Skills-Based Recruiting: An Introduction

introduction to skills based recruiting

Every day, in companies of every size, technical recruiters are swamped with trying to find enough talented people to fill their open engineering roles. Simply in the interest of saving time, they tend to focus on sourcing people who have certain credentials – perhaps they graduated from a top-tier engineering program, or worked at a big Silicon Valley company. And who can blame them? This has been a go-to method for recruiters for the last 25 years as they navigate the huge task of quickly finding – and hopefully hiring – developers.  

But for most companies, chasing the same pool of people who got a CS degree at Stanford or who worked at Google for the last 6 years is an exercise in frustration. There just aren’t enough of those candidates to go around and competition for them is fierce, meaning that recruiters have to cast a wider net. And unfortunately, traditional recruiting methods aren’t effective in today’s tech hiring environment, for several reasons:

  • Not enough qualified candidates: It’s no secret to technical recruiters that there’s a severe skilled candidate shortage right now – and it’s only getting worse. An estimated half million developer roles went unfilled in 2017, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020 the gap will have widened to 1.4 million more jobs than job applicants. While the number of computer science graduates grows every year, the demand for talent is still outpacing the supply by a wide margin.
  • Too many applicants: In an ironic twist of fate for recruiters, even though there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill every open job listing, companies that post their openings online (so, virtually every company) are inundated with applications. Even very small companies get hundreds of applicants per job listing. Unfortunately, the majority of these responses are from people who aren’t qualified to do the job! Many recruiters trying to sort through these applications feel as though they’re drowning in the desert.
  • Misleading resumes and profiles: Whether you’re wading through resumes or proactively sourcing candidates on LinkedIn, these sources of information about a candidate rely on self-reported data – meaning that they aren’t actually telling you very much about a candidate’s skills. Both resumes and LinkedIn are filled with inflated and misleading information, and there are a lot of fake metrics and meaningless job titles out there. (Can anyone really say whether their Java skills are “94/100”? And what does “coding ninja” really mean?) Being able to differentiate between signal and noise is crucial, but at this stage in the recruiting funnel it’s also very time-consuming and difficult.
  • A changing educational landscape: In the last decade, online educational resources have grown exponentially, both in quantity and quality. Platforms like EdX, Udacity, and have great options for learning to program independently. Coding bootcamps offer students a more hands-on approach. All of these options are a fraction of the cost of a four-year computer science degree. And an aspiring programmer who’s really motivated could get a pretty good education just watching tutorials on YouTube! No matter what platform they choose, learners have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Programmers with non-traditional backgrounds don’t have the educational qualifications that recruiters usually look for. But they can be just as skilled as candidates with the “right” markers! Education has changed, but recruiting has stayed the same. (None of this is to say that people who do have these credentials aren’t great candidates! But if you’re limiting yourself to just them, you’re missing out.)  

Today, it’s nearly impossible to find the number of quality engineering candidates that you need by relying on old-fashioned recruiting tactics. It’s really hard to quickly and easily distinguish between qualified and unqualified candidates using these methods. So your time and energy, not to mention your company’s money, are being wasted if recruiting engineers is a manual process for you.

[bctt tweet=”It’s nearly impossible to find the number of quality engineering candidates that you need by relying on old-fashioned recruiting tactics.” username=”CodeSignal”]

Luckily, there’s a better way: skills-based recruiting.

Imagine a world in which you could say with certainty that an engineering candidate meets or surpasses your company’s tech bar for a role – without even having to talk to them. That’s skills-based recruiting. And this isn’t just a pipe dream! Skills-based recruiting is available to companies right now.

Skills-based recruiting is exactly what it sounds like – recruiting talent based on verified skills, instead of on other metrics like educational credentials or self-reported data. (You’ll also hear it referred to sometimes as skills-based hiring.) Candidates are assessed in a way that measures specific skills, then they are matched with an engineering role that requires those skills. Skills-based recruiting is made up of two separate components: sourcing candidates and assessing their skills.


If you can verify that a candidate has the skills you need before you reach out to them, then you take a huge amount of guesswork and inefficiency out of the process. Sourcing, since it’s at the very top of the recruiting funnel, is the part where recruiters tend to see the most time saved with skills-based recruiting techniques. Using traditional recruiting methods, candidate skills aren’t verified until much further along in the process, so both recruiters and engineers might waste time on unqualified candidates during initial phone screens. But with skills-based recruiting, this step is pushed right to the top, so candidates who don’t pass your company’s technical bar never even make it to the phone screening step.

And with skills-based sourcing, since you’re not relying on credential markers like education or past employers to uncover candidates, you get strong engineers from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. This allows you to connect with candidates you might otherwise never find, which will ultimately lead to a stronger, more diverse engineering team.

This is a step that almost always needs to be outsourced, because it requires a pool of pre-vetted candidates. The solution is to work with a recruiting service that only recommends candidates who have demonstrated they have the skills you need. (Obviously, we’re partial to the tech recruiting platform CodeSignal Recruiter Source!)


Assessing candidate skills is done at a few different stages in the recruiting funnel, but most importantly at the pre-screening and interviewing phases.


If you choose not to use a sourcing service that provides you with pre-verified candidates, then the pre-screening stage is going to be your primary method of filtering out unqualified candidates. At many companies, pre-screening is accomplished by having candidates complete technical phone screens with a member of the engineering team. This takes a lot of valuable engineering time. And since the screens are being conducted by different people with different techniques, it can lead to variable results. Skills-based recruiting emphasizes creating a standardized screening process and collecting data about the results so that candidates can be compared objectively. The CodeSignal Recruiter Test application allows recruiters to send high-quality company branded coding tests to candidates at the assessment stage, then sends candidate results back instantly along with coding replays. This helps recruiters weed out unqualified candidates quickly and at scale, without taking any time away from the engineering team.


With skills-based recruiting, you will already feel confident that a candidate has the skills you need by the time you interview them. The primary goals of an interview, then, are to make sure that the candidate can communicate well, can perform under pressure, and that your team likes them! Of course, it’s important to ensure that the skills that candidates are being tested for are the ones that they actually need for the job. (We’ve all heard stories about front-end developers being asked to reverse a linked list.) In skills-based recruiting, aligning on what skills are important to the role, how to test them, and how to interpret the results are key components for interviewing effectively. The CodeSignal Recruiter Interview application, a collaborative coding platform with support for 40+ programming languages and access to a huge library of coding questions, makes it easy to standardize the process and collect useful and interpret useful outcomes data.

Ultimately, skills-based recruiting is a matchmaking model that helps you identify the right engineers for your open roles and your company. This makes your entire recruiting process more efficient and effective.

The Skills-Based Hiring Revolution

To recap, skills-based recruiting:

  • Saves time. Since you’re weeding out unqualified candidates immediately, you can concentrate on wooing candidates who are perfect for your company.
  • Is verifiable. Since skills are verified at every stage of the recruiting funnel, you know that your engineering team isn’t wasting time and energy on unqualified candidates.
  • Supports diversity. Since it doesn’t rely on the usual educational or experience credential markers, it surfaces quality candidates who might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Is data-driven. You and your team know that you’re making objective decisions based on quantifiable data instead of going with “gut feelings”.

[bctt tweet=”Why is skills-based hiring better? It saves time, is verifiable, supports diversity, and is data driven. #TechnicalRecruiting is about to get a lot easier!” username=”CodeSignal”]

There are encouraging signs that the old way of doing things is on the way out. “Resume-less” hiring fairs, where candidate skills are verified on the spot in lieu of handing over CVs, are gaining momentum. And the industry is catching on to the idea that diverse teams are stronger and more agile. But there’s no need for you to wait to adopt skills-based recruiting until it’s the industry standard! By doing it now, you’re giving your company – and yourself – a significant competitive advantage. You’ll uncover qualified talent from diverse backgrounds. You’ll have fewer failed interviews. You’ll get a much higher onsite-to-offer ratio. And your entire recruiting process will become much more efficient and effective!

CodeSignal Recruiter is a skills-based recruiting tool for modern hiring teams. Founded in 2014 and based in San Francisco, CodeSignal is on a mission to make sure that you’re only talking to the best candidates at every part of the recruiting funnel. By supporting skills-based recruiting best practices, CodeSignal Recruiter will give your hiring team the tools you need to find the right developers for all your company’s open roles.

Interested in seeing what CodeSignal Recruiter can do for your company? Sign up for a free demo today!

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