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Yes, the soft skills still matter in our high-tech world

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Recruiting has become increasingly high-tech, between the Internet, social media, content-management systems, applicant-tracking systems, and now mobile recruiting. It’s easy to assume that candidates with technical savvy are the ones we want. But have we come to rely too much on technology and not enough on personality?

If you want a successful hire, cultural fit often trumps technical skills. And those soft skills can really help you decide whether you’re bringing the right person on board. “Excellent interpersonal skills” may be the biggest cliché in every job post, but they’re crucial to the makeup of a good employee. So how do you identify them?


1. Written communication. Did the candidate include a well-written, carefully checked cover letter when applying? If not, ask him to write one. Or provide a short writing test, or ask for a writing sample from a previous position. Any communication he has outside your department or with clients will reflect on you and your company, so even in the age of texting and email, it’s important for employees to know how to express themselves professionally — and persuasively.


2. Listening. Active listening is a skill most people don’t practice, but it’s key to success in the workplace. While studies suggest we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear — and possibly even less when in a stressful situation, such as a job interview — you’ll want to see whether a candidate is able to respond to each part of a detailed question. If you notice that the candidate fails to answer at least key points, it’s a red flag. It suggests that the potential employee may not follow instructions, attend to clients’ inquiries, or be able to get the job done.


3. Maintaining a good attitude. Everyone is on their best behavior during an interview, so it can be tough to tell whether this person is usually moody, burned out, or unmotivated. Make sure you ask a candidate’s personal and professional references about their usual personality. And, with permission from your legal department, check out their online persona. If this person is constantly complaining or negative on Facebook or Twitter, chances are he’ll be the same way in your office. We spend one-third of our lives with co-workers, so it’s understandable that a bad mood might show from time to time. But the key phrase there is “from time to time.”


4. Critical thinking. Critical thinking is defined as “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.” Most of us can’t assess this in an interview, so this is where pre-employment testing comes into play. Not skills tests — there are specific types of tests, such as the famous Wonderlic series, that are designed to test problem-solving abilities. Establish a baseline for yourself by having your current top employees take the tests, then assess candidates’ scores against theirs.


5. Teamwork and collaboration. Just about all candidates claim on their résumé that they’re a team player. There are two easy ways to find out whether this is true. When interviewing, present candidates with some behavioral-based questions that focus on their ability to work well with others. During the reference check, be sure to ask whether this person was ever the weak link or a divisive force in his department.

With all of the pressures in today’s staffing and recruiting industry, it has become more important than ever to find the right person the first time. And technology is great, but when all is said and done, it’s still the people skills that matter.        

 

This article was excerpted from the April 2012 issue of the “Staff Matters” e-newsletter, provided by and reprinted with the permission of Liverpool–based Contemporary Personnel Staffing, Inc. (CPS) and Professionals, Inc.

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