Three Soft Skills Leaders Should Look For When They’re Recruiting

By John Rampton, the founder of California-based Palo Alto Calendara company that helps your calendar to be much more productive.

When writing a job description for an open position, you naturally focus on the hard skills you know the job demands. Address issues such as education, years of relevant experience and skills. Then, dust off the qualities you’re looking for, such as “team player,” “strong communication skills,” and “problem solver.”

These qualities are soft skills, as opposed to the more easily detectable hard skills. Stellar employees must have a balance of both. But figuring out which soft skills are non-negotiable and how to screen for them in an applicant is a challenge.

When recruiters do this, many have a tendency to trust their gut. I don’t know about you, but my gut isn’t always the best measure of the soft skills I know a new hire will need for the job. Here are three soft skills you should always look for when hiring a new employee. Even better, I’ve included some questions you can ask to determine whether or not they have them.

1. A solid work ethic

There’s a long-standing, but largely debunked, theory that the work ethic has waned, generation after generation, from baby boomers to millennials. Then there is the rise of the so-called silent quit phenomenon. It’s mostly attributed to Gen-Z and Millennials, but I think it’s more likely an adjustment related to the pandemic and work environments that demand more and reward less. In my experience, work ethics are as individual as the people in the workplace, regardless of age.

Of course, recruiters want employees who have a strong work ethic, so it’s imperative to evaluate one applicant over another. But simply asking them if they have a good work ethic is unlikely to yield useful results; what candidate will say “no” to that? Instead, ask what having a good work ethic means to them. Then ask for examples of times they have demonstrated the types of behaviors just described.

Keep asking what motivated them in these cases. Was it the prospect of a bonus or a promotion? Do you want to help the company succeed? A commitment to the customer or client? Their answers should provide a clue as to whether the job you’re interviewing for will provide them with the motivation they need.

Making generational assumptions about a candidate’s work ethic before the interview is a rookie mistake. It’s your job to dig deep into what’s on the resume and what’s not. Finding someone with a good work ethic is worth the extra time.

2. Adaptability and Flexibility

Adaptability and flexibility have always been valuable soft skills. But given the experiences we’ve all had over the past couple of years, I think it’s safe to say they’ve never been more important. The continued uncertainty of today’s economic environment makes these two skills you definitely want your employees to have.

Considering what the business world has to offer, you should assess whether a candidate has what it takes to adapt to changing situations before hiring them. Adaptability and flexibility are essential components of problem solving, time management, critical thinking and leadership.

To gauge whether an interviewee has these two qualities, have them talk about the changes they made during the pandemic. What kind of guidance and support did they receive from their employers? What did they think they needed but didn’t get? And how did they continue to work without what they lacked?

Explore the candidate’s response to learning new technologies, handling last-minute client changes, and sticking to a project’s timeline when something is delivered late. Ask if they had to pick up someone else’s slack and how they felt doing so.

Results of a LeadershipIQ survey (via Forbes) found that about a third of people are motivated by security and want consistency and continuity. But we all know that the business environment often lacks these qualities. Finding employees who are willing and able to pivot on the fly can be vital to your company’s success.

3. Team work

Few job candidates will willingly admit that they are poor team players. No matter what happens, they will tell you that they work well with others, and so you will have to discover the truth.

Being a great team member requires empathy and good interpersonal and communication skills. It requires the employee to not only understand his role but also to have respect for the roles of others. All employees deserve work-life balance, but one person’s should not come at the expense of those they work with. When the workload increases, a team player steps in.

Ask candidates about team experiences and previous projects. When other team members asked for their help, how did they respond? What did they do when they saw their classmates fighting?

Also ask about the team’s successes, near misses, and failures. What role did they play in the wins and losses? How did they answer them? Did they evaluate the projects to determine why they worked or didn’t work and what changes need to be made as a team in the next one?

You can tell a lot about people who blame and share praise instead of finding fault with everyone but themselves. A candidate who points fingers in an interview is likely to be toxic to the team dynamic. Instead, you want employees to lend a hand.

Bottom line: soft things don’t break

When talent is hard to come by, it’s tempting to fill a position with a candidate whose hard skills look good on paper. But if you want someone who will grow into a role, molding and shaping it as they go, you need to discover those soft skills. The right person must not only be able to fill the position you need, but also thrive.

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Leaders know that finding the right people for their organization is essential for organizational success. But in today’s job market, where demonstrated technical skills are often no longer sufficient to guarantee job success, it’s increasingly important that leaders also look for soft skills when they’re recruiting. At Ikaroa we recommend looking for the following three essential soft skills:

1. Adaptability: Today’s workplaces are hyper-competitive and fast-paced, and the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances and the challenge of new tasks is becoming an ever more important quality for leaders to look for when recruiting. Candidates should be able to demonstrate an ability to quickly grasp and apply new knowledge, and to solve problems within tight deadlines.

2. Teamwork: Research shows that teams composed of members with complementary skills outperform teams of strong individual performers. Rather than looking for the one candidate who excels in every area, leaders should be looking for candidates with the soft skills necessary to build relationships and work effectively as part of a larger team.

3. Communication: The ability to listen to and empathize with others, to express opinions in a constructive way, to ask questions, and to demonstrate an understanding of another person’s point of view are the hallmarks of effective communication. When recruiting, leaders should assess a candidate’s communication skills in order to ascertain if they have the capability to get along with their team, to take feedback well, and to be an effective ambassador for the organization.

In today’s rapidly changing digital world, leaders should look beyond formal qualifications and technical skills. They need to seek out candidates who possess the soft skills necessary to ensure their organization’s success. At Ikaroa, we are committed to helping our clients find the talent they need to build their team, by ensuring the most appropriate screening and recruitment processes are in place.


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