Many business owners and hiring managers are far too reactive (and rushed) when it comes to making a hire. They spend the majority of the assessment process focusing on technical skills, in the hope that the new hire will be able to hit the ground running with minimal hand-holding.
However, focusing entirely on someone’s hard skills often results in a poor hire, not from the perspective of saving on training time, but from the way that the new hire interacts with your existing team and other key stakeholders.
Many organisations fail to focus on soft skills because they believe that a certain degree of emotional intelligence in the workplace goes without saying and has no need to be assessed.
The reality is, this isn’t always the case. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and a high level of technical expertise doesn’t automatically mean good team skills or the ability to communicate that expertise to others.
So what are soft skills?
Soft skills are those behavioural competencies, related to a person’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), that enable them to interact with and influence others, be they team mates, customers, suppliers or management.
Soft skills are skills that we all have to varying degrees, including:
- effective communication;
- conflict resolution;
- team work; and
- strategic thinking
Soft skills can also be more intangible, and can include:
- sense of humour;
- common sense;
- good manners; and
- the ability to teach others.
While not easily defined or assessed, what business could say they don’t want their employees to possess qualities such as these?
Why are soft skills so important?
An organisation can have the highest level of knowledge and expertise, but if they lack customer service skills, if their employees are always bickering, or they have a high staff turnover, chances are they have a lack of soft skills where they matter most.
Often the only difference between two companies in the same industry is their customer service and client handling skills, so hiring with softer skills in mind such as communication, flexibility and friendliness would be the obvious way to gain an advantage over a competitor.
Having employees who work effectively together towards your organisation’s success is vital, so hiring people who exhibit negotiation, team building and conflict resolution skills also makes a lot of sense.
How do you assess soft skills?
Evaluating soft skills is more difficult than determining whether someone can perform a particular task. How do you test for integrity, honesty or team work?
Behavioural based interviews can be used to pinpoint soft skills, and there are particular questions you can ask to determine whether the skills you are looking for are present in a candidate. For example:
- Q: Tell me about a time where you had to take charge of a situation and rally others around you in order to resolve it? (this can indicate skills related to leadership)
- Q: Tell me about a time when you had to respond quickly to a problem by coming up with a plan to fix it? (this could point to problem solving skills).
- Q: Tell me about a time when you were able to motivate others to achieve a goal? (this could show team work and leadership skills).
- Q: Tell me about a time when you were able to solve a problem by coming at it from a different angle? (this could point to innovation and creativity).
- Q: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer? (this can indicate skills related to customer service).
- Q: Tell me about a problem you had that took you a long time to resolve? (this can point to initiative and perseverance).
- Q: Tell me about a time when you had to complete a project quickly by focusing on the most important aspects? (this could indicate the ability to prioritise).
- Q: Tell me about a time when you had to alter a project in mid-stream? (this could show flexibility and ability to work under pressure).
Obviously hard skills are vital in many jobs, such as knowing how to use a certain type of software or being certified in a particular area of expertise. However, in those industries where companies are maintaining relationships with clients and dealing with customers (which is most industries these days), soft skills or ‘people skills’ are equally important, if not more so.
So while it might take a bit more effort to assess softer skills in a potential candidate, it can be well worth it in the long run. Those employees who possess both hard and soft skills are much more likely to:
- Stay with your organisation longer;
- Make a more valuable contribution;
- Have good relationships and work well with others; and
- Improve overall productivity.