Why you need to hire more for soft skills and less for experience.
In today’s 100% candidate-driven employment market, every small business is struggling to find good employees.
I believe that the problem is not that there aren’t enough qualified candidates — it’s that employers are defining “qualified” all wrong.
In fact, if you asked me the biggest mistake most employers/recruiters make in their hiring process, costing them a lot of frustration and disappointments, this would be No. 1: putting too much attention on hard skills and not enough on soft ones.
The vast majority of employers don’t seem to get it, or worse, tend to resist: when it comes to predicting if a candidate will be successful on the job, soft skills always prevail over hard ones.
The vital importance of soft skills
Many small-business owners are focusing too much on selecting applicants primarily based on their hard skills. 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 (48%) fail within 18 months. Just 11 percent of those failures are due to a lack of hard skills; the rest (89%) stem from a lack of soft skills.
The study focused on why new hires fail at such alarming rates, which is certainly a growing trend:
- 30% of them fail because they can’t accept feedback
- 22% of them fail because they are unable to understand and manage emotions
- 20% of them fail because they lack the necessary motivation to excel
- 17% of them fail because they have the wrong temperament for the job
- Only 11% fail because they lack the necessary technical/hard 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, 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.
The soft skills paradox
I always provide the following statement to un-convinced clients: “People get hired for their hard skills and get fired mostly for their lack of soft ones.” And guess what? Nobody has ever disagreed with that fact.
Why do most small-business employers or recruiters tend to neglect soft skills?
The main reasons are probably:
- Hoping that hiring a highly-talented, super-competent employee who has experience in their specific industry raises the odds of having him/her operational and productive faster on the job – and he or she will thus require less education.
- Fearing that evaluating applicants based on their soft skills might put the employer in potential liability with the EEOC. As a matter of fact, the EEOC considers soft skills “subjective criteria.” This can lead to discrimination and legal action.
- Ignoring how to evaluate people based on their personality-related characteristics. Most business owners have experienced at least once the sad reality that an “ideal applicant” ended up being very different after the three-month trial period. It is not easy to predict future behavior, based on one- to two-hour interviews.
Interestingly, in the corporate world today, the most popular subject related to talent acquisition happens to be soft skills. Per a recent report by Talent Blog, the most useful interviewing innovation (69%) is assessing soft skills.
Soft skills in high 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 soft skills employers look for 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. 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, 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. And in any case, 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, 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. (I suggest Hirebox’s tool. )
- When conducting reference checks, ask about a candidate’s specific soft skills or personality-related strengths and weaknesses.
- Always, always, always conduct background checks (in compliance with applicable state laws). Although they can’t predict if an applicant will commit crimes, they can at least warn you of potential trouble. In any case, background checks offer some protection against being sued for “negligent hiring” — being made responsible for some employee who commits a crime at work.
Soft skills are hard to teach; hard skills can (almost) always be developed or improved. The time and energy you hope to save by hiring super-competent, experienced applicants, could be wasted by having to deal with intolerance, lack of flexibility, a “I know-it-all” attitude, and sometimes a costly frustration when you need to terminate the one who seemed too perfect at the start.
Employers who hire for soft skills develop stronger and more stable teams. Get smart by focusing more on important, job-related “soft talent.” Direct your recruitment marketing campaign to attract soft-skilled, less-experienced applicants who see the long term rather than the short-term, status-based advantages of a position.
Ask for a free demo of the Hirebox pre-assessment platform - recognized as one of the top 10 HR software in 2019.
Patrick Valtin is the founder of Hirebox International. He is the best-selling author of “NO-FAIL-HIRING 2.0,” the Hire-Master® online training program, “Hire for Happiness” and the developer of the “Happiness Contribution Index.” He has evaluated over 25,000 applicants for more than 5,000 clients in the last 33 years.