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Are Your New Hires Lacking Soft Skills?

June 24, 2023

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM-approved partner ASE

A lack of soft skills appears to be a bigger problem than most organizations expected. Many of the college graduates today were going to school during the heyday of the pandemic – studying and attending class remotely. Because of the pandemic, many lost out on personal growth with social skills. This could be a problem not just for current graduates but also for future graduates over the next few years. What are organizations doing to onboard these “socially inept” new hires?

Since many are lacking in everything from elevator chitchat to presentation skills, companies, universities, and recruiters are working on ways to give them advice and counsel to build these skill levels. The universities are playing a role in this practical education aspect.

In one case, a university had an etiquette dinner, inviting soon to be grads to learn how to eat with their bosses or coworkers:  eating at their pace, discussing neutral topics, and avoiding personal questions. They also learned when buttering bread, it is best to put a slab on one’s own bread plate before applying it to a roll, and when cutting food, holding the fork hump-side up is best. It sounds very basic and something they should learn from home, but these graduates were never taught these basic behaviors.

Another company had interns take a PPT course on office dynamics covering dress codes, navigating interpersonal relationships, and what working in person is like. Working remotely is not something most new graduates want to do. In an April survey of about 700 Class of 2023 graduates from the virtual student-health company TimelyCare, 53% said they wanted a fully in-person work environment, while 21% said they wanted to be fully remote.

Something as simple as reading cues, which is more apparent in live contact, is an issue for many graduates. New graduates struggle with the basics of reading colleagues’ cues or navigating a meeting, said Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management. In class, when students didn’t have cameras on, that was harder to determine. New hires will need to learn “those nuances of, how do you actually create enough connection, visibility, ability to maneuver,” she said.

What’s a solution to this unexpected problem? Employers need to develop onboarding programs that include training in social interactions, including team building, dealing with conflict, presentation skills (which even older employees have difficulty with), and having difficult conversations. Other areas of learning will include the basics of talking in person—as simple as how to introduce themselves to a client or colleague. Key tips include maintaining eye contact, taking pauses, and avoiding jargon.

Presentation skills is another opportunity that new graduates lack. Many may not have done live presentations and do not understand the nuances of presenting including giving time for attendees to digest and to ask questions.

Another case in point is walking the talk and understanding that deadlines are real. During the pandemic, it appears that that many professors allowed time to be fluid instead of being exact. Email skills are an issue. Ensuring timely responses and the correct use of emails is something that many lack knowledge in. Again, professors may not have been good at leading by example.

Michigan State University’s business-school career center has urged companies to be explicit about what students should expect at work, to over-communicate details about how a first day will play out, what to wear and what people typically do for lunch. Last year, the school began requiring many business students to take classes on soft skills in the workplace, after observing that students are more awkward and unsure when they network than they used to be, said Marla McGraw, director of career management. For example, the program goes step by step through an in-person networking conversation. In one handout, the center instructs students to introduce themselves by their first and last name. “STOP! Let them tell you their name,” it reads.

Source:  The Wall Street Journal 6/16/23

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