(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is brought to you by our friends at Criteria Corp, a leading provider of pre-employment testing services. If you want to learn more about how pre-employment testing can benefit your recruiting strategy, check out Criteria Corp’s “Definitive Guide to Pre-Employment Testing”. I found this to be a comprehensive guide that I keep on the corner of my desk all the time. Enjoy the post!)
According to an article on the blog Wizard Sourcer, 2019 will be the most challenging market for recruiters in years. Honestly, this probably isn’t a surprise. A lot of companies are having a hard time getting enough applicants. I recently spoke with a talent acquisition professional who posted an open position and received zero response. That’s not a typo. She received no response at all.
But sourcing is only one way to get better applicants. After sourcing efforts are tapped out, how can you really make sure you’re seeing the full potential of your current candidate pool? Another way is by addressing the skills gap.
In addition to just plain not finding applicants, organizations are having trouble finding candidates with the right skillset. This points to a growing skills gap. And not finding the right candidates can lead to bigger issues. In a public policy paper, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) noted that 87 percent of CEOs are finding that the skills gap is a threat to their business.
The skills gap is more than STEM
When we think of the skills gap, we often think of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). But there’s another skills gap. One that involves soft skills. In the ATD public policy paper I mentioned above, they identify a list of soft skills. Here are examples of five soft skills that many employers care about:
- Communication skills. So much is written about communication and yet, there’s still work we can all do to be better communicators both verbally and in writing. Even if the job doesn’t involve writing formal reports, there are many other every day work tasks that include communication such as answering emails, providing a short status update during department meetings, and one-on-one meetings with management or a vendor. All of these things require effective communication.
- Interpersonal skills like conscientiousness and agreeableness. In the Harvard Business Review article “Collaboration Overload”, the authors mention that collaborative work is on the rise. If that’s true, it means that being successful in our jobs requires good interpersonal skills. Even individual contributors get things done by working with others. We need to be conscientious when it comes to our team relationships and display agreeableness in our interactions with others.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The business world is moving way too fast today to leave challenges unanswered. Staying competitive means learning new skills and addressing problems. Organizations will want employees who have the ability to identify issues, bring those to the attention of others, and work with teams to create solutions to fix the problem. Everyone doesn’t need to solve every problem on their own, but they do need to be able to contribute to the solution.
- Project management including detail orientation. Once solutions are identified, then projects get created to fix those issues. It’s all about execution. And if you’ve read the book, “Execution” The Discipline of Getting Things Done”, you know not a lot of companies do this well. Project management is the art of delivering a quality outcome, on-time, and within the allotted resources. Organizations want to hire employees who have the ability to effectively execute projects.
- Management and supervisory skills. All of the skills we’ve discussed so far include a management component. It could be communicating information to employees. Or collaborating with HR to hire the best talent. Maybe working with employees to brainstorm ideas and then putting together a plan to execute those ideas. Whatever it is, management is involved. Organizations need strong managers and supervisors to run the business.
But let’s face it. If companies are having challenges sourcing the best applicants, they might have to reevaluate their recruiting strategies to include considering candidates who might not have the exact work experience or technical expertise that they were looking for, but they do have the soft skills like the ones we just discussed. Companies can identify candidate “potential” through the use of interviewing questions and pre-employment assessments.
Behavioral interviewing is the concept that a candidate’s past behavior is an indicator of future performance. Interview questions usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” so the responses are experience related stories. Interviewers can create behavioral based interview questions related to soft skills such as “Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to meet a project deadline.” Or “Tell me about a time when you had to communicate bad news.”
Targeted interviewing is when the interviewer asks questions targeted on a particular job skill. For example, Criteria Corp CEO Josh Millet likes to ask candidates “Could you tell me more about this job you held a few years ago?” he says that it helps him understand the candidate’s attention to detail. First, the candidate needs to explain their job responsibilities for a position they held years ago. Second, it gives the candidate an opportunity to share their previous accomplishments.
Pre-employment assessments, specifically cognitive aptitude tests, measure an individual’s aptitude or ability to solve problems, digest and apply information, learn new skills, and think critically. These types of assessments provide an indication of what an applicant is capable of learning. So instead of using an assessment to filter candidates out, they can be used to highlight candidates who might be light in work experience but have a high potential to learn.
Once the candidate is hired, the organization’s onboarding and training programs can help employees gain the technical skills they need to succeed. In the case of pre-employment assessments, the company can also use the results as an employee development tool.
Hiring for soft skills can increase the ability to find talent
As the recruiting market remains competitive, organizations will have to look for new ways to find the best talent. For example, many technology companies no longer require a college degree. But please note, I’m not saying that a competitive job market means companies have to lower their standards. It does mean shifting priorities. During the hiring process, organizations might want to consider looking for the soft skills that are harder to train for AND shifting their training focus toward technical skills.
If you want to learn more about how to make this shift in your recruiting and training strategy, join me and the Criteria Corp team on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 10a Pacific / 1p Eastern for a webinar on “Hiring for Soft Skills: 3 Strategies to Find the Best Candidates”. I look forward to seeing you then!
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