Filip De Geijter, CEO Actonomy, on why recruitment of the future will focus on matching skills, rather than on functions:

Companies on the lookout for new talent, will typically search for people with particular job titles. Need a sales manager? Search for a sales manager. Yet, this is not the smartest way to go, as it misses a lot of potential interesting candidates with the needed skill sets but with different job titles. To be more effective, they should try and find a match based on underlying skills and competenties rather than staring at job titles. Filip De Geijter, CEO of Actonomy, argues how smart searching and matching technology should unravel the skills-DNA of both employers and candidates.

‘We have been doing it like this for ages…’  Indeed: recruiters and HR-managers the like will often search talent by looking for specific job titles, as they have been doing for ages. You need a Java-developer, a business development manager, or a payroll officer, … So you look for these job titles, hoping you will find candidates with exactly the same job title. And – hence – with the same job. Because you think: these people will have the right skills and competencies. Why else would they be doing that particular job? 

Now, there are two problems when following this quite straightforward approach. One, you will typically find people who already have this function. Ever considered that these people might look for a next move in their career? The business development manager might want to become sales director, or the payroll officer might hope to become HR-manager… Old-fashioned recruiting focusing on job titles will lead to a career standstill. Second, by searching for functions, you miss out a lot of candidates who do not perform this particular job but do possess all the necessary skills to do so. If you need to find a sales manager, you might look for people with a convincing attitude, empathy, accurateness, negotiation talent, … Filip De Geijter, CEO at Actonomy, specialized in smart searching and matching solutions, is clear: ‘So what if someone with these skills right now is doing a completely different job? Right: traditional searching methods will hardly find these white raves, although they might be the ideal candidate to become your new sales guru.’

Hard and soft skills

So, in the current economic climate, seasoned with labor shortage and volatile career movements, it is essential not only to be fast when recruiting talent, but also to be smart. De Geijter:

‘Quintessential in being smart is to look at skills, rather than at titles. You will be able to recruit people with the perfect skills match, irrespective of their current job profile.’

When shifting the focus from jobs to skills, it is essential to differentiate between hard and soft skills. Examples of hard skills are sales management, knowledge of Java, experience with CRM-systems, knowledge of Spanish and the like. Soft skills typically deal with attitudes, cognitive and psychological characteristics, such as flexibility, being easy-going, punctuality and more. So, if you want to make the switch from job to skill searching and matching skills, it is important to first make a list of necessary hard and soft skills your candidates should possess. Because concrete job titles can be seen as containers filled with particular combinations of hard and soft skills.

But beware, it is not an easy task to switch from job titles to matching skills. Sometimes, skills get different concrete translations. Take ‘stress resistance’. This soft skill has a somewhat different meaning to someone welding in an assembly plant than to – say – a safety expert in a Syrian war zone. Also, skills in their own turn can be subdivided in sub-skills. De Geijter: ‘we at have developed detailed lists of skills and their interrelationships, thanks to Artificial Intelligence. They are very helpful in making the switch from job titles to skills.’

Will skill search do miracles? Sure not. A welder in an automotive plant may have ‘accurateness’ as a basic soft skill, but it is doubtful whether he (or she) might become a top surgeon, although being accurate is a basic skill for surgeons, too. De Geijter: ‘therefore, it is important to always see particular skills in their concrete context. You should give these skills the particular meaning for this concrete context. Also, the basic skills for a particular job will remain unchanged, whereas secondary skills might vary.’ If you look for a welder in your production plant, having knowledge of welding techniques and being able to work in team shifts, may be essential skills, where no compromise can be tolerated. Yet, being a team player, accurate and trustworthy can be nice to have skills, rather than need to haves.

From jobs to hard skills and soft skills: will this do?

No, as we need a third important element to get good searching results. We also should map the corporate culture of the employer and the candidate. A particular candidate may meet most of the hard and soft skill criteria, yet not be the ideal fit, because the personality does not fit in the corporate culture. Coping with this third element may be hard, as often corporate culture is not easy to ‘translate’ in words: it is a way of working and living on the work floor that sometimes may be different from what you would like it to be. So much to say, corporate culture is a third element that must be taken into account. De Geijter: ‘it is important to map the values of the organization. You can do so via standardized question sets.’ 

Mapping DNA and matching atomic skill elements 

An important element to consider when switching to skill searching, is how to measure skills in candidates and their résumés. Hard skills are quite easy to detect: candidates tend to mention their ‘Java’-experience or their basic knowledge of Mandarin Chinese. But what about soft skills? Aren’t we all ‘flexible’ ‘team players’? De Geijter: ‘in our AI-based searching and matching technology, we implement the results of assessments or business games.’ 

In essence, recruiting is the art of mapping two DNA-samples: the atomic skill elements of the candidate and the ones of the employer. The DNA-combination with the best match, is likely to deliver the best candidate for the job. By comparing and mapping DNA-samples, we get away from always faster changing job descriptions. Job content may evolve at the speed of light, the basic requirements as well as the basic skills of the candidate will remain unchanged for a much longer stretch of time. The relatively stable set of skills a person has, will also allow smart recruiters to propose jobs to the person he did not even think of. Because if you are a marketeer, well being at work might be an important cultural skill: precisely the skill you are looking for when recruiting a chief happiness officer. In other words: on the atomic level, matches can be found that were not even thought of before, neither by the recruiter or by the candidate.

Recruitment one step ahead? For sure, but only if we can dig deeper.