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In a recent post I made the contention that soft skills are too important to be called soft. Whatever you call them, most rational people would consider the following not-so-soft soft skills the catalysts for fully enabling a person’s technical abilities.
Non-technical, Business and Leadership Skills Essential for Job Success
- Assertiveness in pushing the status quo.
- Courage in challenging bad ideas, bad decisions and bad processes.
- Influencing others who are not direct reports - especially peers and executives - to make difficult decisions.
- Making commitments and taking responsibility for doing what you said you would without making excuses.
- Collaborating, negotiating and reaching agreement with cross-functional teams on challenging and competing objectives.
- Problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills that not only uncover the root cause of any problem but also figure out the optimum solutions.
- Organizational and project management skills to ensure complex team tasks are completed successfully.
- Taking the initiative and doing more than required to meet expectations.
- Communications skills to present ideas clearly and distinctly to the required audiences.
- Adaptive customer service skills regardless of who the customer is.
- Cultural fit with the hiring manager’s style, the pace of the organization and the values of the company.
- Leadership skills to not only figure out the best course of action but also to marshal the resources to deliver the solution.
While these skills are obviously important for on-the-job success, most hiring managers aren’t too good at properly evaluating them. The following is our recommended approach, but candidates need to take control if they’re not being assessed properly.
How to Use Performance-based Hiring to Assess Soft Skills
- Prepare a performance-based job description describing the top 6-8 performance objectives required for on-the-job success.
- Have candidates describe their most comparable major accomplishment for each of the major performance objectives.
- Engage in a back-and-forth discussion around a realistic problem the new hire is likely to face on the job.
- Complete an evidence-based quality of hire talent scorecard measuring the factors that best predict on-the-job performance.
Despite the value of this performance-based interviewing approach, here’s how candidates can intervene when interviewers go off track:
- Before the interview prepare one or two personal examples for each of the non-technical skills listed above that best demonstrates the ability. You’ll be describing these throughout the interview.
- Prepare a short write-up (a few paragraphs) for each example that includes lots of specific details (i.e., names, dates, facts, results, numbers and percentages). Writing them down is a great way to remember them.
- Reverse engineer the job during the interview by asking the hiring manager (very) early in the interview to describe some of the challenges and problems the person in the job is likely to face in the first 3-6 months. This is a great way to demonstrate assertiveness and confidence, too.
- Provide an example of something comparable you’ve accomplished that best demonstrates your ability to successfully handle the problem, task or challenge.
- Include in your example not only some specific facts and details but also how you used some of the non-technical skills to get the results.
- Start asking questions about some of the most significant problems to demonstrate your ability to get to the root cause of a problem. This is a great way to demonstrate your technical and process problem-solving and thinking skills.
- Describe at a pretty high level the plan of action you’d take to implement the best solution if you were to get the job. This is a great way to demonstrate your strategic thinking, organizational and planning skills.
- Get into a give-and-take dialogue to not only better understand the circumstances and issues involved and to demonstrate your listening and communication skills.
- Express an interest in the job if you are, and then ask about next steps. If vague, ask if the interviewer believes there’s something missing in your background and, if so, use the above techniques to disprove it. This is a great way to demonstrate persistence and your negotiating and influencing skills.
Just by forcing the interviewer to ask you the right questions you’re demonstrating you possess most of the required soft skills. You’ll prove you have the rest with your detailed examples and the follow-up questioning approach suggested above. As you can readily see, these are not soft skills, since without them nothing will get done. However, with them
, you’ll not only get any job you deserve but also excel at it.
I contend that a hiring process problem exists whenever a hiring manager needs to see more than four different candidates to make a hiring decision. This is typically due to a job that has not been properly defined, sourcing or recruiting problems, or weak interviewing skills. Regardless of the cause, recruiters react by scrambling about presenting as many reasonably competent people as they can find in the hope that one sticks.
In a recent post I suggested that hiring managers were likely the root cause of the problem by emphasizing skills and experiences for screening rather than performance-based criteria. This has a triple-whammy negative effect.
First, you’ll only attract people who have the skills and are willing to take ill-defined jobs. There are few top performers in this category. Second, unnecessary spending and extra effort is needed to weed out and respond to the unqualified. Third, they won’t attract the best people who could do the work because the job appears to be a lateral transfer.
In the same post I suggested that these problems were virtually eliminated by using performance criteria to define the job rather than skills and experiences. This required the recruiter to ask the hiring manager to do the following:
- Define the major objectives. After 6-12 months what will the person hired have accomplished that indicates to you without a doubt that the person is in the top 25% of his or her peer group? These are the biggest challenges the person is expected to handle in the job.
- Define the “process of success.” What will the person need to accomplish in the first 30-120 days after starting to indicate to you that the person is on track to accomplish the major objective defined in Step 1? These are the critical subtasks that define the “process of success.”
- Define the #1 trait of success. What’s the deal breaker? This is the primary subtask the person needs to be able to do to ensure all of the other subtasks are achieved. This is the number trait of success.
The original post offers several examples but this one for a sales representative is a good sample:
Major Objective: During the first year hit a run rate of $100 thousand per month with a growth rate of 10% per quarter.
Short Version of Process of Success:
- Prepare a territory plan with a prioritized account list.
- Identify, meet and get key decision makers to agree to conduct detailed discovery with the most important users.
- Conduct detailed cost-benefit and ROI-based discovery with these users.
- Prepare detailed proposals with ROI and customer value propositions.
- Negotiate, close and expand internal sales growth.
Deal Breaker: For this (and most) complex sales positions it’s getting access to the senior decision makers and convincing them to move forward. This requires them to advocate the product or service and have their teams spend the time with the sales reps to conduct in-depth discovery.
Using the Performance-based Job Description to Control the Process
Defining the job is the first step. Recruiters then need to convince hiring managers to interview all candidates who can accomplish the tasks even if their skills and experiences don’t fully match the initial job description. If hiring managers balk, I suggest recruiters force the issue by stating they won’t compromise on the performance criteria if the hiring managers give them some relief on the skills.
If this doesn’t work, recruiters need to offer this option: Suggest that you’ll present a few candidates who meet the skills requirement and a few who are performance-qualified. Based on this, the manager can select the best candidate. This always works.
As recruiters present the first two candidates they need to ask the hiring manager if the person meets the performance criteria and, if so, if the person is likely to make the short list of hirable candidates. If not, STOP THE PROCESS. It means something is wrong. Either the recruiter or hiring manager is not good at assessing performance, the job is spec’d improperly or the sourcing and recruiting efforts are subpar. Regardless, don’t keep on presenting candidates in the hope the hiring manager becomes desperate. Instead figure out what’s wrong and change the process.
Performance-based Hiring is a business process for hiring top talent using metrics to control the process in real time. Tracking candidates per hire is an overriding metric that gives talent leaders a sense of how each individual search is going from a quality of hire standpoint.
When off-track it’s better to focus on process improvement (i.e., getting better) rather than process efficiency (i.e., getting faster). This way, problems can be nipped in the bud. As a result you’ll discover that the solution is getting better at attracting and recruiting stronger candidates rather than becoming more efficient screening out the weaker ones.
* image by Garry Knigh
I needed to put the following video together for a Performance-based Hiringmanager interview program we’ve just launched. Whether you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, a member of the interviewing team or a job-seeker, I thought you’d find it useful as a means to more accurately identify high performers. It’s based on the following assumptions:
- Hiring competent and motivated people starts by defining the job as a series of performance objectives rather than listing the traditional list of skills, experiences and educational requirements.
- These performance objectives need to be as SMARTe as possible: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results defined, Time bound, and the environment (pace, culture, manager’s style) defined.
- Using the “Process of Success” as a benchmark, the major performance objectives can be broken into critical subtasks. This typically begins by figuring out the challenges, putting a plan together and then successfully implementing the solution.
- By asking SMARTe questions and probing for SMARTe answers the interviewer will be able to determine how well the candidate’s past performance maps to future performance expectations.
If job expectations aren’t clarified up front, it’s problematic if the person hired will be both competent and motivated to do the work required. Creating SMARTe objectives, asking SMARTe questions and looking for the process of success changes a random event into a highly predictable outcome.
As described in my previous post, there are 12 skills recruiters need to master in order to identify, attract, assess and recruit people who aren’t looking to change jobs. And the most challenging set of skills to develop are around identifying talent and potential.
Having done this for about 35 years and written about it for the past 20, I believe that there is a set of traits common to the most outstanding candidates. Most of these can be figured out as part of the fact-finding involved when asking a person to describe his or her major accomplishments as part of the Performance-based Interview I recommend.
Here they are:
1. They make things happen.
Being results-driven or motivated is not enough. Achieving the expected results is what’s important. To figure this one out, ask about the biggest project the person handled and how he/she achieved the objectives.
2. They volunteer for projects over their head.
During the interview, ask about the person’s three biggest accomplishments in the recent past. Then ask why he/she was assigned the roles. Look for people who stretch themselves or are assigned to stretch jobs.
3. They get recognized for superior work.
People get awards, bonuses, promotions and formal recognition for a job well done. Raise the caution flag if you don’t find much regardless of the person’s presentation skills.
4. They find jobs through their network.
Ask the person how they found his/her last job, and the few before that. The best people are frequently sought out by their former bosses and co-workers. If so, find out why.
5. They hire great people, many through their network.
If the person’s a manager, ask the person to rank the quality of each team member and ask how each new hire was found and hired. The best managers seek out the best people and give them opportunities to become better.
6. They have an upward sloping trend of performance.
Examine the size, scope, scale and complexity of the person’s major accomplishments over the past 5 to 10 years. The best people increase their impact and influence over time. If the person has plateaued, look for high quality work and exceptional passion for what they do.
7. They know how to solve job-related problems.
Forget the brainteasers. Get into a discussion about some realistic problem the person is likely to face on the job. The best people can put some type of logical plan together to find a solution, including how they’d figure out the answer to things they don’t know.
8. They overcome obstacles rather than make excuses.
As you dig into the person’s major accomplishments, ask how he/she overcame major problems. Look for a pattern of making things happen, taking personal responsibility and consistently achieving planned results. Avoid those who make excuses.
9. They posses multi-functional team skills.
Collaborating on major projects with influential people in other functions is a core attribute of those who get promoted. To figure this dimension out, ask about the biggest and most important teams the person has been assigned to, why the assigned to the project and his or her role. Then look for how the person influenced the team results and their ability to understand the challenge from the perspective of people in other functions.
10. They can zoom.
This is a catch-all trait I invented. It’s the ability to get granular to understand a problem, the ability to zoom out to see the strategic and multi-functional consequences and then zoom in to figure out the best tactical solution. The depth and breadth of the person’s zooming ability is a great indictor of the person’s current ability and upside potential. You’ll need to conduct the full Performance-based Interview to figure out how well the person zooms.
I left out leadership from the list but I’ve discovered that if a person has most of the above attributes it’s because the person is a strong leader. Recruiters need to recognize true talent rather than just box check skills and experiences. The best people rarely have everything listed. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is actually what makes them the best people. And it’s why recognizing talent is one of the core traits of all top recruiters.