With HR professionals noting a skills gap across the global workforce, the challenge arises in finding candidates who display the soft skills required to succeed. While the hard skills of many industries can be learned, even on the job, it’s much more difficult to learn the soft skills that help an employee traverse today’s landscape of organizational culture and customer expectations. Hard skills are important, and they help you execute on the functions of the job. Soft skills are the difference maker in your company culture, and are your competitive advantage in the market place.
Imperative to the full functioning of a team is the ability to bring in new hires who are able to operate with the skills that facilitate communication and partnership, while learning the nuances of their specific role.
Here are some of the soft skills to evaluate when interviewing a potential candidate:
The ability to effectively communicate is a non-negotiable. People with good communication skills build relationships, they listen to others, and they speak in ways that bring clarity. Listen to your potential new hire. Instead of listening how he or she might validate what you’re asking, listen for what is important to them. Is HE important to himself, and therefore only talks about…himself? Does SHE have to be first in everything? Do they talk in circles, never provide straight answers? Are they particularly long-winded? Do they speak with confidence? Or maybe they’re articulate, vulnerable, educated, and full of empathy in their communication. If your candidate will interact with customers, can you imagine him or her communicating on behalf of your company? Whatever direction it leads, finding a candidate with the ability to communicate has the potential for a great hire.
Does your candidate take initiative in making decisions? Does she “own” her decisions, or does she pawn off the responsibility to others? Asking a potential new hire about their thought process and outcomes of decisions from their previous experience will give you a broader spectrum of understanding what they bring to the table. Ask questions that have them explain what decisions they made, why they made them, and the forces that influenced their decisions, as well as have them share their decision-making successes and failures. You might even try situational examples that require the candidate to make an immediate decision based on what they would do. They don’t have to pick the “right” decision, but you can learn what their decision making process looks like under fire.
It’s one thing to lack resources, but it’s another thing altogether to lack resourcefulness. Ask your candidate about something they want to accomplish but haven’t. Then ask them why they haven’t yet. Do they communicate their lack of resources, or do they show you that they are engaged in being resourceful? Are they making the most of what they have, working for more? Or do they simply make excuses as to why they can’t? Resourcefulness goes a long way in bringing solutions and innovation to a company. You want employees who are hungry, and are willing to find ways to win.
This might be one of the most difficult soft skills to detect in the interview process. The reality is that you can’t be certain of how well someone will fit into the team until they’re engaged. However, this is another place to get creative in the interview process. Asking about previous experience can help, although someone who communicates well can make his or her past sound better than it was. Finding ways to put your candidate into situations that require them to work as a team member can be effective. As you move in the process, bring in 2 or 3 current employees, and put them in a scenario to solve an issue or problem with your candidate. It can be any issue that the company is dealing with, or even a competitive game that requires teamwork. Does your candidate take over? Do they hang quietly in the background? Do they get overly competitive and cause tension? You know what they say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
While a new hire can learn the hard skills required to perform a job, the soft skills are really the things that make the difference. The ability to communicate effectively directly impacts the culture of a company, and it can certainly shape your customer’s experience. The decisions that an employee takes can further an organization or send them reeling to recover. An employee who is resourceful can be counted on to find solutions even when resources are limited. An adept team player can be an integral component of a great organization.
All these soft skills are important (along with others), and they can make the difference between a good hire and a bad one. Of course you want someone with both skill sets, but if you have to choose, hire the candidate that displays the soft skills required to grow and persevere in any situation over the one who has the hard skills, but lacks the ability to develop and learn going forward.