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Focusing on the Softer Side of Hiring

Evaluating soft skills along with experience and skills

By Erica Whyman

When evaluating a potential candidate for employment, often hiring managers quickly scan a resume or more aptly, a LinkedIn profile, to assess the viability of that candidate. We look for past positons, past employers, education and skills. Is this though the best indicator as to whether a candidate would be successful for our position? Are we missing certain candidates because we are only considering hard skills at the onset?

Many successful organizations are directing their hiring process to include an evaluation of the softer skills a candidate will bring or will not bring with them to a position. Asking themselves, “what are the softer skills that are necessary to be successful in a particular role?” And then how much do we value that skill?

If you get the opportunity to work with McHenry’s Recruiting practice, led by the formidable Tina Vigoa, do not be surprised if she asks you about the organization’s corporate culture, or seeks to learn more about the company, the people that held the position prior. These questions allow Tina and her team to identify the candidates that not only will have the ability to fill the skills needed, but will have the soft skills to be retained. What good is a great hire, that leaves in a year.

The fact is, we all know what a payroll processor does and what skills they need to do the job, but the fact is we all know THAT GREAT PROCESSOR and then the ones that are okay. The difference is soft skills.

Career Builders recently conducted a survey and found that 77 percent of employers surveyed said they were seeking candidates with soft skills, and 16 percent said that these soft skills were more crucial than then the hard skills.

Southwest Airlines, is famous for their hiring methodology, that focuses on, “hiring for attitude and training for skill.” The idea is that they can teach you the skills necessary to do the position, but it is impossible to teach or train, attitude, and that aligning the softer skills of a candidate with what is needed in a role is crucial. In addition, it is vital to align the values of the candidate with the values of the organization.

Sherry Phelps, an executive in Southwest Airline’s People Department explains, “The first thing we look for is the ‘warrior spirit’,” So much of our history was born out of battles — fighting for the right to be an airline, fighting off the big guys who wanted to squash us, now fighting off the low-cost airlines trying to emulate us. We are battle-born, battle-tried people. Anyone we add has to have some of that warrior spirit.”

Some dismiss this notion as being okay, when you are talking about hiring a flight attendant, but for say a PEO, it simply would not work. Even though I may argue that a warrior spirit may be pretty important when working in the PEO Industry. I know there were times working for a PEO, when I felt I was in a battle.

Warren Buffett also directs his hiring process to include these soft skills He has been quoted as saying that when he makes a hiring decision, he looks for three things, intelligence, energy and integrity, and two out of three, is not good enough. He says, that two out of three, can kill an organization. An individual with high energy and intelligence but low integrity, is working hard and fast, but not in the best interest of your company. Two out of the three qualities that are necessary for Warren Buffett are soft skills

As a recruiter and HR professional who has made hundreds of hiring decisions, some softer skills are more crucial than others. So what are my top five soft skills? If I could hire an employee that I knew had these five traits, well I could certainly teach them the recruiting or HR.

Taking Initiative: An employee who does not wait to be asked and instead raises their hand with new ideas or approaches.
Problem Solving: Thinking effectively and critically is necessary when working in the PEO industry.
Being Flexible and Focused: Things change in business, and an employee needs to be able to adapt to that change right along with the company in a focused way.
Creating and Innovating: Creativity and innovation sparks change, regardless of what industry or role you are in. There is always a better way to do something.
Conflict Resolution: conflict is inevitable, resolution is not. An employee who looks at conflict in a pragmatic way, and not in a personal attack, is valuable in my team. This promotes collaboration and leadership.

It’s the Softer side of Sears… I mean Hiring. (If you did not get this joke, it was a marketing campaign in the nineties, and now I just made myself feel old, having to explain this.)

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About the Author

Erica Whyman is the Director of Human Capital Strategies at McHenry Consulting, Inc. and an authority on the delivery of high impact HR services as well as the development, and talent management of human capital within the professional employer industry (PEO).

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