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Hiring the Right Person – Assessing their Soft Skills

We all make bad hires. I had been recruiting for 5 years when I hired my first full-time babysitter and she ended up failing the background check. To me, she seemed to have all the right experience and answered all my questions really well. But after all that, 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 this in an interview? It’s tough…but here are a few tips that might help assess whether you’re making the right hire for your open position.

When looking at a candidate’s communication skills, ask interview questions that have open-ended answers and in a format that requires they explain the situation, what they did, and the outcome. A key thing to look for is whether they can describe it in a way that you can understand, and whether they are constantly using jargon that your business folks won’t understand.

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. 

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. Have them tell you about their current team dynamics and how they could work better (positive/negative? take responsibility for own attitude/actions?). 

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).

To see if they will give good customer service, ask them to describe a time when a situation did not go as planned and how they communicated the negative news to the client. 

To determine if 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. 

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

  • Attitude –Are they upbeat and did they 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?
  • Organized – Do they follow a logical process when describing problems solved?
  • 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?

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?” 

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, ask all the right questions, and still get a bad hire. Hopefully, though, when you drill down on their technical/functional skills and you learn 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!

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