If there’s one hiring professional who knows the value of soft skills, it’s Alison Mackay.
She may be the co-founder of the Silicon Valley Recruiters Association and she may spend her days recruiting for Facebook’s infrastructure data center, but she also has first-hand experience leveraging her own soft and transferable skills to make the seismic shift from the retail sales world to the human resources sphere. (It’s no easy feat).
We stole 30 minutes of her time to get some insight into how technical recruiters – and pretty much every other hiring leader for that matter – should be thinking about and sourcing and screening for soft skills.
You typically hire for roles that many would argue are driven by technical skills. Where do soft skills fit into the screening and evaluation process in these types of situations?
Every single role we recruit for, you’re going to need soft skills.
Even people in highly technical roles – for example, a lead data scientist that’s going to be knee-deep in data all day every day – they’re still going to have to work with the business in order to share their learnings and business decisions. Even if you’re a lone ranger doing your engineering ops work, you’re still going to have to collaborate with managers and other stakeholders.
That’s why we’re always going to be looking for soft skills and interpersonal skills during the screening and evaluation process. We’re always going to be asking, “How do you work in a team”.
How do you work with your hiring managers to ensure that they not only understand the value of soft skills, but are also prepared to look for these abilities in candidates?
I think it goes back to helping them understand why they’re looking for the person and how the role fits into the organization. I challenge them to think about the bigger picture and the fact that every hire is going to need soft skills to be part of a work community. I also ask hiring managers to prepare a few situational questions which I can ask in my pre-screen calls with candidates. By doing this and knowing the answer (not necessarily a cookie-cutter response), they start to figure out what type of person they are looking for to join their team.
Soft skills are undoubtedly harder to assess, what tips can you give to recruiters and hiring leaders struggling with this challenge?
Start by talking with the hiring manager about how a role fits into the team and what kinds of projects that person is going to work on on a day-to-day basis. Then use that information to go and create some situational questions. For instance, if I’m hiring for a role that requires a strong technical background, I will still ask questions about how they deal with stakeholders and how they build relationships.
Asking situational questions is one of the best ways to gauge soft skills.
What about when it comes to evaluating a resume for soft skills?
One of the few ways you could evaluate a resume for soft skills is if the person has used the space to provide examples or shared stories of how they did their work in a team. Otherwise, I think when it comes to assessing resumes, it’s about mitigating bias and keeping an open mind. I’m not saying waste your time on entry-level candidates for a role that requires 10 years of experience, but if you get to a resume and you’re on the fence about it based on the technical skills or what skills on the resume match the job description, then it’s about making the decision to actually have a conversation with that person and see if they’re a fit that way.
Take the 15 minutes to talk with someone. That’s how we can be better at assessing these skills.
Do you have any tips for sourcing candidates based on soft skills given the fact that most professionals’ profiles are more often populated with technical abilities?
When we’re sourcing, we’re going to be using keyword search based on technical skills, but one thing we can do to gauge soft skills first is to go into the community, source from events, and meet people face-to-face. Ultimately our hiring decision is going to be based on soft skills, so get into the community and have conversations. Then you figure out if they can communicate or not, and then if they have technical skills, win-win. There’s also tools which are popping up to gauge people’s personalities, such as: Crystal Knows, Hirevue, and RoundPegg.
How crucial do you think soft skills are to a recruiter’s own success – and how can recruiters improve their own soft skill set?
I think there’s this sob story about how machines are going to take our jobs, and to be completely transparent, I don’t believe it. The one good thing about the recruiting industry is it’s so dynamic because you are working with people. Sometimes I think we forget that. Of course, I want to automate all of my job and make it easier, which is where the machines come in, but the one thing that’s not going to change is the fact that people’s experiences are how they make their decisions.
And that’s why you can have all the technical skills under the sun and be the best recruiter in the world, but if you can’t engage with another person and evaluate whether they’re a good fit, you’re not going to be successful.
Just remember that you’re dealing with people, and that’s key to being successful.
Q: What soft skill do you think is the most important for people hiring people?
We [recruiters] fail fast, and that’s okay, but being open to feedback and change is incredibly helpful. It’s important for us to be accountable. Our team need hires and we are the front of the line to build the business. If somebody rejects your offer, which we know happens ever so often, be cognizant of why it could have happened and be available to speak to the process. Be open to feedback and then act appropriately. The best part that I’ve realized about our job is how many people came before us and how the recruiting industry has changed. There’s a lot of opinions out there; be humble. Pick and choose what’s going to make sense for you for the future.
How do you think recruiters will need to change the way they do things in order to prepare for a market where many of the future roles will demand more soft skills?
We need to be better at being empathetic to the jobseeker because we don’t do a good enough job for them, and we’re not very transparent in the industry.
If you Google ‘recruiters’, you’ll find ‘scum’, ‘terrible human beings’, the ‘worst people you’ll meet in the world’. So the only way that’s going to change is if we take it one day at a time and – the person who’s in front of you who you can impact – you give them the best experience that you can. Take the extra 5 minutes to build rapport – understand that that’s the only way we can get better as an industry.
There’s an entire story behind each job description, and I think recruiters and hiring managers need to be better at sharing that story with jobseekers and being empathetic that they’re applying to a job that they know nothing about.