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A Six-Step Hiring Strategy to Identify Soft Skills

A Six-Step Hiring Strategy to Identify Soft Skills

By Bruce Tulgan, author of Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today's Young Talent (Wiley)

Never forget, one very good hire is much better than three or four or five mediocre hires. No matter where you are on the skill spectrum, build in soft skills criteria systematically in every aspect of your staffing strategy and hiring process:

Step One
For every single position, build a profile and job description that includes not just the key hard skills for that role, but also the key soft skills. Use our competency model to start your brainstorming, but make them your own. 

Once you identify the high priority soft skill behaviors for each position, name them yourself. Describe them in detail. Build those criteria into the basic job requirements in no uncertain terms from the very outset. Be prepared to turn away candidates who do not meet these soft skill criteria, just as you would turn away candidates without the necessary hard skills. 

Or, if you are forced to hire people without the required soft skills, make sure you have a plan in place to address those soft skill gaps from the first day of employment, just as you would have a plan in place if you hired an employee without the necessary technical skills.

Step Two
Look for talent from sources well known for the strong soft skills you need. If you are hiring out of schools and training programs, definitely find out which ones include soft skills in their standard curriculum.

But don’t wait for them to come to you. Be proactive about seeking candidates from those sources. Look for candidates If you can build relationships with key influencers in those sources -- teachers, career counselors, leaders, active members of organizations, military outplacement personnel, and so forth. 

Step Three
Include your high priority soft skills behaviors in your employer branding and recruitment campaign messaging. That’s why it’s so important to name your high priority soft skills -- to have meaningful slogans to capture them. 

Remember, the goal of any recruiting campaign is to deliver a compelling message in order to draw a sufficiently large applicant pool so that you can be very selective. Your goal is not necessarily to draw applicants who are all “very smart” and “great team players” but, at the very least, you want to draw applicants who aspire to be very smart and aspire to be great team players. 

You want to draw applicants who are looking for a job in which they can learn and grow and build themselves up. We call it a “self-building” job. You want to draw applicants for whom the idea of “self-building” is a big turn-on, not a turn-off.

Step Four
In a tight labor market, the pressure to hire leads to hard-selling a job to a candidate, even if that person is not ideal for the job. In fact, so many employers are so starved for young talent that they just can’t bear to turn potential employees away, even in the face of huge red flags. 

If someone comes late for the interview or falls asleep during the interview or has typos in his 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
Build a selection process that places a heavy emphasis on high priority soft skills. Here’s a shortcut: Scare away young job candidates who only think they are serious by shining a bright light on all the downsides of the job. 

Whatever the worst, most difficult aspects of the job may be, start your selection process with vivid descriptions of those downsides. Then see which candidates are still interested in the job. They are the ones worth testing and interviewing.

We recommend using research -- validated testing whenever possible to get a quick baseline reading of an applicant’s aptitude in key areas of the job, including high priority soft skills. Whatever test you settle on, just make sure you can implement and evaluate it with relative speed. And make sure you know in advance exactly what you are looking for. 

What are you testing for? If you need an employee who can write well, simply hand the applicant a piece of paper and ask him to write something. If you need an employee who can speak well, ask her to prepare a brief presentation and then present it. If you need an employee who can solve problems in spatial relations, give her a puzzle. If you need an employee who can solve math problems, give him some math problems to solve. If you need an employee who can be on time, schedule three interviews, at three different times. And so on. Of course, some soft skills are harder to test for than others.

Then comes the job interview, the one employment selection process almost every manager does, but very few do well. When it comes to interviewing, the best practice is still the simple model of behavioral interviewing. Although there are entire courses taught in behavioral interviewing, I often teach it to managers in my seminars in three minutes. Behavioral interviewing simply means asking applicants
to tell you a story and then listening carefully to the story. 

When you are doing behavioral interviewing, 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?”

Finally, consider one last stage of selection, we call “the realistic job preview.” This might be a probationary hiring period, or a prereal job internship, during which you can try out the employee and the employee can try out the job for a while. Make sure to assign the person real tasks that mirror the actual tasks, responsibilities,
and projects he or she will be asked to do if he or she accepts the job. Make sure to include the grunt work. 

Another option is a period of “job shadowing” or “tagging along” with another person in your organization who is doing the same job this person will be doing if hired. This approach is sometimes used in hospitals. 

Step Six
If there is any lag time between the time an offer is made and accepted and day one of the actual job, take advantage of that time. Perhaps the employee needs to finish school or the employer must complete a security screening. Use the delay to keep sending the message about your high priority soft skill behaviors: Send books or videos or other targeted learning materials. In every way you can, keep sending the
message that those soft skill behaviors really matter.

From Bruce Tulgan's new book, Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: Teaching the Missing Basics to Today's Young Talent (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, September 2015.)

Listen to a Monster Hiring Podcast with Bruce Tulgan: The Importance of Soft Skills

Author Bio:
Bruce 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 ofRainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an on-line training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). Follow him on Twitter @brucetulgan.

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