Ditch the Degree and Hire for Skills

A look inside Cleveland Clinic’s skills-first hiring approach

Skills first hiring

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, seven seconds have passed – the average amount of time a recruiter spends looking at a resume. With the decision to pursue a job candidate or pass on them being made so quickly, it’s time to consider whether traditional resumes truly reflect someone’s potential value to an organization.


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“As individuals, we bring so much more to the workplace than what is on our resume,” says Kiersten Kanaley, Executive Director of Talent Acquisition at Cleveland Clinic. “Our lived experiences should be valued.”

Lived experiences are at the heart of Cleveland Clinic’s recently adopted skills-first approach to hiring and promoting employees. For example, potential employees may have learned responsibility by caring for younger siblings while a parent worked two shifts or flexibility by moving from state to state in a military family.

“This is the era of skills-first hiring, which focuses on competencies rather than degrees,” says Kanaley. “It values diversity of experience and intentionally seeks to hire candidates who are from non-traditional sources and backgrounds.”

A close examination of job requirements

In its report “Dismissed by Degrees,” the organization Grads of Life presents results from a survey of 600 human resource leaders that highlight how degree inflation – demand for a four-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one – undermines competitiveness and hurts America’s middle class.


The report notes that within the healthcare and social assistance industry, 92 occupations representing 621,000 jobs are at risk of degree inflation. In addition, 64% of employers within the industry acknowledged that they reject some job candidates who have the skills and experience to be successful in a middle-skills job because they don’t meet the requirement of having a four-year degree.

When Cleveland Clinic committed to skills-first hiring, the organization began by identifying middle-skills jobs that offer family sustaining wages of $48,000 per year based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator. The health system discovered more than 250 jobs that were ripe for either recredentialing or removing the degree requirement, says Kanaley. This includes department supervisors, financial analysts, program and project managers and others.

“The emerging degree reset represents a positive change for hiring practices because it benefits not only potential job seekers, but also Cleveland Clinic and our caregivers and surrounding community,” she says. “Now there are more opportunities for our caregivers to realize their fullest potential and for people within our local community to apply for. Once they come here in a middle-skills job, it’s a gateway to other careers in healthcare.”

The skills-first approach is part of Cleveland Clinic’s overarching commitment to the mission of the OneTen coalition, which aims to hire, promote and advance one million Black individuals into family-sustaining careers in the next decade.

Four tips for advancing skills-first hiring

Kanaley offers advice for talent acquisition peers within the healthcare industry who are interested in skills-first hiring:

  • Join a community of practice, such as the OneTen coalition. “This invites employers to share skills-based hiring practices and learn from one another,” she says. Cleveland Clinic is a founding member organization of the coalition.
  • Address cultural and tactical barriers. Cultural barriers include pedigree bias, such as valuing a candidate because they attended a prestigious university rather than a community college. Tactical barriers include potential obstacles, such as recredentialing roles currently held by employees with H1B visa status that may compromise their visa and employment.
  • Adapt processes and tools to make skills-first hiring more efficient for managers and recruiters. “In the past year, Cleveland Clinic has invested in developing recruiters’ capabilities,” says Kanaley. “They went through a best-in-class development series, which gave them a standard approach to the way they work.” There are resources available for organizations unable to develop in-house training, such as those offered by OneTen.
  • Be intentional about skills-first hiring. “This is more than just changing a job description,” says Kanaley. “Our recruiters are embedded within the community and are intentionally sourcing and hiring in tandem with community partners.”


Skills-first hiring can be a game-changer for healthcare organizations, employees and the community at large. “We aim to close the opportunity gap and ignite potential generations to come,” says Kanaley.


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