Let’s be blunt for a second: If your business has an open position, you need to fill it. Waxing poetic about if/why professionals are unmotivated to return to work isn’t going to help you fill your open position. Whether the market is candidate-driven or employee-driven, if you’re not getting any quality bites from your job posting something in your recruiting strategy needs to change…and fast.
If you’re struggling to find talent, what can you do?
If you have a masochistic streak, you can keep playing a game of large numbers until you find that needle in a haystack, but beware. Not only will this strategy burn out your recruiters, operating with a short-staffed team for an extended time will burn out your current employees too.
If you’re hearing crickets from job seekers, now is a great time to reevaluate your job descriptions and put yourself in the shoes of today’s talent. If your team has ideal candidate profiles, this is a great time to revisit these too. Try to determine what about your opening is turning job seekers off; almost certainly is it because there are incongruencies between job responsibilities, required experience, and/or compensation for the role.
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Many companies are used to posting job openings that have a long list of required skills and experiences. On the surface this choice makes sense. Who doesn’t want their new hires to be up and running as quickly as possible? You also want knowledgeable people on your team. Why wouldn’t you source for professionals who have experience with specific software, X amount of working experience, or certain certifications?
However, for the majority of entry-level and some mid-level positions, presenting your job opportunity’s requirements as a wish list of hard skills is incongruous to job seekers for a few reasons:
- A laundry list of must-haves deters would-be applicants who just barely miss the mark
- The professionals who check all these boxes expect to be compensated appropriately. If you can’t deliver, they’ll move on.
- Savvy job seekers read between the lines and see a company with rigid (possibly unrealistic) expectations of their employees and what a healthy workload looks like.
These days, companies need to hone in on what truly matters when searching for talent: soft skills.
Why soft skills?
The short answer is that as long as you’re willing to invest in your new hire’s professional development, screening for soft skills allows you to cast a wider net while still attracting qualified applicants. It does this for two reasons:
- It widens your purview for qualified talent.
- It also sends a more attractive message to job seekers.
By letting job seekers know that hard skills are preferred and not required, you’re communicating that your company values people over skills and that you’re committed to professional growth.
Reframing your requirements.
At first, it may be a little counterintuitive to think of sourcing for soft skills as the most effective way to find talent. After all, it is a lot easier to pinpoint a resume with three years of sales experience than one with stellar communication skills, but even with roles that aren’t entry-level, sourcing for soft skills can be done. You just need to think outside of the box.
Sticking with our sales role, let’s say you’re looking for a salesperson in a niche service industry, a professional with a sales background selling widgets wouldn’t automatically be a good fit for your role –even though they have sales experience.
Instead of focusing on experience, think about what type of professional would thrive in your company’s sales environment. Perhaps, instead of a professional who is experienced in selling, what you’re ultimately looking for is someone who:
- Can meet high performance metrics.
- Has a sense of urgency.
- Has held positions where communication was implicit.
- Understands the operation model of a service-driven business.
In this example, shifting the requirement window now opens up your applicant pool to professionals with purchasing, logistics, or even store management experience.
Interviewing just got easier.
When you start screening for soft skills, your interviews may take on a different tone. When focusing on hard skills, screening questions tend to revolve around working experience related to your open position. To effectively screen for soft skills, interviewers must reframe interview questions to dive deep into a candidate’s personality and potential.
Think about it this way: Just because someone has three years of sales experience doesn’t automatically make them a good salesperson. And it certainly doesn’t mean they will be a good salesperson for your business.
Some examples of soft skill screening questions to add to your interview could be:
- What do you believe the best KPIs for measuring success are?
- In previous positions, how would you ensure you hit your goals (set by yourself and/or your supervisor)?
- How do you manage various personalities/situations that arise from working in a customer-facing role?
- Tell me about a professional conflict that you have had. What steps did you take to resolve it?
- What are some process improvements you have helped implement?
- What are your 5-year professional goals? How will this role help you reach them?
All of these questions touch on certain key areas that will help identify if your interviewee will be a strong asset to your team –one who is passionate, persistent, and proactive.
Drawing a hard line around hard skills.
Of course, sourcing solely on soft skills doesn’t work in every scenario. Simply loving kids doesn’t make you qualified to teach children, nor would someone who has seen every episode of Law and Order make a good attorney. There, of course, are certain roles where screening solely for soft skills will not cut it, but if your business requires a bachelor’s degree for your entry-level customer service position, really ask yourself why someone who has not obtained this degree couldn’t perform the job successfully.
Your team may have a very valid reason for drawing hard lines where they have been drawn but be aware that if you’re raising expectations simply because your business is unwilling to invest in developing new talent, you might be losing out on more qualified job seekers than you realize –even ones that do check all your boxes.
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There is a saying that businesses attract the talent they deserve, not the talent they want. Though market trends may impact effective employment incentives recruitment tactics, a company’s individual ability to find quality talent will always be bound to that saying.
While some companies may feel more successful playing a numbers game to find “plug-and-play” talent (and hope that they will still be there in a few years), others will choose to cultivate top-performers internally from a pool of employees who have proven they are committed to their professional growth and can thrive within your company culture/structure.
For years, businesses used the idea that the perfect candidate was out there somewhere to justify being picky. After all, if an applicant passes on your opening, by definition, they can’t be The One. Regardless, the reality remains that if you want to find talent that drives success effort is needed; it’s just a matter of where (and how) you want to put that effort in. This is an exciting time to bring new talent with fresh perspectives and viewpoints that drive innovation onto your team—the exact type of talent that is needed to thrive in a post-pandemic world.