Hunting for Unicorns: Finding Top Talent with Skills-Focused Job Descriptions

By JDXpert - June 26, 2023

In today's competitive job market, finding exceptional talent can often feel as challenging as spotting a unicorn. However, by adopting a skills-focused approach to recruitment and utilizing effective job descriptions, you can attract, manage, and retain the right talent for your organization. We recently attended the WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference and Expo and had the pleasure of presenting on this very topic with our partners at Mercer. We explored the importance of skills-based recruiting and its connection to job descriptions as a vital tool in the talent acquisition process.

The Role of Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are the bedrock of successful HR and talent acquisition. They serve as a clear and comprehensive roadmap, outlining the required skills, qualifications, and responsibilities for a specific role within your organization. Without a solid foundation, your job postings may excel at selling the job but fail to provide crucial details, leading to ambiguity and inconsistency regarding the actual duties of the position you're hiring for. Crafted with care, a well-written job description not only helps candidates understand the job requirements but also enables you to effectively assess their suitability for the role.

Proper management of job descriptions ensures alignment between your organization's culture, values, and mission across all job roles, resulting in better employee fit and a greater understanding of how each job contributes to the success of the organization. It not only highlights growth and career development opportunities within the organization but also demonstrates your commitment to employee advancement. Moreover, well-crafted job descriptions assist in compensation planning, support compliance efforts, and facilitate constructive conversations that have a direct impact on profit, growth, and productivity.

Devising Inclusive Job Descriptions

To attract a diverse pool of candidates, it is essential to review and refine the language used in job postings. Debiasing job descriptions is a crucial step to ensure that qualified individuals from all backgrounds feel encouraged to apply. Eliminating gendered titles, pronouns, and connotative bias can help create an inclusive environment that appeals to a broader range of candidates. Additionally, avoiding excessive jargon and superlatives can make job descriptions more approachable and appealing to prospective applicants.

Employers should consider partnering with employee resource groups and diversity and inclusion teams to gain insights into inclusive language practices. Inclusive job descriptions should focus on the essential skills and competencies required for the role rather than specific demographics or personal attributes. This approach encourages a diverse range of candidates to apply and promotes a more equitable hiring process.

Skills and Competencies First

When crafting job descriptions, it is beneficial to prioritize skills and competencies over rigid education and experience requirements. Not everyone possesses a four-year degree, and filtering candidates solely based on educational qualifications can unnecessarily limit your talent pool. By emphasizing the necessary skills and competencies upfront, you open the door to a broader range of qualified candidates who may bring unique perspectives and strengths to the table. Furthermore, focusing on competencies allows you to identify individuals who may not have all the required skills but possess the potential to acquire them through training and development.

To identify the key skills and competencies for each role, employers should collaborate with hiring managers and team members to understand the core requirements and desired attributes. This collaboration ensures alignment between job descriptions and the actual needs of the organization. Leveraging data and insights from current employees who excel in their roles can help identify the critical skills that drive success.

Optimizing Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Filters

While ATS filters can help streamline the screening process, it is crucial to ensure they do not inadvertently screen out qualified candidates based on irrelevant criteria. Regularly audit your ATS filters to prevent the unintended elimination of talented individuals who possess the necessary skills and competencies. By fine-tuning your filters to align with the job requirements, you increase the likelihood of identifying the right candidates and avoiding missed opportunities.

Employers should analyze the effectiveness of their ATS filters by reviewing data on candidate qualifications, conversion rates, and candidate demographics. This analysis helps identify any unintended biases or systematic exclusions that may exist within the system. Adjustments can then be made to improve the accuracy and fairness of the filtering process.

Becoming a Skills-First Organization

Skills-based recruiting is not limited to job descriptions; it requires a holistic approach to talent management. Organizations that prioritize skills focus on identifying, developing, and rewarding skills throughout the employee lifecycle.

Skills Assessment and Gap Analysis

To become a skills-first organization, employers should regularly assess the skills of their workforce and identify any gaps that need to be addressed. This can be done through skills assessments, self-evaluations, and feedback from managers. By understanding the skills available within the organization, employers can make informed decisions about hiring, training, and career development.

Upskilling and Reskilling Programs

Investing in upskilling and reskilling programs is essential for building a skilled workforce. Providing opportunities for employees to learn and develop new skills not only improves their capabilities but also enhances employee engagement and retention. Organizations can offer training programs, mentorship opportunities, and online learning resources to support employees in their skill development journey.

AI and Automation

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can significantly impact skills-based recruiting and talent management. AI-powered tools can assist in skills assessment, matching candidates to job requirements, and identifying skill gaps within the organization. Automation steps in to streamline repetitive tasks, and even lends a hand during the creation of job descriptions, empowering employees to channel their focus into higher-value work that demands critical thinking and unleashes their creativity. Embracing AI and automation as catalysts for skill development, while still valuing human oversight, empowers organizations to remain agile in the face of a rapidly evolving job market.

Rewarding Talent for Attaining Skills

To foster a culture of skill development, organizations should recognize and reward employees for acquiring new skills. Traditional compensation models often focus solely on experience and education, but a shift toward skill-based rewards can incentivize employees to continuously learn and grow. This can include "skills-booster" bonuses tied to skill acquisition, promotions based on demonstrated competencies, and recognition programs that celebrate skill development milestones.

By rewarding skill acquisition, organizations send a clear message that skills are valued and contribute to both individual and organizational success. This approach also encourages a growth mindset and creates a positive work environment where employees are motivated to continually enhance their skills.


Skills-based recruiting and effective job descriptions play a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent. By prioritizing skills and competencies, organizations can tap into a diverse talent pool, promote inclusivity, and foster a culture of continuous skill development. With the support of AI and automation, companies can streamline their talent acquisition processes and make informed decisions based on skills. Embracing a skills-first approach and recognizing and rewarding employees for their skill attainment not only creates a competitive advantage in the ever-changing world of work but also entices those elusive unicorns who possess the unique capabilities to propel your organization to new heights.


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