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Hiring for Soft Skills Reduces Turnover

July 10, 2021

By Sheila Hoover, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Throughout my career in HR there have been various techniques that promised to identify the best candidate for a particular job.  The focus always seemed to be on technical skills, education, and experience.  Competency-based interviewing techniques are still a go to in today’s world in order to ensure you choose the best applicant.

In the 1980s and 1990s HR departments went through agonies breaking down every job into competencies so people could be interviewed against them. There is no doubt this led to a higher degree of success in recruiting competent people, but there were (and still are) two main problems with this technique.

  1. They can be manipulated by applicants who are well practiced in the process.
  2. More importantly, they are not suitable for discovering what a candidate loves doing and has a true talent for. 

Of course, skills and competencies cannot be ignored, especially in fields in which professional qualifications are essential. But there’s an increasing, and exciting, trend towards assessment processes that enable us to get to know the applicants as people, discover their passions, feel what kind of energy they have, and learn what they are great at. The recruiter can assess how to use those talents rather than trying to fit employees into jobs in which they’re good at seven out of the 10 criteria they are assessed against.

Clone Your Best Employee

One consultancy company has a great technique for doing this. They spent years examining which of their employees they would clone if they could, so they could structure their needs around a set of attributes rather than competencies.  I think we have all done this in some way; asking the hiring manager who their best employees are and why. And then reviewing their resume and interview notes to try to find the candidate that best matches their attributes. However, we have now learned to take it a step further.

The consultants eventually found its surest indicator of success was having a sense of humility. The ability to be open to other people’s ideas was so important that they developed a 45-minute interview dedicated solely to finding out the applicant’s propensity for humility.  Anyone who didn’t measure up wasn’t hired. It also looked at three other areas: gratefulness vs. entitlement, responsibility for one’s own actions rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance, and a willingness to invest in doing things outside of one’s comfort zone rather than “knowing it all.” Once it got this right, its staff turnover fell from 40% to 1%.

Another example of a company focusing on personal attributes rather than skills and competencies is a Canadian financial services organization. Prior to changing their hiring methods, they looked for a strong sales background in their candidates, but they found that although this approach brought in short-term sales, it didn’t make the people successful within the company’s culture. 

So, they looked at its top performers and realized that their top salespeople were not “being good salespeople” but “being someone who wanted to deeply understand their clients.” This led to the creation of a list of desirable attributes such as authenticity and the ability to connect to people and communicate well. Again, it experienced a huge reduction in staff turnover.

The Future Over the Past

An insurance company has also started using strengths-based recruitment. It evaluated 60 different competencies, such as time management, teamwork, and empathy, which it then integrated into its interview methodology. This shifted the approach from assessing people’s past performance to evaluating their future potential. As a result, they’ve seen its staff productivity levels increase by 21%, delays in its call centers fall by 54%, customer satisfaction jump by 12%, employment churn halved in the first 12 months, and morale noticeably improved.

You can go one step further and not specify the role at all when you create a job ad. Candidates are interviewed based on their soft skills and experience, not on their ability to manipulate their resumes for a specific role. Through this, your hiring managers gain a genuine insight into the applicants and are then able to recommend the right roles.

You can see the difference it makes when you focus on the person rather than the job, and if you think about it, that’s probably how you’d prefer it if it were you. I know I want to be chosen for who I am, for my passions and my energy, rather than for the list of experiences I can tick off. 

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