working in an Online Retailer”

This was the problem, we had been looking for a very particular set of experience, experience limited to a job title, a company type and a category.

Market mapping the talent based on this brief further evidenced my thinking that this was indeed the problem.

I also asked each hiring manager how they’d assess this capability at interview, they all wanted candidates to present a SWOT of the respective category. Which honestly tells you nothing about somebody’s capability to do the role but only how well they can Google stuff.

I got all of these hiring managers in a room and asked a very simple question:

“What skills does a person need to have to be a merchandiser and be successful at this company and how will they use those skills day to day?”

After a lot of debate in the room, the main ones that came out where:

  • They need to be really comfortable in Excel, analysing large datasets, spot patterns and understand what the data is telling them so they can make the right decisions when it comes to stock levels.

  • They need to be able to make recommendations based on what the data is telling them.

In terms of skills, that was it. They actually didn’t need to be passionate about Fashion or have previous experience of working in the Electrical category or even have experience in an online retailer.

Everybody agreed that this was the new brief.

My next question was:

“So how are we going to assess these skills?”

We knew the previous assessment method of asking them to present a SWOT was pretty pointless. What we came up with was a very simple assessment we’d ask candidates to take during their interview.

The interviewer would give the candidate a laptop that had an excel spreadsheet with a lot of product data, stock levels, projected sales, previous sales, delivery times and other related data.

The ask was simple, take a look at this data and tell us what it tells you. The interviewer would leave the room for 15 minutes and come back for the candidate to talk through what they’d found.

It helped the interviewer very quickly assess the capability of those two core skills we’d agreed we’d been looking for.

We also gave the same assessment to candidates regardless of what level of role they were interviewing for, Junior Merchandisers took the same assessment as Senior Merchandisers.

We’d set up scoring criteria to determine at what level their current capability was, which I won’t go into in any real detail here, but basically it was along the lines of “these are the things we’d expect a Junior, Mid, Senior Merchandiser to spot and what we’d expect them to do with this information”.

What happened next was nothing short of phenomenal.

Previously candidates would be rejected at CV stage because they didn’t have online retail experience, or they didn’t have Footwear experience.

Those candidates started being invited to interview. A lot of those candidates also smashed the assessments.

We hired people that we’d never previously have even looked at based on their CV, job title or “experience”.

We hired people who on paper might be Assistant Merchandisers into Junior Merchandiser roles.

We added diversity of thinking to the teams, we solved all of our hiring challenges in this function and most of the people we hired went on to have very successful careers in merchandising.

What can we learn from this?

A lot of recruiters still ask hiring managers questions unrelated to skills when they’re taking the brief. Questions such as “How many years experience should they have?” or “What type of company will they have worked in” or “What sector experience should they have”?

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