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Top Candidate Skills You May Be Overlooking and How to Spot Them
Monday, Apr 18, 2016

When writing a job description, it’s natural and even practical to default to the elemental functions of the role: the degree required, experience level, technical skills, etc. That’s all well and fine, and will do the trick to get the idea across. However, if you’re hoping to attract dynamic job candidates, you have to be dynamic in your thinking about the role and your expectations for it.

In a broader sense, how do you define a successful employee? Is it simply showing up on time, staying late when necessary, and ticking off a list of tasks? Probably not. More likely, those who shine brightly within the company walls have much more basic character traits in common. It’s often the intangible nuances of their personalities that make employees both trusted allies to colleagues and respected and valued by leadership.

In reference to Generation Y at least, which is defined as those born between 1977 and 1994 and is quickly becoming the majority of the American workforce, over 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee’s performance. This was followed by 32 percent citing hard skills and only 7 percent social media skills. This may seem contradictory to the value placed on “digital native” workers for their inherent technical abilities. But, when breaking down which soft skills were most important, managers chose the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude, and teamwork skills as their top three requirements for management roles. THESE are the basic traits that every employee needs to succeed in nearly any kind of work environment.

For many years, this was the purpose of the cover letter, to give job seekers the opportunity to set themselves apart and add some individuality to their application with anecdotal information. As cover letters continue to decline in prevalence in favor of simpler mobile and social application processes, hiring managers need to find more effective ways of evaluating a candidate’s soft skills, such as creativity, willingness to learn, leadership, teamwork, and communication.

In the digital age, job seekers have to be hyper-aware of their online persona and the impression it leaves on potential employers. According to an iCIMS survey, 76% of recruiters say that they perform Google searches on candidates and 40% reported finding publicly available information that disqualified a candidate from consideration. Knowing this, a responsible, mindful job seeker will take care to curate their public online persona to best highlight their personal strengths and at least moderate any unsavory content. If you’re able to Google search a candidate and easily find evidence of flippancy, discrimination, rudeness, and/or high-risk behavior clearly illustrated in their shared content, it’s safe to say that these traits will eventually resurface in a work situation, especially in times of stress.

Resumes, cover letters, and online searches can provide a decent picture of a person’s attention to detail, organization, and general ability to project an engaging version of themselves. If you really want to get a sense of their character and how they might succeed over time, there is no better opportunity than the in-person interview. More specifically, behavioral interviews in which the interviewer asks for specific examples from past work experiences are both the most effective and most common interview method.

To get the most out of a behavioral interview, carefully prepare your questions to give the candidate an opportunity to draw parallels between his or her skills and knowledge and the core competencies of the position. A core competency by definition is a skill or personal attribute an individual must possess for successful performance. Core competencies should be viewed as the main pillars of your hiring program, the basic themes that drive your culture. What values do all employees share at your organization? Some examples of core competencies include: drive, passion, empathy, transparency, and communication. It’s easy to see why these values would positively contribute to overall workplace health.

Lastly, another good gauge of a candidate’s soft skills comes from what they ask you, the interviewer. If a job seeker has done the proper homework and your organization offers employer brand content on your career site, they should have a pretty good understanding of the company’s purpose and values. As such, it’s always good to start the interview with “Tell me what you know about (company), and why you think you’d be a good fit for this role?” Their response to this will give you a general sense of their learning capabilities and overall interest making a contribution to organizational goals.

After you've cycled through behavioral interview questions and the meeting is drawing to a close, this is the real make or break moment in terms of determining if a candidate is of the right ilk to thrive within the company culture. When given the chance to ask questions, an engaged candidate will have a natural curiosity and likely have prepared thoughts in mind. Someone who I ready to jump in as a high-performing employee will want to know as many details as possible about growth potential, definitions of success, a typical day in the office, etc.

In opposition, if the opening up for Q&A at the end of an interview is met with dead air, or only questions regarding salary or perks, that could be a strong indicator that the candidate is only there to meet their personal needs. Of course, everyone is working for a paycheck at the end of the day. But a genuine interest in the company and the people who drive its mission will always be the key entry point for a successful business partnership.