Q3/Q4 2019 | Talent Trends2019-09-06T17:43:34+00:00

TALENT TRENDS

TALENT TRENDS

QUICK LINKS

Talking Talent Leadership Profile

A Q&A with LIZ WISEMAN
CEO of The Wiseman Group

By NICOLE FUQUA
Trend Writer

At PeopleScout’s 2019 NEXT Talent Summit in Washington, D.C., Liz Wiseman set the stage for the day with the message that the best leaders can learn how to get more out of their teams. Throughout her talk and breakout session, she guided talent leaders not only on how they can identify the characteristics of those leaders, but also how they can become multipliers themselves.

Wiseman is The New York Times best-selling author of “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.” We sat down with her after her interactive keynote to find out how her insights can be applied directly to the worlds of talent acquisition and workforce management.

What are Multipliers?

Multipliers are leaders who bring out the best in others. They are leaders who use their own intelligence in ways that prompt intelligence in people around them, so that people are not only at their best around these leaders, but they also get smarter and more capable. In short, they are leaders who use and grow talent in others.

You write that the first discipline of multipliers is that they are talent magnets – attracting and deploying talent to its fullest. What difference do multipliers make in both talent attraction and retention?

I chose the phrase “talent magnet” because people are so attracted to work with multiplier leaders, and multipliers deeply utilize people, so people are able to be their best. Multipliers do great work, which creates a great work environment – a place people want to join and stay. But, I also found in my research that these multiplier leaders don’t necessarily have better retention rates than other managers.

The reason for that is because they grow talent and are willing to move people out and up; so often, talent is moving around inside a company. Multipliers are willing to let go of people. People don’t leave them so much as they encourage people to move on to the next stage. But, for every one person who leaves, there are five more who want to work there because of that leader.

What role do multipliers play in amplifying the voices of people who are typically underrepresented in leadership?

We find that one of the shared characteristics of multiplier leaders is that they are intellectually curious. They want to know what other people know. By nature, intellectually curious people are drawn to people who are different from them. It’s not just appreciating that diversity – it’s needing it. It’s the feeling that, “No, I actually need people who think differently than I do to see things that I can’t see; to avoid mistakes that I would make if I only saw through one point of view.”

It’s the idea that multipliers tend to see talent in technicolor, rather than in monochrome or black and white. They realize that people have a diversity of talent and different gifts, and they want that talent and those gifts.

One of the things I noticed in studying multiplier leaders is that, at first pass, you might see them as benevolent, enlightened leaders who really care about people and want to do the right thing. You could make a case for that, but you could also make the case that they’re lazy, selfish leaders. They see people’s talent and they want it. They want to use it. They want to harvest it, and they’re not doing it for just the good of the person. They’re doing it for the good of the organization. They want all aspects of who their employees are. They don’t just see an employee in their limited job description. They want all of their capabilities. So, I actually encourage myself and others to take the lazy, selfish approach, as well – to say, “How do I deeply utilize the talent that’s available to me?”

What is the relationship between buildinga a culture of multipliers and being regonized as an employer of choice?

I think being an employer of choice is not just about creating a great work environment, but rather an environment where people do great work. That’s an employer of choice. To fully answer the question, we have to look at the cousin to the multiplier leader, the diminisher. We have to understand the influence these diminishing leaders – who tend to be control-oriented, micromanaging, know-it-alls – have on the people around them. They’re often smart people, but they rely too heavily on their own ideas and intelligence.

Diminishing leaders, I find in my research, get less than half of people’s available intelligence. So, think of the work environment that creates. Where you go into work every morning knowing that you have more intelligence, capability and skill than is being used – you’re grossly underutilized at less than 50% of your capability. But yet, you’re going in wanting to give 100%.

Think about things that breed in that gap, between what people are actually able to give diminishing leaders and what they want to give – apathy, toxicity, a tolerance of mediocracy, and mediocre products and services.

I think it’s easy for people to think that being an employer of choice is about what we give to our employees. What people miss is that it’s actually more focused on what we get from our employees. An environment where people are giving their fullest is actually an exhilarating environment. An environment where people can give 100% is an employer of choice.

With the changing world of work and so many people entering the gig economy, what kind of influence do multipliers have in the contingent workforce space?

When we have an experience with a multiplier leader, it does tend to be challenging, a little bit exhausting and totally exhilarating. Those are people we pick up the phone for. For multipliers, when they need someone with a specific talent, they know exactly who they want to pull in. I think that contingent workers are likely to want to go back to those gigs where they’ve worked with a multiplier leader.

I also think the multiplier logic would be particularly sensitive to the contingent workforce. They realize that they’re the easiest part of the workforce to underutilize. It’s very easy to just say, “We’re plugging you into this role. It’s short term. We just need you to do this, and to maybe get the job done.” But, we’ve ended up really underutilizing that person. Contingent workers are a group that we can get so much more from – and create a much better work experience for – by applying the same kind of multiplier logic there. It’s approaching it as, “We really want all of you. I know this is what we contracted for, but bring all of yourself, all of your ideas, all of your intelligence. We’ll take it all.”

Listen to the companion podcast at peoplescout.com.

Talking Talent Leadership Profile

A Q&A with ERIC DE LOS SANTOS of TrueBlue
Senior Director, Associate General Counsel

By DAVID BAROL
Research Director

The expertise and passion that Eric de los Santos has for diversity and inclusion was forged from his life experiences. As the first in his family to receive a university education, he left his home state of Hawaii to attend Brown University on scholarship and went on to receive his law degree from the University of Washington. Eric joined PeopleScout’s parent company, TrueBlue, 15 years ago; he’s currently the Associate General Counsel, Senior Director of Employment Law, while also serving as President of the National Filipino Lawyers Association. Eric was also the first Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council at TrueBlue. 

An avid gardener, de los Santos likes to compare a diverse and inclusive workplace to a garden with multiple varieties of plants that thrive only when the proper nutrients and level of care are provided. He shared his insightful perspectives at PeopleScout’s 2019 NEXT Talent Summit in June, where he hosted a Big Idea Talk and breakout session entitled “Authenticity and Tending to the Garden of Realness.” Before his talk, Eric sat down with us to share his thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The terms diversity and inclusion are often linked in the corporate context. How do these concepts differ and how do they complement each other?

I liken the concept of diversity and inclusion to a garden. Diversity can be thought of as the different species and varieties of plants, while inclusion is the environment that ensures that each and every plant can grow and flourish. Some plants may have special requirements, like the type of soil to use or how much they need to be watered. Inclusion in the garden means nurturing all of the different plants and giving each one exactly what it needs to thrive.

Applying this analogy to a company, management’s role is to provide every employee with what is needed to grow and flourish. And, because these elements may differ for every employee, it can be very challenging. However, just like a beautiful garden that is bursting with different varieties, the result will be a company that is filled with people from many backgrounds who display their full potential and contribute to its success.

So, having a diverse and inclusive workplace can be a decisive factor in a company’s success?

Yes. Take the example of two groups. One group is comprised of people from a single background and culture, while the second group is comprised of multiple backgrounds and cultures. Studies have shown that, when confronted with a problem, the group with diverse backgrounds not only comes up with a greater number of solutions, but their solutions are far more creative and likely to succeed. The diverse group is also more likely to anticipate problems that may arise in the future because it is not limited by the “blind spots” arising from the limited experience and outlook of the monolithic group.

A company that can successfully bring diverse people together – to share ideas on how to improve performance or create a better company – will have a clear competitive advantage over one that cannot. It is vital that all of those who participate in these discussions feel that they can honestly share their ideas without fear and in an environment of mutual respect.

The crucial factor is to enable everyone to be their authentic selves, not to feel compelled to hide a part of themselves as they interact with others. Employees who are inhibited from displaying who they truly are may look for the exit at the first opportunity. In contrast, those who can be their authentic selves at work are motivated to contribute to an enterprise that recognizes and respects them. Rather than being inhibited, an inclusive environment can result in a workforce that does not hold back from contributing ideas and puts in the hard work that can drive a company’s success.

How did your life experience lead you to become passionate about diversity and inclusion and eventually start the diversity and inclusion council at TrueBlue?

Growing up in Hawaii, I was surrounded by people from many different backgrounds and cultures, which people discussed with great ease. When I came to the mainland to study, I noticed that there was a tendency for people to compartmentalize themselves – to reveal only the parts that would be readily accepted by others and to keep parts hidden. As a Filipino-American and a gay man, no matter where life took me, I had a feeling of being different. But, I saw no reason why my differences should function as barriers. I learned firsthand about the issues of bias in American life, and ultimately, I understood that bias was something that needed to be confronted and challenged.

After years of working as a trial lawyer, I joined the predecessor of TrueBlue as a corporate counsel in 2004. Shortly after joining the company, I was invited to an outing that included spouses and significant others. I brought the man who is now my husband, and introduced him as my boyfriend to my coworkers. While this may not seem particularly noteworthy in 2019, being openly gay at work was much less common then. Introducing him as my boyfriend clearly had an influence on many people that night because they congratulated me for openly introducing our relationship. From that point forward, an important part of who I am was no longer hidden from my colleagues.

What were your first steps in establishing the diversity and inclusion council and how has it developed over time?

I found that there was a great interest in diversity and inclusion issues in the company, and I worked to start conversations around the topic. When the Diversity and Inclusion Council was started in 2012, I was asked to be its first chairman.

From the outset, we took steps to make sure that the council had a lasting foundation and that everyone could be engaged in the process. It was also important that we presented diversity as not just being about who we are on the outside; it’s about everything that makes us who we are. We created training programs for managers and exercises to help people talk about themselves, their backgrounds, and all of the parts that comprise their whole, authentic self.

The council’s programs were very popular and continue to be engaging today. There was a lot of excitement around these conversations, which provided opportunities to build greater trust and openness within the company. Building on this momentum, we created a comprehensive program that includes employee resource groups such as Women in Leadership, the African-American Resource Network and an LGBTQ group, called BE PROUD. The groups are still expanding and will include groups for Latinx and Hispanic employees, as well as a veterans resource group. The council has also been pursuing initiatives and programs to engage TrueBlue’s contingent workforce, and is focusing on developing a pipeline of future leaders.

What are your thoughts about the role of leadership in diversity and inclusion?

It’s critical that leaders understand their workforce and take steps to deepen that understanding. Even something as mundane as a departmental potluck lunch can be an opportunity to learn more about your team. For example, instead of telling people to bring whatever dish they want, ask them to bring something from their culture or background, and write a short piece explaining why they chose that dish and its significance.

While this is an example of a useful exercise, being able to respond positively to the needs of your workforce goes well beyond understanding their cultural backgrounds. Take the initiative to find out whether there are any issues going on in their lives outside of the confines of the workplace, and see if you can respond to their needs. For example, if an employee is struggling to take care of an elderly relative who needs help while they are at work, offer them flexibility in their work schedule. This outreach creates an environment of mutual understanding and support.

It is also important that leaders “walk the talk” of diversity and inclusion to be open and authentic themselves. No one is perfect, and everyone has biases and preconceived notions that need to be challenged. Some people find it difficult to talk about certain issues of identity or diversity. It’s fine to acknowledge this and work to find the right words to use that reflect both acceptance and respect. Our employees want to see us as people with real lives that they can relate to. Each one of us has the opportunity to stand out in a unique way.

Finally, every leader should have a sense of responsibility to foster and nurture a genuinely inclusive environment. To return to the analogy of the garden, as leaders we have the responsibility to ensure our work environment allows people to be their authentic selves – we are the ones who are tending to the garden of realness.

Feeling Part of the Team: The Importance of Building an Inclusive Culture in the Workplace

By DAVID BAROL
Research Director

The letter of resignation came as a shock. The departing employee had just started six months earlier and brought the ideal skill set for the position. They received a substantial salary increase from their previous job, and no one had noticed any signs of discontent. When asked their reason for leaving during the exit interview, after some hesitation, the explanation came out: “I don’t feel like I belong here, and I don’t think anyone really understands who I am.”

When pressed for details, none were forthcoming. One question came up among the leadership team again and again, “How many other employees feel the same way and what changes do we need to make?” This prompted a review of the company’s diversity and inclusion program, which showed some progress in the diversity of its workforce, but no clear way to measure improvement in inclusion.

An Inclusive Culture Enables a Diverse Workplace to Thrive

The phrase “diversity and inclusion” has become so common that it can be easy to miss the different meaning of each word. A recent article in Gallup’s Workplace magazine defines the distinction between diversity and inclusion:

“Inclusion has to be understood as very different from diversity because simply having a wide roster of demographic characteristics won’t make a difference to an organization’s bottom line unless the people who fall into any one demographic feel welcomed. Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging.”

Organizations that have successfully established a diverse workforce can reap the proven benefits that it provides, including a wide array of perspectives and experiences.  However, seemingly innocuous practices that are embedded in a company’s culture have the potential to make a segment of its workforce feel unwelcome and alien. But, when the possible problems with these practices are identified, a commitment to creating an inclusive culture can lead to changes that can vastly improve a work environment.

Consider the example of a tech start-up company that was founded by a group of friends from college, all coming from very similar backgrounds. Every year, a company picnic was held on a Saturday or Sunday with two key competitions taking place among the work teams: a relay swim race and a barbecue cook-off, followed by an employee recognition awards ceremony. This tradition continued as the company grew rapidly and employed a diverse range of talent.

While many employees looked forward to the company picnic, others began to quietly dread it. A few of the reasons these employees felt uncomfortable were:

  • The religious practices and restrictions on Saturdays or Sundays followed by some employees made them feel like they had to choose between “being part of the team” and their faith.
  • Those who were differently abled or unable to swim well felt excluded from the relay race in the pool.
  • Vegetarians would have to excuse themselves from the “taste-test” part of the barbecue competition.

The goal of the company picnic was to build teamwork and show appreciation, but it had the opposite effect on some employees. For some, the timing and activities held at the picnic sent the message that “you and those who are like you do not really belong here.”

When leadership became aware of the distress that the picnic was causing some employees, they took the time to reach out to every employee to get their feedback on the timing and the events held at the picnic. Great care was taken to implement all of the ideas they received that were feasible and each employee was specifically thanked for their input. This effort was an important step in creating an environment in which every employee felt included and valued – in other words, a culture of inclusion.

Removing the Identity Cover

At some point in many job interviews, the job seeker is asked, “Tell me about yourself.” They will try to respond with details about themselves that they think the interviewer will like. But, as the candidate mentally calculates what to emphasize, they may also be thinking about what information to withhold because of how the interviewer may perceive them. Once a candidate is hired, this stressful mental exercise can continue. This can be especially true for those who are in some way different from the majority of their coworkers.

An article in the Harvard Business Review notes that, “Employees who differ from most of their colleagues in religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and generation often hide important parts of themselves at work for fear of negative consequences. We in the diversity and inclusion community call this `identity cover,’ and it makes it difficult to know how they feel and what they want, which makes them vulnerable to leaving their organizations. The key to inclusion is understanding who your employees really are … In an ideal world, all leaders would be adept at understanding their employees and making sure they didn’t lose any through neglect or ignorance.”

Employees who feel they need to cover parts of their identities can lead to behavior in the workplace that is driven by fear. Examples provided in the article include a mother who hesitates to put up pictures of her children because she is afraid coworkers will question her commitment to her job; a Muslim who prays in his car because he does not want to experience Islamophobia; and a gay executive who hesitates to bring his same-sex partner to a company event. By masking part of who they are, these employees implicitly feel that they do not fully belong where they work.

The leaders at the tech start-up had no idea that they were alienating part of their workforce at their company picnic. It can be challenging to perceive what aspects of the work environment need to be changed to promote inclusion, especially for those employees whose backgrounds and identities may be unfamiliar to the majority at a workplace. It is for this reason that the proactive approach of implementing an inclusion program is an important first step in creating an inclusive environment.

Inclusivity Checklist

Every organization is different, so the content and structure of a new inclusion program needs to meet the conditions of your organization. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers an inclusivity checklist for HR that provides a good place to start:

  • Make sure company leaders understand that inclusion is about ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, opinions are considered and value to the team is evident.

  • Train managers – and hold them accountable – to show that inclusivity is a core competency.

  • Form an inclusion council with genuine influence and power.

  • Value differences, and create an environment where people can feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.

  • Identify the needs of underrepresented groups, and give them necessary support and resources.

  • Provide workers with a safe space to voice their concerns.

  • Benchmark key aspects of your organization’s culture, and understand the employee experience before making changes to promote inclusivity.

  • Remember that daily interactions are the most telling sign of whether your company has an inclusive culture.

Impowering the Workforce by Example

When TrueBlue started a Diversity and Inclusion Council, Eric de los Santos was the natural choice to lead it. Today, in addition to being the President of National Filipino American Lawyers Association, de los Santos is Associate General Counsel, Senior Director of Employment Law at TrueBlue.

At PeopleScout’s 2019 NEXT Talent Summit, de los Santos led a Big Idea Talk and breakout session in which he reflected on his own experience, the success of building a diverse and inclusive work environment at TrueBlue, and the vital role of leadership:

“It is important to be your authentic self, not to feel that you cannot be who you truly are because of another person’s preconceived judgement,” de los Santos said. “If employees feel they cannot be who they truly are and express themselves in a way that is natural for them, they will not be able to display their full potential. If an employee is struggling with something in their lives that they don’t feel they can share, that employee will feel isolated. They may not be able to concentrate on their work and could develop a feeling that no one cares about them and start to think about an exit strategy.

“But, when employees experience genuine respect and feel safe to express themselves, productivity, retention rates and morale all increase. Leaders have a duty to create an environment where people can be their authentic selves and set the example with their own behavior that displays respect and a willingness to listen, and clearly communicates the value of every employee.”

Inclusion Pays Off

While the arguments to build an inclusive culture at work may sound compelling, how important is inclusion to an organization’s success? A study from Deloitte cited research that found that organizations with inclusive cultures have a clear advantage over those that do not.

Organizations with inclusive cultures are:

  • Two times more likely to exceed financial targets
  • Three times more likely to be high-performing
  • Six times more likely to be innovative and agile
  • Eight times more likely to achieve business outcomes

Successfully building a culture of inclusion requires a serious commitment from the leaders of an organization and participation at every level. While there may be challenges along the way, the efforts made to create a culture of inclusion can result in increased retention, greater commitment and input from the workforce, which can lead to markedly improved business outcomes.

FEELING PART OF THE TEAM: THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE CULTURE IN THE WORKPLACE

Key Takeaways

  • A culture of inclusion is one that enables everyone to be their authentic self and display their full potential in the workplace.
  • An inclusive work environment requires a commitment from an organization’s leadership, who set an example with their own communication and actions.
  • Those who are empowered to be their authentic selves are more likely to remain with an organization and will be committed to its success.

What’s Next in Talent Acquisition

By SARAH KATZ
Managing Editor

Let’s face it – we live in an ever-changing world, where one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the latest trend.

For an update on talent acquisition trends, PeopleScout hosted Madeline Laurano, talent analyst and founder of Aptitude Research, at our North American Talent Summit. Laurano spoke on the top trends she is seeing through her qualitative and quantitative research, and provided clarity on the crowded market.

Laurano shared that the current state of talent acquisition has fundamentally shifted due to the record increase in job openings and decrease in the available talent pool. This contributes to the rise of competition for talent across industries and the tremendous pressure organizations face to find the right talent.

Laurano presented a few key solutions to aid in managing this overarching challenge, including strengthening employer branding, simplifying your talent strategy with technology, improving candidate communication, using data to drive decisions and exploring total workforce solutions.

In this article, we’ll walk through Laurano’s report on the current state of talent acquisition, and dive into how a focus on employer branding can help you stay on top of the trends in talent acquisition.

THE EXPERT: MADELINE LAURANO

Madeline Laurano’s primary focus during the last 12+ years has been on the talent management market, specializing in talent acquisition. Her insights are based on her work as an analyst and advisor in the human capital space and her latest research with HR and talent acquisition practitioners. Laurano’s work helps companies both validate and reevaluate their strategies and understand the role technology can play in driving business outcomes. Before Aptitude Research, Laurano held research roles at Aberdeen, Bersin by Deloitte, ERE Media and Brandon Hall Group. She is co-author of “Best Practices in Leading a Global Workforce,” and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Yahoo News, and The Financial Times. She is a frequent presenter at industry conferences, including the HR Technology Conference and Exposition, SHRM, IHRIM, HCI’s Strategic Talent Acquisition conference, GDS International’s HCM Summit, and HRO Today. Visit her website at https://www.aptituderesearch.com.

Current State and Challenges

Laurano’s research shows a fundamental shift in talent acquisition over the past few years, which she attributes to changing market conditions. The numbers prove it – there’s a high demand for skills and a low supply of candidates, which increases both competition for talent and the cost of a quality hire.

High Demand for Skills

The skills gap is widening particularly for IT, healthcare, manufacturing and really any industry that has specialized or technical roles.

Based on her research, Laurano recommends that organizations invest in technology and digital roles to foster ideas and monitor industry trends. More than 5 million jobs in information technology are expected to be added globally by 2027.

Low Supply of Candidates

Competition

“Statistics show employers are having a difficult time filling job openings and are competing across industries for talent, which is a major challenge in the industry and one we haven’t seen before,” Laurano said.

Quality of Hires

Laurano’s 2019 Quality of Hire Trends Report states that only 26% of organizations in her study have a formal methodology for defining quality of hire; one in three of those organizations said that they’re interested in tracking quality of hire, but they don’t know how to start. Therefore, there’s a lot of opportunity to improve how we calculate quality of hire.

Ultimately, organizations have to rethink their strategies and technology to attract the right candidates for them. So, how do organizations stay on top of these trends? Laurano says strengthening employer branding is one important way.

Strengthening Employer Branding

As a reminder, your employer brand is the perception and lived experiences of what it’s like to work for your organization. It also incorporates your employee value proposition (EVP), which captures the essence of your uniqueness as an employer and the give and get between you and your employees.

In her presentation, Laurano discussed the importance of strengthening employer branding as one way to stand out in the crowded market. As research shows, many organizations are investing plenty of resources into employer branding, but there is still room for improvement.

Industry research agrees with Laurano, as one study shows that companies with stronger employer brands see a 43% decrease on average in the cost per candidate they hire, compared to their competitors. Additionally, when organizations in the U.S. live up to their marketed EVP, new employees arrive with a higher level of commitment at 38%, compared to organizations that do not live up to their marketed EVP, which is at just 9%.

Digital Transformation

The digital space is a major aspect to consider in talent acquisition and employer branding. Whether it’s introducing digital or data specialist roles, the skills associated with those jobs assist organizations in recognizing their weaker areas and providing innovative ideas to capture their intended audiences. “Go where your candidates are,” Laurano said. And, for the most part, that is the digital space.

Reactive vs. Proactive Recruiting Strategy

In Laurano’s presentation, she emphasized the value of organizations nurturing talent before they apply, or a proactive versus reactive approach:

Additional research reinforces the proactive method, as 67% of employed American adults agree that the application, interview or offer process would make or break their decision on whether to take a job.

Global Approach

Employer branding is difficult for global organizations, as it’s not always about the organization; it can also be about the specific location, as well, which can get complicated. The core of your employer brand should start with a universal truth, but effective employers will also create messaging that speaks directly to different audiences and geographies. Laurano suggests a need for transparency for global organizations, as well as local flexibility to strengthen your employer branding.

What’s Next for Your Talent Solution?

Keeping up with the latest trends can be challenging to say the least, especially in the talent industry. Laurano’s research into the fundamental shift in talent acquisition provided some key insights and solutions that are beneficial when combating such rapid changes.

WHAT’S NEXT IN TALENT ACQUISITION

Key Takeaways

  • The current state of talent acquisition has fundamentally shifted due to a high demand for skills and a low supply of candidates, which increases both competition for talent and the cost of a quality hire.
  • One way to stand out in the crowded market is by strengthening your employer branding and investing in a proactive, digital and global approach.

Soft Skills in the Workplace: Why They Matter & How to Hire for Them

By ERIC DYSON
Trend Writer

For hiring managers, an age-old dilemma persists. Two ostensibly equally qualified candidates interview for the same position, but only one can be hired. This may seem like an ideal situation for a hiring manager. However, it’s still a dilemma, and dilemmas demand solutions.

When choosing between two seemingly equal candidates, organizations are now prioritizing “soft skills” as the key differentiator. In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report, 92% of talent acquisition professionals reported that soft skills were equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. And, 89% said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lacked critical soft skills.

In this article, we’ll define and explain the importance of soft skills in the workplace and how organizations can best assess candidates for them during the hiring process.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence quotients that enable employees to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well and achieve their goals with complementary hard skills.

Key soft skills include:

  • Attitude
  • Communication (both written and verbal)
  • Work ethic
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership qualities
  • Time management
  • Decision-making
  • Conflict resolution
  • Critical thinking
  • Networking
  • Empathy
  • Problem-solving

While traditional skills assessments are essential for testing a candidate’s aptitude and ability to perform a job well, they are not effective tools for gauging soft skills. For organizations looking to observe and measure a candidate’s soft skills, a more nuanced assessment process is required.

In PeopleScout’s whole person assessment method, for example, candidates take multiple skills assessments that are scored and weighed differently depending on the position. These types of assessments allow candidates to demonstrate their strengths in both hard and soft skills. This provides valuable insights into which applicants should move on in the hiring process, and also provides a more cognitively diverse group of candidates.

Soft Skills are in Demand

Soft skills are becoming increasingly important as organizations look to add additional value to their business. A study conducted by Wonderlic found that 93% of hiring leaders stated that soft skills were “essential” or “very important” when making hiring decisions. What’s more, many employers reported that soft skills were more important than tech skills.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Competition has heated up for workers with the right mix of soft skills, which vary by industry and across the pay spectrum – from making small talk with a customer at the checkout counter to coordinating a project across several departments on a tight deadline.”

According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, employers emphasized leadership and the ability to work in a team as the most desirable attributes when recruiting recent college graduates, ahead of analytical and quantitative skills. Burning Glass analyzed millions of U.S. job postings and found that one in three skills requested in job postings is a “baseline” or soft skill. “Even in the most technical career areas (such as information technology and healthcare) more than a quarter of all skill requirements are for baseline skills.”

Talent with the right soft skills is scarce. In fact, LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report cited soft skills as the top training priority, and 59% of U.S. hiring managers believe it’s difficult to find candidates with the right soft skills.

Soft Skills and Organizational Outcomes

Creative & Critical Thinking

Employing a workforce of creative and critical thinkers is essential for introducing fresh ideas, services and products. In fact, creative and critical-thinking skills were ranked second and third on the World Economic Forum’s top skills employees would need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

As artificial intelligence and automation in business evolve, creative and critical-thinking skills will be increasingly necessary to complement the capabilities of machines. However, these skills are in short supply. According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 84% of HR professionals said they found a deficit of key soft skills, including creative and critical thinking, among job candidates.

Teamwork & Communication 

Teamwork and communication are weak points for many organizations, and it’s causing performance and productivity challenges. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that the majority of employees “believe that their organization’s project performance would improve if their teams worked more collaboratively.” What’s more, another Gallup report discovered that teamwork and good communication is a key soft skill for helping B2B organizations solve their top challenge of creating organic growth.

Successful collaboration is strongly related to good communication skills. Communication skills include actively listening to colleagues and willing engagement in conflict resolution to mitigate the effects of miscommunications, as well as keeping projects and organizational initiatives on track.

Compassion in Leadership

Compassion is an important aspect of good leadership. Teams thrive when the members trust that their leader cares about them. Research shows that organizations with more compassionate leaders excel at collaboration – already identified as a key soft skill in the modern workplace.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review authored by Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter and Louise Chester, “Of the over 1,000 leaders we surveyed, 91% said compassion is very important for leadership, and 80% would like to enhance their compassion but do not know how.”

Compassion is a prerequisite for effective communication and other soft skills that enhance interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and they are essential to maintaining workplace cohesion.

How to Assess a Candidates’s Soft Skills

Ask Behavior-Based Interview Questions

Interview questions that are behavior-based can help organizations more easily identify the soft skills possessed by the candidate, especially for technical roles where questions are based more on hard skills. They can provide a look into how the candidate would respond in certain situations or to various challenges.

Examples of behavior-based questions to ask candidates applying for more technical positions include:

  • “How do you usually develop relationships with coworkers and supervisors?”
  • “Tell me about a problem you solved in a creative or unique way.”
  • “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with someone who was difficult.”
  • “Describe your ideal work environment and method(s) of communication.”
  • “Share a time when you needed help or guidance on a project and how you went about asking for it.”
  • “Share a time when you had communication problems with your manager or coworkers. How did you handle the situation and your manager or colleague’s response?”

Also, ask candidates how they think their soft skills will help them in the role they are interviewing for. Their answers can reveal how well they understand the nature of the position and its requirements.

Communication Skills

Good communication skills are a prime indicator as to whether a candidate will be a good fit within an organization. A huge part of communication involves listening. During an interview, observe whether the candidate is listening and paying attention to the interviewer. Are they interrupting the interviewer? Are their eyes glazing over?

Moreover, during the interview, ask candidates behavior-based questions with a focus on communication, such as:

  • “Before you send a message, do you think about the best way to communicate it (in person, over the phone, in an email, through chat and so on)?”
  • “If you don’t understand something, do you keep it to yourself and figure it out later, or do you ask for clarification or help?”
  • “How do you consider cultural barriers when planning communications to a multicultural and diverse team?”
  • “Do you communicate best through the use of diagrams and charts to express ideas? Verbally or through writing?”
  • “When speaking with coworkers, do you pay attention to their body language?”

Verbal cues are also an important part of good communication. For example, when asking a candidate about a previous career challenge, did they use “I” or “we” more often? This will give you a chance to see whether the candidate is a team player and if they take or give credit where it is deserved.

Inquire About Soft Skills While Checking References

Reference checks are a strategy for corroborating and verifying information about a candidate’s work history and experience. A candidate’s job references can also provide a window into the kind of person they are at work.

A SkillSurvey study found that, when asked, job candidates’ coworkers gave feedback on soft skills for reference checks, while managers focused on tasks related hard skills. So, when checking references, it may be beneficial to assess a candidate’s soft and hard skills based on their relationship to the reference.

During the reference-checking process, ask a candidate’s coworkers questions about the soft skills of the potential hire, including:

  • “Did the candidate get along with their coworkers and management?”
  • “Tell me what it’s like to work with the job candidate.”
  • “What advice can you give me to successfully manage the job candidate?”
  • “What else do I need to know about the job candidate that I didn’t already ask?”

Employees are unlikely to vouch for someone who would make an unpleasant coworker, so ask them for a thoughtful assessment.

Conclusion

Today’s business landscape is about communication, relationships, and presenting your organization in a positive way to the public and potential employees. Soft skills allow organizations to effectively and efficiently use their technical skills and knowledge without being hampered by interpersonal issues, infighting, and poor public and market perceptions.

Recruiting for the right blend of soft skills takes a measured and strategic approach. It also requires an investment of time, patience and gut instinct. To provide our clients with the necessary tools to find talent with the right soft skills, PeopleScout developed the whole person assessment process. As part of PeopleScout’s talent advisory practice, the whole person model provides a more in-depth evaluation of candidates by measuring a candidate’s capability, behavior, results, passion, purpose and mindset, and allows all candidates to show their best selves.

SOFT SKILLS IN THE WORKPLACE: WHY THEY MATTER & HOW TO HIRE FOR THEM

Key Takeaways

  • Soft skills are more in demand than ever, and there is a current dearth in candidates who possess them.
  • Soft skills are important for organizational success in the modern business landscape.
  • Properly assessing candidates for soft skills requires rethinking traditional skills assessments and approaches to interviewing candidates.

peoplescout-next-logo-footer