Three Soft Skills Leaders Should Look For When They’re Recruiting

Estimated read time 5 min read

When you write a job description for an open position, you naturally focus on the hard skills you know the job demands. You address issues like educational background, years of relevant experience and skill proficiencies. Then you sprinkle in those qualities you’re looking for, like “team player,” “solid communication skills” and “problem-solver.”

Those qualities are soft skills, as opposed to the more easily detectable hard skills. Stellar employees need to possess a balance of both. But figuring out which soft skills are non-negotiable and how to screen an applicant for them is a challenge.

When recruiters do this, many have a tendency to rely on their gut. I don’t know about you, but my gut isn’t always the best measure of the soft skills I know a new hire will need for the job. Here are three soft skills you should always look for when recruiting a new employee. Even better, I’ve included some questions you can ask to determine whether they have them or not.

1. A Solid Work Ethic

There is a longstanding but largely debunked theory that work ethic has waned, generation by generation, from the Baby Boomers to the Millennials. Then there’s the rise of the so-called quiet quitting phenomenon. It’s primarily attributed to Gen-Z and Millennials, but I think it’s more likely to be an adjustment related to the pandemic and work environments that demand more and reward less. In my experience, work ethic is as individual as the people in the workplace, regardless of age.

Of course, recruiters want employees who have a robust work ethic, so gauging one applicant’s over another’s is imperative. But simply asking them if they have a good work ethic is unlikely to yield helpful results—what candidate is going to say “no” to that? Instead, ask what having a good work ethic means to them. Then request examples of times they demonstrated the types of behaviors they just described.

Follow up by asking what motivated them in those instances. Was it the prospect of a bonus or a promotion? A desire to help the company succeed? A commitment to the client or customer? Their answers should offer a clue about whether the job you’re interviewing them for will provide the motivation they need.

Making generational assumptions about a candidate’s work ethic before the interview is a rookie mistake. It’s your job to delve into what’s on the résumé and what’s not. Finding someone with a good work ethic is worth the extra time.

2. Adaptability And Flexibility

Adaptability and flexibility have always been valuable soft skills. But given the experiences we’ve all lived through over the last two-odd years, I think it’s safe to say they’ve never been more important. The continued uncertainty of today’s economic environment makes them two competencies you definitely want your employees to possess.

Given what the business world can dish out, you should assess whether a candidate has what it takes to adapt to changing situations before you hire them. Adaptability and flexibility are essential components of problem-solving, time management, critical thinking and leadership.

To gauge whether an interviewee has these two qualities, have them tell you about changes they made during the pandemic. What kind of direction and support did they receive from their employers? What did they think they needed but didn’t get? And how did they continue to work without whatever they lacked?

Explore the candidate’s response to learning new technologies, handling last-minute client changes and sticking to a project timeline when something’s handed off to them late. Ask whether they’ve had to pick up someone else’s slack and how they felt about doing so.

Results from a LeadershipIQ survey (via Forbes) found that about one-third of people are motivated by security and want consistency and continuity. But we all know the business environment often lacks these qualities. Finding employees who are willing and able to pivot on the fly can be vital to your company’s success.

3. Teamwork

Few job candidates are going to voluntarily admit to being poor team players. No matter what, they’re going to tell you they work well with others, which is why you’re going to need to uncover the truth.

Being a great team member requires empathy and good interpersonal and communication skills. It demands that the employee not only understands their role but also has respect for the roles of others. Every employee deserves work-life balance, but one individual’s shouldn’t come at the expense of those they work with. When the workload rises, a team player pitches in.

Ask candidates about past team and project experiences. When other team members requested their help, how did they respond? What did they do when they saw colleagues struggling?

Also ask about team successes, near-misses and failures. What part did they play in wins and losses? How did they respond to them? Did they evaluate projects to determine why they worked or didn’t and what changes to make as a team on the next one?

You can tell a lot about people who shoulder blame and share praise rather than finding fault with everyone other than themselves. A candidate who points fingers in an interview is likely to be toxic to team dynamics. You want employees who extend helping hands instead.

Conclusion: Soft Things Don’t Break

When talent is tough to find, it’s tempting to just fill a position with a candidate whose hard skills look good on paper. But if you want someone who will grow into a role, shaping and molding it as they go, you need to uncover these soft skills. The right person should not only be able to fit the position you need to fill but also thrive.

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