It's time to embrace the skills-based CV when hiring tech talent

To garner a competitive advantage, companies need to shift their approach to hiring to be more focused on a skills-based CV or risk being left behind.

This is a contributed article by Gordon Smith, VP, Europe at Hired

Leave school, go to university, graduate, get a job. This appears to have become the route that many school leavers view as the only way into a ‘successful' career, especially a career in tech, and in the current hiring climate they're not entirely wrong. I believe that in today's digital world, too many businesses have become obsessed with whether a candidate has attended university and are too quick to dismiss those without a degree. This is exacerbated further by the fact that many CVs have to first get past an automated Application Tracking System (ATS) which some companies use to quickly sort through applicants' CVs, with a degree being a qualifying factor. Of course having earned a university degree is a great accomplishment, but should not be a key qualifying factor to apply for an open tech role. With a world of resources at our fingertips, practical skills such as programming can be self-taught and up-levelled and in many cases more valuable than learning concepts in theory. To garner a competitive advantage, companies need to shift their approach to hiring to be more focused on a skills-based CV or risk being left behind.

What is a skills based CV?

Skills based CVs place an emphasis on an individual's transferable skills, focusing on this as opposed to a chronological or reverse-chronological CV, which emphasises a person's work and education history. The skills-based format is often preferred by those who are making a career-change or who have taken a career break as it reduces the pressure that is often felt by an individual in relation to their work or education history. A skills-based CV fairly compares candidates to the role which they are applying for and the skills they will need for the role, as opposed to measuring their competency based on their last work placement or where (and if) they went to university.

Opportunity cost: Companies must adapt or risk being left behind

Focusing on the UK specifically, the digital sector currently accounts for 7.7% of the UK's economy and is worth more than £400 million a day, but, despite this, the country is facing a digital skills shortage. Bias towards graduates means that tech companies are competing to hire from a concentrated pool of university-educated talent which is unsustainable and only fuelling the skills crisis.

According to recent research, this therefore means that hiring managers at tech companies are sometimes eliminating almost half of all candidates applying for a role as less than half of software engineers have a Computer Science degree and one in five are self-taught coders. On top of this, according to those already working in tech roles, an advanced degree doesn't necessarily result in better career opportunities; only a quarter of developers with a Master's and/or PhD believe their degree means that they should command a higher salary, while a third say they could perform their job as well without their degree using skills they learned on the job, by themselves or through coding bootcamps. There couldn't be a clearer reason as to why hiring managers need to look past the degree on a CV and begin to focus on a candidate's skills and competencies instead.

Championing change

It's unrealistic to expect organisations to change their hiring practices overnight, with a key challenge being that internal hiring managers may require a shift in mindset to embrace the skills-based CV. Many of the people in these positions themselves will have followed the traditional university route into the role and as a result, may not be aware of the value of alternative paths such as apprenticeships and training bootcamps. A shift in attitudes, which can also be enhanced by including people from different educational backgrounds on the hiring panel, will no doubt encourage a more diverse workforce as a university education - especially a STEM based university education - can be inaccessible to many. The tech industry has been known to be notoriously non-diverse so anything that pushed forward an uplift should be encouraged, with current data citing that 84% of all interviewees are men and 65% of people of colour believe there is a ethnicity-based wage gap.

Aside from internal hiring managers championing this shift in approach, the interview structure also requires change in order to complement the skills-based CV. Businesses that focus on a candidate's competencies, rather than where they learned their skills, should shift to test these capabilities in the interview. Many interviews already encourage candidates to work their way through a variety of coding exams, whiteboarding sessions and behavioural interviews. However, when asked about the interview methods only 31% of engineers think coding exams effectively test their aptitude, while two-thirds say most coding exams are irrelevant to the daily job of a software engineer. This suggests that the skills being tested lie on the academic side of the spectrum, rather than looking for the real-life experience that an engineer would require in their everyday role. The interview process, while already focusing on competencies, needs to shift so that it tests for relevant skills rather than being biased towards those learnt in an academic environment.

Companies, as a priority, need to look past traditional qualifications and embrace a skills-based CV when hiring tech talent. Skills based CVs can be automatically disqualified and this is only closing companies off from a diverse range of impressive talent, but with an attitude shift and an interview method shake-up, the tech industry can successfully combat this and excel, working to combat the digital skills crisis.