There’s a deep temptation to throw every possible skill someone might ever need into the job description. That’s a recipe for developing a lousy candidate pool. Otherwise excellent candidates won’t apply because they can’t claim every skill on the list. Overconfident candidates will try to play off vaguely related work experience as a substitute. Your job description should cover the skills the person will actually need every day. Anyone with the competence to do that work is more than competent enough to master new skills.
Social skills are just as important as practical skills. A good employee is going to be someone that fits your organizational culture. The problem is that you measure social skills on a resume or through an educational check. This is all about the interview and asking the right questions. At a surface level, you judge social skills simply based on the way the person behaves. Of course, you must adjust for the inevitable nerves that go with an interview. If they seem personable, open and confident, odds are good that have decent social skills.
Ask questions that test their ability to navigate common situations. You can ask, “Your manager tells you to do something that you know won’t work. How do you handle it?” You might also ask, “A subordinate has fallen behind schedule. What’s your approach to dealing with it?” Their answers should reveal something about how they approach conflict and whether it jives with your company culture.
This is another area that can be murky, but plays an important role in whether someone is likely to prove a good long-term investment. Don’t rely solely on the resume to evaluate this. College degrees and continuing education requirements are givens in most professions. People do it because they have to do it. Testing this is more about thinking laterally. Ask questions like, “Have you pursued any formal or informal education in something not related to your job and, if so, how?” If someone answers that with a short litany of weekend classes, web certifications and the like, you have someone with decent learning skills. That means they’ll be more open to learning skills that will be useful to the company and advancing their own career. If you need someone for an area where you lack expertise, like IT for example, you can use an IT staffing agency or a similar specialty agency to supply candidates. Then you ask the questions.
You spend all of that time developing your professional network and hiring is a perfect opportunity to make use of it. You can ask peers and colleagues to make recommendations. They’ll be an ideal position to weigh whether someone has the right skills to do the job because they’ve probably seen the person do the job. They’ll also be in a position to point you at people who are looking to work for a company like yours. At the very least, you’ll end up with candidates who are likely to meet your base criteria. That leaves you free to focus on questions like culture fit and whether they have good learning skills.
Picking the right person isn’t just about collecting a pile of resumes. You need to hone your job description down to the essentials. The person needs to bring good social skills to the table. That doesn’t just mean confidence, but the ability to navigate conflict in productive ways. Look for people who didn’t stop learning the second they left college. Reach out to your network. Peers and colleagues will know who has the skills and probably have a sense of whether they’ll be a good fit. While nothing can guarantee a successful pick, these things tilt the odds your way.
Kevin Faber is the CEO of Silver Summit Capital. He graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in Business/Managerial Economics. In his free time, Kevin is usually watching basketball or kicking back and reading a good book.
Follow him on Twitter: @faber28kevin