Recruiting For Soft Skills: 3 Top Tips For Making The Hardest Part Of The Recruiting Process Easier

fdu’s guest blogger Nick Shaw is Co Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Spotted Zebra. He has worked in the HR tech industry for nearly 20 years, delivering industry-leading solutions to some of the world’s best known enterprises. Nick is frequently asked to comment on the world of work, talent and assessment issues in both mainstream and HR trade publications and has presented at multiple industry conferences globally, based on his unique insight into the challenges that business leaders face and the role that people measurement can play in solving these issues.

As we enter into the new year with a mixture of hope and ambivalence, one thing we know for sure is that individuals will be changing roles in 2021.  Some of this will be unplanned as the economic climate forces organisations to scale back, however the best talent will back themselves to make successful career transitions. This is particularly the case in three sectors that saw tremendous growth in 2020 and are expected to expand in 2021 and beyond: e-commerce, technology and healthcare.

Research indicates that more than 45 million people change jobs every year in the US alone and the number is at least four to five times bigger worldwide.  A significant factor in the ongoing churn of employees looking for new roles is that 50% of those who start a new role will not be successful. How is this lack of success defined? In essence, failure occurs when a new hire doesn’t show up on Day One, they fail their probation or they are deemed to be performing below expectations after 18 months.

This finding has been replicated a number of times by reputable researchers and publishers, examining success rates at different leadership levels within this time period. Harvard Business Review (2014) concludes 40-60% of Management hires fail within 18 months, the Corporate Leadership Council (2017) states nearly 50% of Leadership hires, and the Centre for Creative Leadership estimates the figure to be 40% for CEO positions (2005).  Meanwhile, across all roles, Leadership IQ states the figure to be 46% (2017).

Even more startling is that when Heads of HR are asked about the biggest challenge to successful hiring, they typically cite interviewer capability and the tendency for hiring Managers to interview for experience or credentials rather than for Soft Skills and potential. Whilst technology solutions may be enabling a faster and more streamlined Candidate application process, Hiring Manager capability and interviewing confidence remains a critical concern at the assessment stage.

Given this context, what can we do as Hiring Managers to improve the likelihood of hiring a successful Candidate in 2021?  Here are three top tips to improve your chances:

  1. Understand the typical reasons for failure, and look for these in your selection process

A study of over 5,000 Managers hiring over 20,000 people in a three-year period identified that 89% of the time the reason for failure in a role was due to misaligned or missing Soft Skills. The study identified the following reasons given most frequently for failure to perform in role:

  1. Coachability (26%): The ability to accept and implement feedback from bosses, colleagues, customers and others
  2. Emotional Intelligence (23%): The ability to understand and manage emotions, and accurately assess others’ emotions
  3. Motivation (17%): Sufficient drive to achieve potential and excel in the job
  4. Temperament (15%): Attitude and personality suited to the particular job and work environment.

The first component to making a successful hire is to ensure that your selection process covers not just the Candidate’s suitability for the technical requirements of the role, but also enables you to understand how well the individual will fit in with how work gets done in your organisation. There are inevitably going to be some differences between their approach and your ideal way of working, so it is critical that you understand whether they will respond positively to feedback, respond calmly to new situations they find themselves in, and can demonstrate that they have a strong and genuine interest in the role.

After all, technical skills are not going to be important if the employee isn’t open to improving, alienates their co-workers, lacks emotional intelligence and has the wrong personality for the job.

  1. Identify and measure the relevant Soft Skills for the role

One of the key components of this study is that Soft Skills, having an attitude and personality suited to the job and work environment, is critical for success.  The focus on Soft Skills is becoming more prevalent given the fast-changing nature of roles, and as organisations appreciate that training for technical skills is often easier than developing behavioural skills.

The changing nature of roles is noted in a recent paper from the McKinsey Global Institute (2020) which indicates that by 2030, there will be 33% fewer hours worked in roles that require physical, manual and basic cognitive skills; yet a 74% increase in roles that require social, emotional and technological skills. This data shows that critical thinking skills, problem solving and self-management skills will become of paramount importance to successful workplace performance in the future. At Spotted Zebra we are starting to witness a shift in emphasis from employers towards skills that will be applicable in relation to a spectrum of roles – and that will allow the individual to adapt to future role or organisational changes whenever they occur.

With this in mind, how can you identify relevant Soft Skills that are needed for the position?  Generic frameworks or guidance on leader behaviours to measure often fall short as they are not specific to the context in which you are operating. We therefore recommend that before you start your assessment of candidates, you assess what’s needed for success in the role.

A simple method to help with this is to consider the behaviours that you see high performers displaying in the role, and to ask others for their view here too. Think about the behaviours that are noted by clients or partners when things are going well too. Then group these behaviours into some key themes. You would expect these to be behaviours described that you could observe or evaluate, such as “keeps calm under pressure” or “provides client-focused commercial analysis”.

Once you have determined these attributes, make sure you ask interview questions that help you to determine how the person has performed in a situation that requires this behaviour in the past. A useful framework to keep in mind is STAR – what was the situation, the task, the action they took, and the result achieved. The information you should explore and focus on is the specific behaviours that the individual demonstrated, as this will enable you to understand how successful they are likely to be if they took the same behavioural approach in your organisation.

  1. Take a holistic approach to your Candidate assessment

A 2019 study of over 100 UK Managers found that most spend their working day in meetings and on admin tasks, with an average of 30 minutes per day actively managing their teams. This means that in reality, there are likely to be colleagues who know more about what makes for success in the role than the Hiring Manager. It therefore makes sense to include them in the hiring process wherever possible, both in defining the relevant Soft Skills and then helping to evaluate the Candidate in relation to these.

Ask these individuals to play specific roles in the assessment process and use different exercises that allow team members to interact with the Candidate as well as measure their Soft Skills. For instance, you could ask the Candidate to present on a work project, or give them a case study to complete followed by a discussion with one of your team where they explain the rationale for the decisions they made.

Whilst this takes more preparation and assessment time, the Candidate will appreciate your effort in helping them to understand the role requirements and will be more bought into the outcome (whether positive or negative). In addition, this actively starts the process of onboarding the successful Candidate as they get to know the team, how they work, and what is expected of them.

Finally, and most importantly, this will increase your chances of hiring the right person for the role. The largest study conducted on selection methods identified that structured interviews and work sample tests are both more effective than a traditional biographical interview. And the most predictive assessment measure of all was the combination of a validated psychometric test deployed alongside a structured interview to explore the individual’s personality in relation to the role requirements.

Whilst hiring will never be a perfect science, by focusing on the specific role requirements and the Soft Skills required for success, Hiring Managers can take steps to ensure that they improve their chances of finding the right Candidate for their role – and hopefully reducing uncertainty in at least one area of their working life in 2021.