Hiring is hard. Hiring the right people—those who will excel—is even harder. What’s so difficult about creating a list of job-specific skills? Nothing. But identifying those qualities that translate to success and organizational impact is far more challenging. Over the years, my experience in both corporate and consulting roles has taught me that the best results happen when we focus on hiring people, not on hiring skills.
Beyond the resume and job experience is a person. Keep this in mind, and you’re off to a good start.
Tech Skills or People Skills?
Here’s a quick question for you: When employees fail in their positions, what is the most likely reason?
- Lack of technical skills or raw intelligence
- Lack of “people skills” or “soft skills”
I’ve observed that when leaders fail, it’s usually due to poor “people skills,” rather than a lack of technical knowledge or not being smart enough. For that reason, I make a conscious effort to weigh the soft skills as heavily as any specific technical knowledge or experience.
(That doesn’t mean that I advocate hiring someone utterly unprepared for the position. But I never equate technical expertise with a guarantee of future success.)
Hiring people over skills might sound a bit fuzzy and hard to measure, but the truth is that leaders need strong interpersonal skills to empathize, motivate, excite, delegate, and LEAD. Unless your hiring process prioritizes the soft skills, you might end up with “leaders” incapable of communicating their vision and executing a strategy.
3 Crucial People Skills to Look For
- Motivation: Finding motivated leaders is a little harder than it seems. Simply showing up on time for an interview, dressing appropriately and talking in an energetic way doesn’t reveal a candidate’s willingness to go the extra mile. Look at their past accomplishments for clues that they showed unusual initiative, drive and persistence. Effective leaders don’t just “get the job done.” Instead, they do an outstanding job by digging deep and putting in the extra effort. They’re motivated, and they instinctively motivate others.
- Free-Thinking: Look for people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions, even if they meet resistance. You need leaders who are more interested in finding the right answers than in being perceived as smart, or always being right. These people are not driven by ego or status. Instead, they’re motivated by solutions and progress. Because they’re not insecure, they can admit when they’re wrong, give credit to others and speak their minds without fear and self-doubt.
- Passionate: This word gets tossed around a lot, but I’ve yet to find another that captures its meaning as precisely. Whatever discipline or job you’re hiring for, natural leaders tend to be INTO it. They eat, sleep and breathe the stuff. They’re deeply curious and opinionated about their field or discipline. Clock-punchers might get the job done, but they usually don’t magically morph into passionate leaders with the enthusiasm and energy to inspire everyone around them.
Tips for Choosing People Over Skills
To find motivated and passionate free-thinkers, embrace an interview process that goes far beyond rote questions about experience. Ask open-ended, scenario-type questions that assess how they handle collaboration and communication in a variety of situations.
Ask yourself what this tells you about them, as people. Are they empathetic? Opinionated? Reflective? Eager? Compassionate? Think about the kind of person they are, not simply what skills they’ve mastered and how many promotions they’ve earned. Look beyond the bullet-point list of software and leadership buzzwords.
And when you do find that gem, that candidate who not only has proficiency in the hard skills, but also in soft skills, move fast or someone else will. Natural leaders are irreplaceable and will always find themselves in demand.