Most of us assume – foolishly – that we should magically understand and excel at the convoluted process of acquiring a job. That logic, as all too many of us find out firsthand and quickly, is flawed.

How can we perform well at something that we weren’t taught and rarely get to practice? Why would we excel at a skill set (writing a great cover letter and resume, killing it at one or more interviews), whose evaluation is simply “yes” or “no”, with no built-in mechanism for feedback to make us better?

Think about it: You got the job so you think, logically, that you did well at the process. You didn’t get the job, which means you didn’t do something or many things in the process right. But which one or ones? The interview, the follow-up, the eye contact, the way you walked, what you wore? The list goes on and on, and no one’s going to tell you because no one can really know for sure.

A subjective, lottery-like process

At its best, a small portion of the hiring process is subjective. At its worse – when the company follows no formal process, doesn’t ask the same questions of all candidates, doesn’t use a rubric to evaluate job seekers and leaves it up to feel – the process is basically a lottery.

These flaws riddle a process that’s critical to every person’s career and life.

Most people flounder their way through it, making costly mistakes and miscalculations without even knowing it.

I have coached thousands of people on getting a job – from thinking about their candidacy, and how to write a killer cover letter and resume to how to take control of the interviewing process in powerful ways that position you as a viable, if not THE candidate.

Technology hasn’t helped

This process has changed greatly in the last few years. Job seekers send their resumes to any and every job they find online, creating hiring fatigue among employers before the first candidate is interviewed. To overcome this deluge, many companies rely on technology to take the first cut at the dizzying number of resumes they collect. In a good many cases, the things they are screening for aren’t what they really want, if they even know, in the person they hire. Screening calls, and phone and Skype interviews, further complicate the technical process of getting a job.

Equally befuddling to many applicants is how employers have shifted their hiring focus. Smart employers are looking at the soft skills, those interpersonal skills we use to accomplish work with other people, as much, if not more, than people’s technical expertise. They want a strong combination, and applicants have to articulate these soft skills at every phase of the process to win the position.

An employer-applicant disconnect

Yet employers rarely ask questions geared toward teasing out these critical skills, and when they do, applicants aren’t well versed in how to answer.

The result is the equivalent of two ships passing in the night. Employers think they know what they want, but don’t really know how to ask what they need to so they can get it.

Applicants don’t know what the employer really wants, because it isn’t clearly articulated in the job announcement or in the other steps of the hiring process. And applicants are reluctant to break free of the old-school approaches to resumes, cover letter and interviewing that their parents and others advise them to cling to.

Connecting your past to employer’s future

Learning or remembering these critical skills when you are in the midst of a high-stakes competition for that job of your dreams is nearly impossible, as is self-reflection at how you did at each step. You have too much weighing on you to be analytical at the time it could help you most.

One of the hardest things for people to figure out when applying for job is how to effectively connect their past experience to an employer’s current or future needs. People often discount or undervalue their past experience. But when properly told, these stories from our past can explain not just your soft skills portfolio, but how you look at the world.

For instance, when applying for several teaching positions, I spoke about what I learned when I was a camp counselor in my teens and early 20s. Not only did I share an ongoing passion for teaching, but I also conveyed how I view the educational process and where I fostered my commitment to people’s ongoing growth and development. Great anecdotes can shoot you candidacy to the top of the list.

Before you find yourself in a job hunt, start developing your ability to share short, crisp, insightful anecdotes about your prior experiences. Mastering this skill will pay off handsomely when you are seeking a job and it might put you ahead of the other applicants who didn’t practice this art.

A Forbes.com article, How to Hire the Right People to Help Your Organization Success by Sally Percy, suggests that employers are undervaluing soft skills, which seems silly in this low-unemployment business climate. We will discuss the technical skills fixation and why it hurts employers in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Among the topics cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss are:

  • Why focusing on technical skills is comfortable, but difficult to enable proper hiring.
  • Why combining technical skills and soft skills is the key to business success
  • How employers have become lazy when it comes to soft skills
  • Job qualifiers and job winners
  • Why employers need to get past the fishing expedition in using soft skills to hire
  • How hiring with a soft-skills focus helps create a better cultural fit

 Next week

We explore one of the more complicated soft skills: accepting criticism. New episodes every Wednesday.

 

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.

Organizations covet employees who are mature. But what is being mature and how to we identify it and look for it in people. Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham take on another of the complicated soft skills in this episode.

Among the topics they will address:

  • Immaturity versus maturity
  • Experience versus maturity
  • How application is at the core of being mature
  • Admitting our own faults with maturity
  • How we develop maturity
  • Choosing when to fight for something
  • Teasing out maturity in job searches
  • How maturity leads to better outcomes over time
  • Developing maturity through asking questions of mentors

Next week

We will be looking into how and when to escalate an issue, what it means and how to be good at it, and more importantly, why it as a soft skill is important to an organization’s success.

In Week 5 of our Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, we look at how to implement soft skills into the hiring process, which will provide valuable insights into the process for hiring managers and job applicants.

 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham, co-hosts of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast, cover the following topics:

  • Avoiding the trap of only looking at technical skills
  • Evaluating applicants’ functional skills along with soft skills
  • How applicants can articulate how they can blend soft skills with technical skills are the gold standard
  • How the best applicants can explain how they transfer technical information into actionable skills in the workplace
  • Why open-ended questions encourage good applicants to talk about their soft skills
  • How standard questions can help compare candidates and specific soft skills you are seeking
  • Gearing questions around soft skills
  • Why it might help to provide foundational questions in advance of an interview
  • Why checking of qualifications is not the best way to interview
  • Asking “how” questions
  • What are the best methods for evaluating technical skills outside of the interview
  • Proven tips for conducting a good interview for you and your interviewee

Next Week

In Week 6, our final week of our Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, we will dig deeper into how to integrate soft skills into the hiring process so employers can find better-fitting candidates who can help their organizations grow.

It’s Week 4 of the Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy, where we will be looking at how to incorporate soft skills into a job interview. Armed with this ability, you will zoom to the top of every job search list.

In Episode 29 of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham continue to put soft skills to work for you in your quest to obtain a better job or a promotion. This week, we’re going to talk through how to use soft skills as an interviewee.

Among the topics covered:

  • Soft skills are best conveyed in storytelling, which is a soft skill.
  • Rather than reciting facts, give context.
  • Show passion, show initiative, show you did more than what was required.
  • Why you want to be sticky to the interviewer
  • How long an anecdote or story should be
  • Dealing with open-ended questions
  • Highlighting your transferrable skills
  • How you want to be remembered by the employer or search committee
  • How to take control of the interview and make sure you get to explain your soft skills
  • Dealing with behavioral questions
  • What you need to do in advance to be ready to integrate soft skills into an interview
  • Why you should take EVERY interview offered

Next week

Next week we will be starting the last part of our Six Weeks of Soft Skills Strategy. For the next two weeks, we will look at the soft skills and interviewing from the employer’s perspective. Not only will this help people looking to hire, but potential interviewees will obtain even more insights into how to integrate soft skills into their job search. Coming up next week on the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

And don’t forget to download your copy of our ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, with the coupon code “sixweeks” to get it for free. Until next time, good day, thanks for listening, and of course, good soft skills.