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/Stephanie Morgan Gone fishing: addressing the soft skills challenge?

A marlin? A cod? Asking a prospective employee to describe the type of fish they would be is the epitome of a desperate interview question, but this dreaded cliché still crops up surprisingly frequently! The question is, why? 

In a recruitment environment with increasing emphasis on CVs and qualifications, it can be easy to make decisions based on ‘hard skills’ such as a relevant technical skill. Whilst this is undoubtedly important, the hiring practices of any business should also appreciate the ‘soft skills’ of their prospective employees. If managers are underprepared, attempting to do so can manifest itself as an unusual interview question!

Don’t panic. Most HR departments already ‘get’ the importance of recognising soft skills during recruitment in order to acquire well-rounded, productive employees. As such, the difficulty for the business is to ensure that this appreciation of soft skills continues throughout the duration of the recruitment process and beyond.

This presents two key challenges:

  • Help hiring managers recognise and select soft skills during recruitment
  • Celebrate and encourage the ongoing development of soft skills

The good news is that there are solutions to both problems.

Misfiring managers?

When recruiting, managers will have a specific vacancy to fill and corresponding criteria which require satisfying. This is entirely understandable, given that managers need new employees to be productive as quickly as possible in order to satisfy overall objectives! The bad news is that this can lead to a disproportionate focus on technical skills at the expense of soft skills. Let’s imagine that a manager is recruiting for a role in which the candidate needs ‘good technical skills’, and two candidates have the following strengths:

 Candidate 1 And 2

As we’ve said, some managers will be tempted by the first candidate despite the difference in technical skills being marginal and easily overcome with ongoing development. By comparison, the second candidate’s soft skills are both valuable and potentially more difficult to develop, making them the better overall choice.

The bottom line is that whilst managers' input in the hiring process is undoubtedly valuable, they need to be up to HR’s exacting standards! As such, recruitment training is key. Don’t be like one organisation that I know that interviews around 3000 employees every year, where not even one hiring manager has undergone recruitment training. No wonder they are now facing a huge soft skills deficit and feeling the impact of their much more emotionally intelligent competitors.

Hard line on soft skills!

Any organisation can be improved through a receptive attitude to soft skills, and I’ve highlighted the importance of recruitment training in the hiring process, but this is only one part of the solution! In reality every individual needs to embrace the importance of soft skills within the business.

Having a culture with great role models who champion soft skills and place value on their importance is vital. This leads to leaders demonstrating their authentic leadership strengths and the entire organisation reaps the rewards!

By reflecting this in employee performance reviews, soft skills become a valued part of corporate culture and encourages and focuses managers, who we discussed at the beginning of this blog. As such, a combination of management training and a continued commitment to the championing of soft skills can massively improve the recruitment and retention of great talent in many organisations.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I’d be a seahorse.

Stephanie Morgan

Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning

Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.

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Copyright © 2017 Bray Leino Learning


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