Soft skills are just as important
In part one of this series, I broke down how to improve your hiring and recruiting messages to attract more Millennials. But once you have a large pool of young applicants, how can you determine who is the top talent? The answer: soft skills.
By now, many of us have heard of the growing “soft skills gap”: the gap between the expectations of employers and the reality of how new young employees show up on their first day. Today’s young Millennial stars may show up with the latest and greatest tools, tricks, and technical knowledge. They are often masters of the cutting edge. But what Millennials are missing is the basics of how to be a good employee. These skills are what many refer to as the “soft skills.”
And while it may be tempting to write off the soft skills gap as a growing issue, the fact of the matter is that Millennials (Generations Y & Z) are flooding the workforce in increasing numbers, and will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020:
And they are bringing the soft skills gap with them.
At the technical end of the labor market, the basic criteria for employment include years of specialized education and formal training. If you are hiring coders, developers, and other highly-technical positions, then you are squarely in the middle of the technical skill gap that gets so much media attention. Tech employees are required to invest so much personal time, money, and energy into acquiring the required technical skills that employers are in fierce competition for them. Employers often have so few candidates with the required tech skills that they cannot rule people out merely on the basis of gaps in their soft skills.
The bad news is that you cannot hire your way around the soft skills gap. Therefore, you simply must plan to address it in every aspect of your hiring and on-boarding processes. The good news is that you can hire smarter and give yourself a competitive advantage by making some slight adjustments in your staffing strategy, recruiting, and selection of new young employees.
6 Steps to Implementing Soft Skills in Your Hiring
Yes, if you are hiring for highly technical jobs, you have no choice but to hire those who have the necessary education. Yes, there is a limited supply of those candidates. No, that doesn’t mean you can ignore soft skills in your hiring.
Never forget, one very good hire is much better than three or four or five mediocre hires. Here are 6 ways to build soft skills criteria into your staffing strategy and hiring process:
Step one. Build a job description that includes not just the key hard skills for that role, but also the key soft skills. Describe them in detail. Build those soft skills criteria into the basic job requirements, clearly, from the very outset. Be prepared to turn away applicants that lack the required soft skills, just as you would turn them away if they lacked the required technical skills. If you must hire someone without the required soft skills, make sure you have a system or plan in place to build up those soft skills from their first day on the job.
Step two. Look for talent from sources well known for the strong soft skills you need. This is why so many employers want to hire those who have served in the military: You can be sure that most people who have served successfully in the military will display respect for authority, excellent manners, timeliness, consistency, follow through, teamwork, and initiative. Maybe it is the Peace Corps; or an NGO; a club or a church or an athletic team; maybe you are looking for someone who has run a marathon or been a camp counselor or a school teacher or volunteered in a soup kitchen. Create a list of the soft skill sources that are most important to you. Then, use that list as a reference so you can pay special attention to candidates with those soft skills “credentials”.
Step three. Include the soft skills that matter most to you in your recruitment messaging. It’s important to identify and name your high priority soft skills. Your recruitment message says a lot about how you see yourself as an employer, and what others can expect as your employee. If you advertise for app developers by saying, “hiring qualified app devs,” you are not really saying much. If your message is “looking for very smart app developers who are great team players,” that says a lot more.
Step four. Look for red flags. In a tight labor market, the pressure to fill a position leads to hard selling a job to a candidate, even if that person is not ideal for the job. But don’t fall into this trap! If someone comes late for the interview or falls asleep during the interview or has typos in their resume – and timeliness, good health, or attention to detail are important soft skills for this job – then those red flags are telling you, “Don’t hire this person!!”
Step five. Create a selection process that emphasizes soft skills. The best short-cut is to scare away young applicants who only think they are interested in a job by highlighting all of the downsides of the job. If you need to hire coders with especially high levels of diligence, make sure to tell them right away they can expect plenty of late nights and working weekends. Whatever the worst or most difficult aspects of the job may be, start your selection process with vivid descriptions of those downsides. The candidates who are still interested are the ones worth interviewing.
When it comes to interviews, the best practice continues to be behavioral interviewing. Although there are entire courses taught in behavioral interviewing, I often teach hiring managers that it simply means asking applicants to tell you a story. Make sure to ask applicants not only about their use of hard skills, but also their use of soft skills: “Tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work.” Or, “Tell me a story about a conflict you had with another employee at work. How did you solve it?” Listen carefully to the candidate’s answers – they are often more revealing than one might expect.
Step six. If there is a significant amount of time between an applicant accepting the job their first day, take advantage of that time. Use the delay to keep sending the message about important soft skills: Send books, videos, or other online resources they can use to build their soft skills. In every way you can, continue sending the message that those soft skills really matter to you and to their success in the job.
ABOUT THE AUTHORBruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.