How to identify & test for the skills you need when hiring

Rachael Lynch, Client Director at We Grow Startups,


So you’ve recognised you have a gap that needs filling in your business and are looking to start hiring - what next? In order to find a successful candidate you need to be really clear on what it is you are looking for and how you are going to evaluate whether candidates meet that criteria. Studies suggest the cost of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employees first-year salary1, so it pays to hire well!

So before you jump in all guns blazing - make sure you read our guide first.

Identifying the key skills

First things first, you need to write the job description and to do this it’s pivotal that you have a crystal-clear understanding of what the job entails. You can't hunt skills without knowing what skills you're hunting for!

Don’t just reuse a previous job description if it’s a role you’ve hired for before. Speak to members of the team who currently work or have worked in the role - which skills and expertise do they think are vital for success in the role?

Jot down the key skills and competencies required and this should cover both technical and “soft” skills.

Aim for a list of 5-10 skills needed to do the job - be specific and prioritise. If it’s crucial they know how to use a particular software or platform, add it in. If you’re hiring for a senior position, how many years of experience do they need to have? What soft skills are you looking for in their leadership style?

Consider removing the “nice-to-haves”; if it isn’t essential then why mention it? It may also deter people from applying if they don’t fit an unnecessary criteria.

Here at We Grow Startups we use Spotted Zebra, a workforce management platform that helps companies take a data-driven approach to people-based decisions. They’ve built skills-based assessment tools that enable you to identify the best candidates throughout each stage of the recruitment process, so it’s definitely worth checking them out to bolster your hiring.


How to test for the key skills

So now your job posting is live, you (hopefully) have lots of excellent applications rolling in. But before you can start the screening process, you need to decide how you will evaluate whether the candidates have the required skills and experience you’re looking for.

For the interview process you want to design questions that directly probe the skills you're looking for.

Behavioural questions are a great option here. Past experiences predict future behaviour so ask questions that allow the candidate to share examples of where they have previously demonstrated that skill, e.g. "tell me about a time when you had to meet a tight deadline. How did you handle it?"

Practical tests are an excellent way for the candidate to demonstrate the skills you’re looking for, rather than just telling you that they can do them. Actions speak louder than words, right? If you need a graphic designer, ask for a mini design project. If it's customer service, roleplay a mock call scenario. See how they perform in their natural habitat.

Finally, don't forget to reach out to their past employers or colleagues. Ask about their skills, work ethic, and how they gel with a team. You might uncover some hidden talents or, on the flip side, some cautionary tales.

If you’d like to learn more about our appraoch to hiring, get in touch with