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Finding your next hire – Soft Skills

January 13, 2010

We all make bad hires.  I had been recruiting for 5 years when I hired my first full-time sitter and she ended up failing the background check.  She seemed to have all the right experience and answered all my questions really well, but it turned out we didn’t share the same value system.  I should have asked more about “her” than her experience.  So, how can you do that in an interview?  It’s tough…but here’s a shot. 

When looking at a candidate’s communication skills, ask interview questions that have open-ended answers and a format that requires they explain the situation, tell what they did and describe the outcome.  A key thing to look for is whether they can describe it in a way that you can understand (can we relate?) and whether they constantly use jargon (can they talk to my business folks?).  Are they logical in the timeline/presentation of the story (organization skills)?  Do they provide enough detail without being verbose (detail oriented)?  Do they ask if you need more information (follow through, proactive)? 

In assessing problem solving skills, ask them to tell you about a problem and step through how they handled it.  Again, look at how they walk through the problem, describe the solution and assess the results.  Ask “what are the resources you turn to when researching solutions?” (think for themselves, get creative).

To see if they are a team player, ask them to describe a really difficult person they worked with and how they handled the situation.  Ask them to tell you about their current team dynamics and how they could work better (positive/negative? take responsibility for own attitude/actions?).  I also like to ask about their best boss, why they liked him/her and what their interactions were like. 

You will see a lot of their interpersonal skills throughout the interview, but ask them to tell you about a time when they used humor to diffuse a situation (especially if your team jokes around a lot).  Ask them how they form relationships when they join a new project or team. 

To see whether they are going to give good customer service, ask them to describe about a time where a situation did not go as planned and how they communicated the negative news to the client.  Ask them to describe their typical customer interactions and tell about a recent positive or negative experience.

To determine whether they have good leadership skills, ask about how they handled a time when they asked a team member to complete a task a certain way and they did it well, but not according to instructions.  Ask how they evaluate the work of others and how they determine strong contributors (what values are important to them).   

In listening to the responses of candidates above, you will see certain traits come out:    

Attitude –Are they upbeat and have generally positive responses and feelings about different situations? 

Accountability/Ownership – Do they take responsibility for their tasks, attitude, actions and results?

Sense of urgency – Did they arrive on time, ask about next steps and show interest in moving forward?

Attention to detail – Are their answers descriptive and thorough without being too much?

OrganizationDo they follow a logical process when describing problems solved?  Do they have notes and questions ready?

Ability to handle criticism – If the situation was negative, did they adapt and learn?

Flexibility – Were they able to take on new tasks, change direction and adapt to another’s needs? 

Honesty/Integrity – Did they resolve their problems with integrity and communicate honestly with others?

Listening – Did they ask follow up questions about the job/company etc. that shows they were listening?

Follow-through – Did they send a thank you note or complete something that you asked for?

Preparedness – Did they research the company/job/you before the interview and ask relevant questions?

This questions can cover a multitude of skills. “Tell me about a time when you knew you were going to miss a deadline or a customer was going to be unhappy.  What did you do?”  You are looking for sense of urgency, problem solving, communication, team player, honesty, integrity, customer service….

Finally, it is good to understand their personal interests and motivations.  My favorite question of all time – and one that I find hard to answer myself – “If money was no object, what would you do?”  I like to find out which web sites/books/magazines they enjoy on a regular basis.  And then finally, how do you know when you have done a great job? 

We have a saying in our business that there is a seat for every person (we use a different term, but person suffices).  You could interview all day long and ask all the right questions and still get a bad hire.  Hopefully, though, when you drill down their technical/functional skills to understand what they have done and you learn a little bit about what makes them tick, you should be able to avoid the dreaded “90-day action plan” to remove your bad hire and repair your damaged team. 

Good luck!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2010 3:14 am

    Hi Chrissy,
    What a wonderful lesson learned from your experience when you said “I should have learned more about her vs. her experience.” This one sentence sums up the key to successful hiring. So much time in hiring is spent on resumes, past experience, etc…
    I have consulted to IT for 20 years on soft skills, teamwork, and customer service. It’s the people that will be interacting to get work done so learn who they are as people as well as what have have accomplished to date.

    Great post. I have two soft skills posts that add to your other soft skills points — on my blog at
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

  2. January 29, 2010 4:39 pm

    Great blog post. soft skills never should be overlooked.

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