Soft skills. A slightly nebulous term that seeks to define all those intangible traits that make employees great.
They’re different to hard skills, which are teachable, quantifiable things. Like qualifications in work and education. Role responsibilities. The things candidates list on their CVs and entire job specs are based around.
And while they’re vitally important in a lot of cases, they aren’t the most complete measure of an employee’s effectiveness.
Mainly because hard skills can be learned. Sometimes within a matter of hours.
Soft skills have to be developed. That takes time. And they aren’t as straightforward to identify. To the point they’re often passed off as personality traits.
They’re also reportedly responsible for 92% of hiring decisions. So selling them well’s only going to boost your chances of making more placements.
Have a look at 12 Soft Skills that can Turn You into a Super Recruiter for a deep dive on the subject. For the sake of brevity, they are:
3. Problem solving
4. Decision making
5. Emotional intelligence
6. Critical thinking
9. Team working
11. Negotiation and conflict resolution
12. Time management
Depending on your market, or the level of role you recruit for, different soft skills are going to be more relevant than others. I’ll use the first three as examples.
Whatever you dig up taking a brief’s going to form the basis of a tidy little through line from screening candidates to placing them, so it’s important to ID the right skill set and drill down on it properly.
1. Sounds like you need someone highly motivated. What do they need to have done in their career to show they are?
2. Doesn’t seem like any two days will be the same. How adaptable do you need this person to be?
3. Looks like a job for a creative problem solver. Where on the job spec is this most important?
If, like me, you work with account clients, this kind of Q&A happens on calls with your competitors dialled in. Asking incisive, open questions like this is going to make anyone else on the call sound like an utter weapon by comparison.
You probably know who in your network’s a decent ‘on-paper’ match. Although preconceptions like this can cloud expectations.
Think of a time you gave a client your A-list, only to have them all binned at interview. Could be that ‘on-paper’ didn’t quite cut it.
When you’re qualifying candidates, asking questions specific to each of the most relevant soft skills can offer deeper insight into people you’ve known for years and a matter of minutes alike.
1. Company X has Y and Z growth plans. How does that line up with your own motivations?
2. Talk me through how you’ve adapted to changes at work in the past. Were you forced to adapt or did you choose to independently?
3. What’s the biggest problem you’ve faced in your career to date? How did you solve it when no one else could?
One thing we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another is reiterating what’s on a CV in the body of the email when we send it. “Over five years experience as a manager at Competitor A!”
Or calling your client just to emphasise your candidate’s notice period. “…and if you think they look good on paper, get a load of this: *whispers* they can start in four weeks”
Let the CV do the talking for the hard skills.
If you’re going to sell anything at this stage, it should be the nuggets of soft skill gold you panned for earlier. And how they match what you established when you pulled the job in the first place.
You can even ask your candidates to work it into their CV as mini case studies at the most relevant points if you like. Or tell their story directly when you get your client on the phone.
People love stories. Tell your candidate’s.
Leveraging soft skills at interview is possibly the most important time to do so. Because it’s coming direct from them, not you.
Coach your candidate to pick out the motivation / adaptability / problem solving questions and answer them like a supreme genius. Workshopping the answers they gave when you screened them in the first place is a nifty way to do that.
It’s always ineffably frustrating talking to candidates after an interview and they say they didn’t have a chance to properly explain something they felt was important.
And then they don’t get the job.
The best way for a candidate to show how motivated, adaptable and good at problem solving they are is to say at an appropriate point towards the end: “There’s something I think’s important about the role, it also happens to be something I’m good at, so I wouldn’t want to leave here without explaining properly…”
Or words to that effect. And if you’ve pulled the right skillset in the first place, and got your candidates singing from the same hymn sheet, this’ll land well.
Here’s where you tie a bow around the soft skill journey you’ve embarked upon. Soft skills are a better reason to chase clients than insisting they’re only going to be on the market for the next fifteen minutes.
And it’s better for closing candidates than reminding them their current boss is a donkey. Trust me: they know.
Remind both parties why they started this process in the first place. Too much gets lost in lengthy recruitment processes. So it helps to go back over what’s important.
The fact is, your client has a vacancy that can’t be filled by matching hard skills alone. And your candidate has the opportunity – and the ability – to make an impact in a new role more meaningful than simply improving their current circumstances.
In your interactions with both, recap the soft skills your client’s missing out on, that your candidate has.
You’ll be surprised how strong the commitment to a role is when candidates know they could be damn good at a job. For specific reasons unique to themselves, rather than it just being another “new challenge” or another “positive next step”.
Again, 92% of hiring decisions are reportedly made on the basis of soft skills.
And that’s a success rate you can definitely tap into with the right approach. Doing so will boost the chances of your candidate securing a job, you earning a fee, and your client being happy.
A win-win-win, if you will.
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