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Why You Should Shift Hiring Focus to Skills

by | 3 minute read

When was the last time you reviewed the position description you use to hire sales reps for your organization? If it’s been awhile, you might want to consider rewriting the description to shift hiring focus to skills, instead of college degrees. That advice comes from Virginia Rometty, who stepped away from her position as IBM’s CEO earlier this year.

The Problem With Today's College Graduates

In speaking about basic inequalities in the marketplace and employers’ myopic fixation on hiring people with four-year degrees, Rometty pointed out that candidates with the ability to do very well as employees are often overlooked. Our economic system is rigged against people who don’t have the financial resources to obtain a four-year degree in the traditional way. Often, these people belong to marginalized demographic groups.

In the past, employers have been hesitant to hire candidates who lacked what they assumed to be impeccable credentials. Those credentials included a college degree. What has been the experience of employers who don't shift hiring focus to skills instead of college degrees? A couple of things seem to be happening. More students are graduating without knowing basic soft or hard skills. In some cases, they aren’t able to write effectively. In other cases, the college curriculums and instructor knowledge aren't keeping pace with technology changes. Some new hires with four-year degrees from a highly rated university also don’t succeed in the organization. Why? Because they’re unable to fit with the team or the kind of work they’re expected to do.

Companies Invest in Training

The end result of these hiring outcomes is that about 50% of employers now offer a moderate amount of on-the-job training to help their college-educated hires come up to speed. You know you’re going to have to invest significant resources to train new employees. Doesn’t it make sense to hire people who are willing and want to learn?

Rometty made this point in a presentation she made last year. She explained that “43% of IBM’s open job requisitions today don’t call for a traditional college diploma.” Instead of a degree, IBM is looking for candidates who possess characteristics such as curiosity. At SalesFuel, we believe that curiosity is one of the top soft skills a sales rep should possess. An individual who is naturally curious will spend extra time asking discovery questions that will get to the heart of a prospect’s problem. The curious sales rep will also think about ways to apply the solution they’re selling to the prospect’s situation.

Assessing Soft Skills

How do you know which candidates possess curiosity? If you write a job description listing that characteristic as desirable, applicants will claim to possess it. In our era of high unemployment, applicants will say anything they think the hiring organization wants to hear. And if they are called to interview for the position, they’ll tell the human resources folks and the hiring manager all about their curiosity.

During your interview process, you may have many people asking candidates about factors like curiosity. The problem is they may not be envisioning these skills the same way. In addition, an experienced sales rep will know how to impress different interviewers with soft skills such as confidence. We’ve found that sales managers tend to overvalue characteristics like confidence when hiring reps. Our research shows that what prospects value is a rep who provides relevant ideas to help their business. That statistic underscores the importance of characteristics like curiosity and creativity.

Shift Hiring Focus to Skills

One way to ensure consistency and to shift hiring focus to skills is to have your candidates take a comprehensive sales skills assessment. These kinds of assessments reveal where a candidate will need training and coaching to improve sales skills. In addition, you’ll learn about a candidate’s soft skills such as curiosity, initiative, and coachability.

If you’re committed to making your hiring process fairer and more equitable, and if you want to bring in candidates who have the potential to become rainmakers, start rewriting your job descriptions. And start using a sale skills assessment to remove bias and measure the soft skills the candidates truly possess.

C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith

CEO and Founder at SalesFuel
C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of SalesFuel — a firm he founded in 1989. He was named one of the 14 Leading Sales Consultants by Selling Power magazine in 2018. Lee is the creator of the AdMall® and SalesFuel COACH™ SaaS platforms. He is also a Gitomer Certified Advisor, expert on the Sales Experts Channel and a C‑Suite Network Advisor.
C. Lee Smith

@cleesmith

CEO of @SalesFuel | Bestselling Author of "SalesCred" and "Hire Smarter, Sell More!" | Keynote Speaker | Certified Behavioral Analyst | Sales Credibility Expert
Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising. What's the word on you? #SalesCred #credibility — 5 days ago
C. Lee Smith