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Soft Skills versus Hard Skills -Traits of a Good Employee

Hiring the right person for an opening on your staff is critical for any organization. The right fit can mean a lot of things depending on what your personal needs are. The right person means less time training and mentoring, improved positive morale in the organization, increased productivity, lower turnover rates because the employee matches the organization’s values and mission, and they will help develop a happier client base. The wrong person can destroy the culture of an organization quickly. I am a believer that the soft skills of an applicant outweigh the hard skills in most hires. Most employees can learn the so-called X’s and O’s of a job, but it is the soft skills they develop over their life that help them to become successful in a role.

What do I look for in a potential employee? I have been involved in the hiring of over 250 people in my various roles in leadership. Everywhere from Presidents, vice-presidents, supervisors, head coaches, assistant coaches, support staff to maintenance workers. Hard skills are much easier to evaluate because they normally can be easily measured and quantified. Too many people rely solely on these skills. Soft skills are harder to quantify. However, in every hire that I was involved in, the success or failure was normally attributable to the presence or lack of positive soft skills.

The most important soft skill to me is the ability to be a great communicator and possess outstanding interpersonal skills. Employees need to be able to speak effectively to those internally they might supervise, colleagues throughout the organization, their supervisors, and outside clients they serve. A great employee can deliver the message about the organization’s Why and not just the What. Interpersonal skills play a large role in the ability of an employee to relate to with and lead others. A poor communicator is normally destined for failure.

The second most important skill for me is an employee who is goal oriented and is a problem solver, not a creator. No matter the level of a position, I did not want someone who looked at their position as their end goal. I wanted people who were ambitious and self-motivated. I wanted my hires to bring to the table a clear and concise personal career plan where they take ownership for the furthering of their own careers. They must be a good teammate and by that, I mean they work collaboratively with others while maintaining the ability to work independently. They know how to handle conflict and are good at conflict resolution. Like my coaching days, there are employees who help you win and employees who get you beat.

Look for potential employees who are confident in their abilities, and creative. What works today in your organization may not work tomorrow or the day after. Creative employees will push the envelope and help the organization improve long-standing practices and procedures. They will come to the table with innovative ideas and suggestions that will impact your organization positively. Successful creative employees demonstrate traits like being detail oriented. Catching small issues today will save big problems later.

I always wanted to hire enthusiastic people. Enthusiastic employees are usually hard-working ones. They do not take short cuts and do what is necessary to get the job done right. They are excited about what they do and who they represent. That enthusiasm spreads to other colleagues. They are usually inquisitive and are always striving to learn more.

Other traits like honesty, humility, and passionate are all keys to a successful employee hire. Dependability, reliability, and responsibility are also soft skills that make an employee invaluable to the organization. Professionalism is another important trait. Professional appearance and conduct always are a must. All employees reflect on your organization both while at work and away from it. The level of emotional intelligence an employee brings to the table will impact the team’s state of emotions. How do you envision your clientele interacting with this candidate? If an employee upsets everyone they meet, their hard skills are worthless.

Finally, you need to hire organized, positive, and reliable people. Organized employees know where to find the answers when the questions occur. The more complex and multi-tasked a position is, the more organization is needed. Positivity is critical as you build a strong culture. The last thing you want is someone who will be a complainer and will impact the organization’s culture in a negative way. The best thing an employee ultimately can do is show up. Having someone who can work without direct supervision every day is important. An organized positive reliable employee will work on an issue until it is resolved correctly.

As you review job applicants, I advise you look closely at the resume and reference materials for keywords and phrases like leader, communicator, reliable, creative, goal oriented and collaborative. Make sure you review references closely and ask questions about the candidates that seek the answers you need to know. Select candidates to interview who match your organization’s desired skill and trait set. Always look for generous employees. Those are the employees who are willing to give up their own precious time to mentor and advise peers by sharing their experiences and expertise.

Before any final hire, make sure you meet in person. Interview at least three people for every position. I have reviewed thousands of resumes and been wowed by the candidate’s background and experience both on paper and through a zoom, only to find in person they have very weak people skills. Your employees must interact with a variety of people and unless the job is the type you can lock them away in a room and not let them interact with others, hiring someone with poor communication skills will fail miserably. Simply put, hire good teammates.

Know what skills and characteristics make a good teammate. Incorporate those skill sets into your hiring plans. Place extra importance on the soft skills that help make a new hire an effective and positive member of your team. The ability for all your employees to carry out daily tasks with a positive attitude, mindset, approach, and willingness to adapt will improve your organizational culture and productivity. It takes more time to conduct a thorough and complete search to get the right fit, but in the long run it is worth it if you only must do one search and not several for the same position.


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