Are Soft Skills Eroding?

Eroding Soft Skills

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There are a number of definitions for “soft skills.”

One that I particularly like is:

“The personal attributes you need to work harmoniously with other people and succeed in the workplace.”

Another good one is:

“Desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive, flexible attitude.”

That last definition was interesting. “Desirable qualities for certain forms of employment…” — does that mean there are certain forms of employment where common sense, the ability to deal with people and a positive, flexible attitude are not important or desirable?

Perhaps that is the case, and if so, it brings us to the subject of this tip: “Are soft skills eroding?”

In my humble opinion, the most important soft skill is the ability to communicate…and communicate well.

That means being able to look at the person you’re talking to, giving them a clear statement of your ideas, listening exceptionally well and properly acknowledging the other person…and at the end of a communication, both parties fully understanding each other.

Kind of important, right?

Well, that soft skill may very well be eroding. Are you observing that in your interviews? In the performance of some of your new hires?

Is the skill of communication eroding because we are spending too much time looking at our phones, at our computer screens and not at each other?

Whatever the reason, YOU should not let your interest in soft skills wane. They are vital to the success of any business and a good number of business problems can be traced to employees deficient in them.

So, I’ll make a strong suggestion here. Regardless of who shows up to be interviewed, do not compromise on the soft skills. Hard skills can be taught…the soft ones, not so easily.



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Sample Work Versus Probational Hire

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Let’s start this tip off with the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, and if you have ANY questions on this, I recommend you contact your attorney and get legal advice.

I am familiar with the fact that when you hire someone, even on a probational basis, you are hiring them with the expectation they will be paid. That seems pretty straightforward, right?

To my knowledge, “sample work” is something different. You have not made a decision to hire but you would like to see how they would handle some aspect of their projected job.

Giving them sample work to do can provide you considerable insights.

Example:

You’re hiring a software programmer and you’d like to know how proficient they are technically.

Sample work:

Give them a problem to solve in the programming language you are using. Ideally, this problem has already been solved and you’ll see if 1) they can solve it on their own and 2) if they possibly can provide a better solution to what you already have.


 

Example:

You need someone to do collections.

Sample work:

Give them a list of five theoretical accounts. Each account has a name, an amount to be collected and what the status of the account is: recently due, past due 30 days, past due 60 days, etc. You will be the customer in this sample work. Have the applicant go through the process of calling you and working out getting a payment made. Could be a partial payment, could be a full payment. Give your applicant a variety of responses and see how she deals with each.


 

Example:

You need a receptionist.

Sample work:

This one seems pretty simple. Take the person through a series of calls coming in — with you making them and see how your applicant deals with each. You’ll probably need to set a few guidelines on who can be reached and what not, but you get the idea.


 

Example:

You need a salesperson.

Sample work:

Give your applicant a clear picture of what you sell, how much it costs, how it gets delivered, some of its features and benefits. Then take your applicant through several sample selling scenarios.

Some positions can give you “sample work” to carry out in the hiring interview better than other positions. But I’m thinking a considerable number of positions will give you this opportunity.

Finding out just how your applicant would handle things iF he were hired is a great tool for your hiring interview.



To see how our employee test can help you bring better people on board watch this three minute video.



If you have ever interviewed someone and later discovered a "different" person is working for you, check out our new book How To Hire The Right People.


What EXACTLY Does the Position Require?


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When we’re hiring for a specific position, whether it be an Office Manager, Collections Manager, Salesperson or Receptionist, we have a very good idea of what we’re looking for.

This tip is to take that “very good idea of what you’re looking for” and write down EXACTLY what you need.

For example, what exactly do you want a sales person to be and to be able to do. Again, I’m sure you have a very good idea of these things, but let’s list out some exact qualities.

You probably want your salespeople to be:

Persistent
Self starters
Very positive
Resourceful
Independent
Conscientious
Attentive to detail
Respectful
Friendly
Patient
Superb listeners
Passionate and compassionate
Excellent time managers
Able and willing to “pry”

So, that’s a pretty good list, right. And of course feel free to edit that list. Delete or add qualities as you see fit.

Now what do you do with this list of qualities you’ve put together for a given position?

You could look through the applicant’s résumé and see if any of these qualities are present.

When you speak to former employers, you could mention a few of the above qualities and ask to what degree were these present in his or her work.

And you could discuss each of these qualites directly with the applicant.

“Frank, I’m going to read off a few qualities that we consider vital for the position and I’d like you to tell me what each quality means to you, how you’ve applied them in the past and how you see yourself applying them here.”

And off you go. That should get you some good insights, right?

Build a very specific list of qualities for each of your key positions and keep them in a folder. When it’s time to hire for any of the positions, bring out the list and do your due diligence and do your best to hire someone who has most if not all of the qualities you want.

As I said, we all have a very good idea of what we’re looking for. Get a bit more organized on this point, a bit more exacting, and see if this produces a better quality hire.

I have a suspicion it will.



To see how our employee test can help you bring better people on board watch this three minute video.



If you have ever interviewed someone and later discovered a "different" person is working for you, check out our new book How To Hire The Right People.


How Would They Handle An Irate Customer?

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This is a great question for those applying for a position that involves regular contact with customers.

But instead of having your applicant simply answer it, why not see how they would actually handle it.

There’s nothing like a live exercise to find out how skilled someone is, right?

So, let’s set the scene:

“Sarah, you’re going to be the store manager in this live exercise. I’ll be Mary, a very upset customer who has just come over to you demanding her money back. She’s loud and you can see she’s having an effect on the other customers in the store.”

And then do your best to give a realistic display of what this irate customer might say and see how Sarah responds.

I understand each store may have their own refund policy, and if you want to briefly describe yours to Sarah to make this exercise more realistic, that’s not a bad idea.

Observing how Sarah would apply a store policy would be helpful, but the main thing you want to see in action are Sarah’s “people skills.” How does Sarah defuse this irate customer so that the other customers aren’t negatively affected AND so that Sarah feels she’s being genuinely attended to.

You could do several versions of this. I would suggest starting off by making it fairly easy for Sarah and then make tougher each time. Maybe you start crying at the end and see how Sarah deals with that.

Just suggestions, folks. The purpose here is to observe your applicant in action and handling what is likely one of the more difficult situations he or she will encounter.

You might learn more about Sarah in 10-15 minutes of this kind of live exercise than you might in hours long interviews without the live exercise.



To see how our employee test can help you bring better people on board watch this three minute video.



If you have ever interviewed someone and later discovered a "different" person is working for you, check out our new book How To Hire The Right People.


Let’s See What You Can Do!

Hiring Show and Tell
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This tip is similar to an earlier one, but I wanted to give it a different spin here.

Let’s give your applicant a very specific assignment and have him carry it out as part of the hiring interview.

A few examples:

Have a customer service candidate review how customers are handled from pre-sale all the way through to fulfillment and follow-up and have the candidate write up how this could be improved.

If someone is applying for the collections position, do a bit of role playing. Have the candidate go down the list and attempt to collect the amounts from you.

Sales is another great position for role playing. Describe a few different selling scenarios and have the candidate take you from start to finish of the sales process.

For some of these, you could even include a time element, say 30 or 60 minutes.

A smiling candidate with a well-rounded résumé is a good start. A candidate who performs right in front of you will take you considerably closer to hiring the right person.



To see how our employee test can help you bring better people on board watch this three minute video.



If you have ever interviewed someone and later discovered a "different" person is working for you, check out our new book How To Hire The Right People.


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