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Domain Knowledge vs Technical Skills in Hiring

When it comes to hiring new employees, domain expertise is just as important as specific technical skills. In some cases, domain knowledge may be the primary reason to choose one candidate over another. A recruiting strategy that includes assessing both technical and domain knowledge helps you find appropriate candidates for positions throughout your organization.

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What is domain knowledge?

Domain knowledge is the collection of skills and expertise specific to a particular field or industry. Instead of expertise with a single specific program or tool, domain knowledge involves a broader perspective. Someone with domain expertise knows the current state of the industry and has an idea of where it’s headed. For management positions, domain knowledge is often a crucial business skill.

Defining technical skills

Technical skills involve the ability to perform specific job-related tasks. Technical knowledge is practical, so individuals with good technical skills tend to be intimately familiar with common processes, equipment and protocols in your industry. A new hire with plenty of technical experience may be able to immediately get to work on the first day of employment because there’s no need to learn how to run the software you use or operate the tools at your facility. Some examples of common technical skills include:

  • Experience working with industry-specific automated machinery
  • Knowledge of specific programming languages
  • An understanding of how to run common laboratory assays
  • Previous experience using physical construction or design tools
  • Familiarity with specific project management software, spreadsheets or data analysis programs

One thing to remember about technical skills is that they can be taught to just about anyone. You don’t have to hire someone from outside who already has these skills because you can train internal employees or new hires to do these kinds of tasks.

Prioritizing domain knowledge and functional expertise in hiring

During the hiring process, you may encounter candidates with various levels of domain knowledge and functional technical expertise. The specific job you’re hiring for may determine which type of experience is more desirable in a candidate.

Technical jobs

Some jobs involve repetitive tasks or close adherence to specific industry guidelines, and for these jobs technical skills are a high priority. If the main job duty is to quickly and efficiently assemble products, run assays or build structures, then in-depth knowledge about the industry is less important than being able to work with the essential tools and equipment at the job site.

Development jobs

Jobs in software development, biomedical research and product development may also be positions that require more technical skills than domain knowledge. Creativity can help employees in development positions come up with new ways of improving current processes or products, but workers in development need to have a thorough grasp of relevant technical skills before they can start building something new.

Management jobs

Management positions usually require more domain knowledge than technical skills. Managers need to be able to oversee projects and make decisions based on the current state of the industry, but they typically don’t have to do as much hands-on technical work themselves.

Consultant and analyst jobs

Individuals hired to do analysis and make recommendations should have strong domain expertise. People in these roles might not need specific technical skills but should have a good overall sense of the industry and be able to predict future industry trends.

Testers and quality control

Employees in testing or quality control should have a balance of domain knowledge and technical expertise. This type of job involves looking for potential glitches or problems in the technical aspects of your product or service while also assessing whether the final product meets customer expectations in your industry.

Assessing domain expertise and technical skills in candidates

Before you can choose the right candidate for your company’s open position, you should assess each applicant’s level of domain expertise and technical skill. Listing required technical skills or domain competencies in the job specifications part of your job ad helps narrow down applicants to those with the experience you need.

In some cases, the candidate’s resume gives you an idea of their skills in each area. Courses, certificates, degrees and previous jobs can showcase which specific technical skills and domain-level skills have been a focus for each candidate.

During an interview, you can assess technical expertise by asking questions about how the candidate might carry out specific procedures or processes. You can also ask directly about experience using particular software or equipment.

Talent assessment tests can also help you discover skills or competencies not listed on a candidate’s application or resume. General talent assessment tests can assess problem-solving skills and determine whether the candidate is a good cultural fit for your company, but you may want to develop specific tests for your company or industry for a more nuanced understanding of the applicant’s technical and domain skills.

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