By Embracing a Skills-First Hiring Approach, Merck is Dedicated to Driving Diversity — and Progress

Three team members who have been involved in the hiring process describe how it has helped the pharmaceutical company diversify its ranks and discover top talent.

Written by Olivia McClure
Published on Apr. 25, 2024
By Embracing a Skills-First Hiring Approach, Merck is Dedicated to Driving Diversity — and Progress
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Amid the tumult of 2020, Merck’s former CEO and executive chairman of the board, Ken Frazier, made a decision that had the potential to shape the future of the workforce. 

He joined other corporate leaders in founding OneTen, an organization aimed at closing the opportunity gap for underrepresented talent by focusing on skills-based hiring practices. By narrowing in on skills and experience rather than degrees during the hiring process, organizations like Merck can increase workplace diversity while connecting individuals from underrepresented backgrounds with higher-income opportunities. 

Upon the inception of OneTen, Frazier summed up the organization’s purpose in one resounding statement: “This is a moment in time for Americans to move past our divisions to come together and reach our full potential as a nation — OneTen has the potential to address persistent intergenerational gaps in opportunity and wealth.”



OneTen is a coalition of leading companies and executives across industries, who are all committed to upskilling, hiring and advancing 1 million Black individuals and others in America — over the next 10 years — into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement. In addition to Frazier, OneTen founders include:

  • Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst and former chairman and CEO of American Express
  • Charles Phillips, managing partner of Recognize, chairman of the Black Economic Alliance and former CEO of Infor
  • Ginni Rometty, executive chairman and former CEO of IBM
  • Kevin Sharer, former chairman and CEO of Amgen and former faculty member at Harvard Business School

Since its founding in 2020, One Ten has added more than 60 partner employers and more than 90 talent development partners to its coalition.



By embracing a skills-first approach to hiring, Merck is committed to increasing access to qualified and diverse talent, which will ultimately spawn more innovative solutions and lend the organization a competitive advantage. In doing so, the company hopes to highlight the success of unlocking career opportunities for individuals who possess in-demand skills; individuals like Roman Grinberg, a service delivery management specialist at Merck. 

When Technology Partnership Manager Rich Klumpp was looking for candidates to fill Grinberg’s position, he knew he wanted someone who would hit the ground running. As Klumpp’s former coworker, Grinberg immediately came to mind — despite the fact that he lacked a four-year college degree. 

“I had worked with Roman previously and saw how well he did as both a technologist and a leader,” Klumpp recalled. 

For Grinberg, the interview process with Merck was refreshing and reflected a wider shift sweeping across his field. 

“In the IT field, I feel more employers are starting to look not at colleges and universities, but at what certifications and skill sets you have instead,” he said. 

Prioritizing skills during the talent sourcing process has opened up greater access to the type of talent Merck desires to drive its technological initiatives — something that Talent Acquisition Advisor Jessica Goldberg has seen firsthand. 

“Many of the skills-first candidates who have been placed with our company seem to have a palpable level of passion, excitement and engagement,” she said. 

Merck’s decision to embrace a skills-first hiring approach is a dualistic step toward progress. While the move is bolstering the organization’s technological endeavors, it’s also helping shape a more equitable workforce defined by opportunity for everyone. 


An Uncommonly Easy Process

“Straightforward” and “easy-to-follow” aren’t two descriptors commonly associated with the job interview process. 

But for Grinberg, these two words defined his experience interviewing for his current position at Merck. Not only did the interviewers make him feel comfortable, he shared, but they asked thoughtful questions that reflected skills, such as customer service, and gauged how he might react during certain situations. 

Grinberg also found it reassuring to know that some of the interviewers would be his future peers, as it reflected the organization’s respect for its employees. 

“It was good to see that Merck valued the opinion of my team members to take part in the hiring process,” he said. 


“It was good to see that Merck valued the opinion of my team members to take part in the hiring process.” 


Once Grinberg accepted the job offer, everything else fell into place easily. After undergoing necessary training sessions, he had the chance to meet individually with his department’s executive director, making him feel as though his voice was heard by both peers and leaders alike. 

“It was nice to get this interaction, since my expectation is that executives don’t usually have time for this,” Grinberg said. “It made me feel valued.”

Grinberg’s value as a team member was palpable from the start — validating Klumpp’s skills-first hiring decision. 

In Klumpp’s mind, any individual can jump into a new role with the right skill set. “I believe hands-on learning is the best teacher,” Klumpp said.   


The Perks of Prioritizing Skills

While the right skills don’t depend on a four-year degree, many hiring managers struggle to accept this idea.  

Goldberg has seen this before. She previously worked with hiring managers who admitted to leaning on education as a crutch — simply because they found it easier than identifying skills. But that changed after Goldberg gave them a crash course in skills-first hiring, recommending helpful approaches to identify the best candidates, such as implementing skills assessments.

“Ultimately, they’re happy they stepped outside of their comfort zone and went with the skills-first approach,” she said. 

According to Goldberg, teams who have moved to a skills-first approach have seen a positive increase in retention, employee engagement and diversity. This has been the case at Merck, where she offers hiring managers in-depth guidance that enables the hiring manager to focus on skills, behaviors and experience in applicants that signal they would be successful in a given role. 

By prioritizing skills over education, Goldberg shared, Merck has expanded its job candidate pool while ensuring all applicants have equal access to career opportunities. 

“It’s so rewarding to see an increase in consideration for the valuable skills and experience candidates bring to the organization,” she said.   


“It’s so rewarding to see an increase in consideration for the valuable skills and experience candidates bring to the organization.” 


Merck’s skills-first hiring approach has led to an increase in equity that can be felt on a day-to-day level. Since joining the organization, Grinberg has been awestruck by the diversity of his team with whom he collaborates and shares ideas with regularly. 

“It’s really cool to interact with such a diverse group,” he said. “We all work together, speak different native languages and all get along.”

For Grinberg and his peers, Merck’s use of a skills-first hiring approach is a catalyst for opportunity. By broadening its understanding of what defines the ideal job candidate, the organization has cultivated a culture that hinges on the strength of its people; individuals from all walks of life who leverage their unique gifts and perspectives every day in the pursuit of a healthier, happier world.



Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Merck.

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