Employers still have it all wrong when they hire. They focus too much on job applicants’ technical expertise and not enough on their soft skills.

Using this age-old approach to find the best employees and a good “cultural fit” is like throwing darts against a wall blindfolded and expecting to hit the target. Once in a while you will hit it, but most of the time you won’t. And you sure won’t be able to replicate any success you have.

Exactly 62% of business leaders consider experience and technical skills the drivers for their hiring decisions, according to a Forbes.com report on a Robert Half global survey.

Most employers know better

Oddly, 87% of those leaders acknowledged that they know that their most successful hires came about when they used time in the hiring process to evaluate cultural fit, which they said included values, belief and outlook.

Yet we continue to hire the same way we have for more than 100 years, when Henry Ford was making Model T’s and most jobs involved operating machinery. Today’s jobs are far different. In fact, 20% of jobs, mostly involving technology, didn’t even exist in 1980, according to the U.S. government. Most jobs involve working with people, the focus of soft skills, not machines.

Making poor or uninformed hiring decisions costs employers dearly, with replacement costs at up to 150% of the annual salary per hiring, according to some estimates. Add in the unbudgeted costs of a bad hire, including lost productivity, flagging morale among coworkers and potential departures among other key employees. Most good employees who leave a company don’t bolt over salary concerns, but rather because of issues with other employees or bosses. In other words, they depart because the culture no longer fits.

Moving past “laziness”

These factors make the need to address the hiring process in new ways quite clear. Still, we cling to the old ways. Where did you work, who were your “customers,” how many people making how many widgets did you oversee? Answers to most of these questions are easily pulled from a resume, a LinkedIn profile and references. Dr. Tobin Porterfield, co-founder of Serious Soft Skills and my co-author for The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success, attributes this disconnect to employer “laziness.” Anyone who has been on a job search committee knows that assessing technical expertise is easier and safer; you can assess it.

Admittedly, soft skills are harder to assess. Our research uncovered a total of 55 soft skills that employees and organizations use to achieve results at work. They range from listening, patience and empathy to teamwork, leadership and adapting to change. Deciding which ones give one applicant a leg up over another can be challenging, although we have a system that helps companies overcome this challenge.

Bringing new tools to the office

The payoff for beating this challenge can be huge. Imagine having 55 tools at your disposal to deal with the increased globalization, greater reliance on technology and incredible cultural differences (including generational differences) occurring in the workplace today.

The hiring process must shift its focus toward these 55 soft skills. Employers should do a check-box review of resumes and other materials making sure applicants meet minimum requirements. College degree, appropriate major, years of experience, necessary licenses and certifications must be vetted.

From there, the hiring process must change. Employers need to craft better job announcements, focusing more of their request on people’s soft skills. A simple shift from seeking “communications experience” to “demonstrated communication experience” could enhance the hiring process.

Sports teams focus on soft skills

Initiating the hiring process with a focus on a team or company’s existing soft skills portfolio, the skills each member brings to the table, would invite new discoveries. Imagine hiring to enhance a team’s soft skills portfolio through a strategic evaluation of that team’s strengths and areas of challenge.

Sports teams don’t win because every player does the same thing. They win because owners and coaches put a collection of players, each with their own strengths, in situations that play to that player’s strengths. Relief pitchers in baseball must demonstrate perseverance and a positive attitude, two soft skills, for they are certain to give up a lead and lose from time to time. Baseball managers choose players for this important role of closer as much for their soft skills as their ability to throw strikes.

Focusing more attention on soft skills in the hiring and employee-development process is the game-changer most employers are seeking. If companies are going to become more productive, collaborative and innovative in this hyper-competitive, fast-changing business climate, they will need to embrace soft skills more. And in the short term, those companies that do embrace soft skills more will have a huge advantage over their competitors.

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