It’s no secret that business owners are struggling to find good employees these days. According to Patrick Valtin, a talent acquisition and retention consultant and author of No-Fail Hiring 2.0, the problem is not that there aren’t enough qualified candidates—it’s that employers are defining “qualified” all wrong.
The Importance of Soft Skills
“Many small business owners are focusing too much on selecting applicants primarily based on their hard skills,” explains Valtin. If you’re looking for job candidates with specific skills and experience, you could be making a big mistake. According to a Leadership IQ study, almost half of new hires fail within 18 months. Just 11 percent of those failures are due to a lack of hard skills; the rest stem from a lack of soft skills.
Focusing solely on hard skills not only increases the risk of a failed hire, but can also lead you to overspend to land that hire. “Technically qualified applicants know their value,” says Valtin, “and in today’s applicant-driven marketplace, they often inflate their salary expectations.” That means you could end up paying more than you can really afford for a candidate who may not work out.
Soft Skills in Demand
What soft skills should you be looking for? No matter what industry you are in or what position you’re hiring for, skills such as listening and getting along with others are vital to success. According to a 2016 LinkedIn study, the top 10 soft skills employers look for most are:
- Communication (specifically, active listening)
- Organization (planning and implementing projects)
- Critical thinking
- Interpersonal skills (in one’s relationship to others)
- Friendly personality
Assessing Soft Skills
When you’re advertising for an open position, how can you convey the importance of soft skills? “Your job posting should clearly indicate the needed hard skills, while also clearly communicating that you attribute as much importance to vital soft skills,” Valtin says. “Specifically, invite applicants who might not [have] the required hard skills to convince you why they should still be considered for employment.”
Once you receive some applications, Valtin cautions, don’t make the common mistake of eliminating applicants just because their resumes don’t show the necessary hard skills. “Some applicants may lie [about] their skills or [have different] standards than you,” he explains, noting that it’s easier to remedy a lack of hard skills than a lack of soft ones.
As you sort through job applicants and conduct the interview process, Valtin says, follow these steps to assess a candidate’s soft skills.
- Make a list of important soft skills for the specific job you are posting and keep it in mind during the process.
- No matter what the job is, always evaluate honesty as the prime soft skill.
- Always explain why a specific soft skill is important on the job. For example, if you need someone who has a friendly attitude on the phone, explain how it affects customer service and retention.
- During the interview, challenge the candidate on each specific soft skill by asking them when they were able to demonstrate the skill, and who could verify what they just told you.
- Use pre-hire assessment tests to identify potential problem areas in a candidate’s soft skills. (Valtin suggests this one.)
- When conducting reference checks, ask about a candidate’s specific soft skills or personality-related strengths and weaknesses.
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