Every job has a set of technical requirements for the employee, but a job description is not complete without those broad but telling aspects of a candidate known as soft skills, interpersonal abilities, or simply qualities and attributes.
These include an aptitude for communicating with people of all levels, abilities, and backgrounds; the capacity to work well in teams (as both a leader and a team member); and other factors, such as a strong sense of ethics and a talent for efficient and creative problem solving.
Candidates who are weak in these areas — even while having solid hard skills and work experience — may prove unable to grow as your company goes through the inevitable changes that are part of today’s business world.
As another example, say your company is in the business of selling home security systems. One way to market your service is to solicit potential customers by phone. The basic job of a telemarketer is, of course, to generate leads by calling people on the phone.
Some telemarketers, however, are clearly much better at this than others. They have a knack for engaging the interest of the people they call. They don’t allow repeated rejections to wear down their spirits. In other words, they have certain attributes that contribute to superior performance.
Some consulting companies specialize in helping businesses identify these success drivers (sometimes called competency models) for key functions or positions. The following suggestions can help you gain insights on success drivers for your firm’s positions:
Interview your own top performers. Assuming you have a group of people who perform the same job — and assuming one or two of those people are clearly the “stars” of the group — sitting down with your key people or their immediate supervisors to determine what makes them so successful at what they do is certainly worth your time.
Try to answer the following questions:
What special skills, if any, do these outstanding performers possess that others don’t?
What type of personality traits do they share?
What common attitudes and values do they bring to their jobs?
Talk to your customers. One of the best — and easiest — ways to find out which employees in your company can provide the basis for determining your desired soft skills is to talk to people with whom your staff interact on a regular basis: your customers. Find out which employees your customers enjoy dealing with the most, and what those employees do to routinely win the affection of these customers.
Hiring decisions that rely on subjective criteria are particularly susceptible to being challenged as discriminatory. Applicants may argue that unconscious stereotypes can be injected into the decision via subjective criteria. If subjective criteria are used, be sure that your company’s hiring decision makers can articulate a clear and reasonably specific factual basis for assessing whether a candidate possesses that criteria.
For example, to support a conclusion as to whether a candidate “exercises initiative,” ask her to describe times when she has spearheaded work projects, and record how she responds to that question. Base your conclusion about whether she exercises initiative on those responses.