January 11, 2016
No one hires in a vacuum; filling an open position requires strategy and research. You are placing a new hire onto an unfamiliar team and into a new professional culture. You want to make sure that you maximize the opportunity and onboard a candidate with the skills to do the job and to enhance the functionality of your unit.
A team operates best when fueled by an array of talent, including the soft skills that support its internal operations. Soft skills such as flexibility, diplomacy, empathy and likability are to people operations what lubricants are to machinery. They reduce friction while enhancing cohesion and harmony.
Soft skills help individuals predict and interpret others’ behavior by intuiting their feelings. This skill set is increasingly in demand, because soft skills can help defuse interpersonal issues and they strengthen relationships.
In order to fully embrace the opportunity your open position presents, first analyze what you soft skills your team needs. Then create a recruitment strategy that seeks out those qualities.
A team might encounter certain communication obstacles if it is largely comprised of the same types of communicators. If that’s the case, it may be obvious what your team is missing.
If you’re not sure, examine performance appraisals or other devices that you use to chart your team’s successes and areas of challenge. Do you find common areas that need to be strengthened?
For example, would your team benefit from a candidate who drives projects along, is creative, incorporates different viewpoints, slows everyone down and encourages the team to think through their decisions or someone who has a strong track record for successfully collaborating with other units?
It may also prove helpful to have the members of your team take turns leading a meeting while you observe so that you can watch your team’s dynamics in action. Observe how they interact with each other–who dominates? Who facilitates? Who seems engaged and who does not? This exercise will give you a sense of what soft skills you team has and what capabilities could enhance the mechanics of the group.
Target soft skills
Gear your interview approach towards finding a candidate with the soft skills you are missing. Use your own soft skills to get your applicants talking about theirs during interviews. Ask about volunteer work they undertake, teams they play on, or any extra activities they do. Find out what they like about this work–why it excites them.
This can be an informal conversation–an ice breaker. But it will also clue you into what motivates them. If they are volleyball players, for example, they may have a good sense of teamwork. If they serve as mentors or volunteer as Big Brothers/Sisters, they may have a care-taking or community spirit that is just what your group needs.
Another helpful way to learn about your candidates’ soft skills is to use prompts that give you a sense of how they use soft skills at work; for example:
Example: (Empathy) Describe a time that you had to help a customer or client who was disgruntled for reasons that you thought were understandable. Were you able to calm that person down? Were you able to win him or her over? If you could do it again, what would you change?
Example: (Team player) Describe a time that you had to help out a coworker who was struggling. How did you do that in such a way that your colleague felt supported but not embarrassed?
These prompts are open-ended. They leave plenty of room for candidates to discuss processing and feelings. You want them to discuss both so that you can get a sense of how they intuit other’s feelings and how they operate from those assumptions.
Soft skills may be subtle, but with some careful analysis, you can target and track the ones you need to round out your team’s skill set.