Interviewing for Soft Skills

October 12th, 2018

Assessing a candidate’s “hard skills” during an interview can be fairly straightforward (depending on the circumstances). Since hard skills typically include demonstrable abilities or simple facts, you can always ask the candidate to demonstrate the skill or ask if they possess it. Can you speak a foreign language? Did you win this award? Are you certified in this subject area? Have you held this role before? Easy. How you weigh the candidate’s response is up to you, but by asking the question, you place the ball in their court.

By contrast, soft skills can more difficult to assess. Asking a candidate direct questions in this area won’t get you very far. For example, “Are you easy to work with?”, “Are you a team player?” and “Do you like to work hard?” are silly questions, because the answer will always be yes. Try these moves instead.

Ask for stories.

If you’re looking for leadership, ask your candidate to describe an episode in which they were required to demonstrate leadership under challenging circumstances. If you’re looking for resilience, ask the candidate to describe a time they failed at something. What happened and what did they learn? If you’re looking for teamwork, conflict resolution or negotiation skill, ask for stories that can give you a sense of these traits. As the candidate responds, read between the lines.

Consider the interview a stress test.

Never bully, intimidate or behave rudely to a candidate—that goes without saying. But keep in mind that all interviews, no matter how friendly and professional, are inherently stressful. Monitor the candidate’s response to this baseline stress. Pay attention to body language (are they twitching and sweating?) and pay attention to how the candidate bounces back from the little hiccups of the process (awkward pauses, minor disagreements, misunderstandings).

Ask questions with no wrong answers.

Questions with clear right answers (like “Are you a hard worker?”) just waste time. But when all answers are equally valid, the truth can come to the surface. Try either/or questions like these: “Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?” “Do you prefer leadership or team roles?” “If you have to choose between turning in excellent work OR meeting a deadline, which do you usually choose?”

Share some unpopular aspects of the job.

Tell your candidate about some of the more difficult, unpleasant, tedious, disgusting, boring, frustrating or unglamorous aspects of the job they’re targeting; then observe their response. A cringe followed by a long silence can speak volumes. So can a candidate who lights up and leans forward. Cleaning grease traps, dealing with angry customers, spending lonely days on the road and working odd hours are daunting to most people. If your candidate isn’t one of them, that’s a good sign.

For more on how to choose the best candidates for your position, talk to the team at PSU.

How Should I Communicate with a Recruiter?

September 28th, 2018

The relationship between a recruiter and a job candidate can be nuanced and subtle, and since recruiters have often worked in the field for years, they sometimes take the nature of this relationship for granted; they don’t always clearly explain to candidates exactly how the interaction works, and that can leave candidates feeling confused and not sure what to expect from the recruiter or how to behave in turn. Here are a few points that may clear things up.

Recruiters work for their employer clients, not for job seekers.

Your recruiter will smile and demonstrate a genuine interest in your job search goals and your qualifications. But she isn’t working for you, and you aren’t paying her. Instead, she works for employers who have open positions and need to fill them with the right candidate at the right time. She’s been sent to find you, but if you aren’t the right fit, she’ll need to move on, sometimes without explaining why. If this happens, don’t take it personally.

Don’t give your recruiter a hard time.

Again, recruiters must be quick, sharp, and responsive—to their employers. Not to you. If you call your recruiter and she doesn’t call you back right away, don’t worry. At the same time, if she asks you for some information or leaves a message requesting something from you, you’ll need to respond as soon as possible. If she gives you some advice prior to an interview she’s scheduled for you, take the advice. She knows the employers and their needs better than you do, and she wants the two of you to form a connection.

If you need information, speak up.

Sometimes job candidates (especially inexperienced candidates) have trouble standing up or voicing needs and concerns to employers. We’re often counseled not to make salary demands during an interview, or to avoid saying things like “How much vacation does this job offer?” or “Will I be able to work from home?” or “I don’t want to deal with angry customers. Can you assure me this job won’t require that?” But if you have these questions, you need answers, and you deserve them. If you can’t ask your employer, ask the recruiter. She’ll tell you what you need to know and she won’t pass judgement. Again, she wants both you AND the employer to get what you need.

Share everything that might help.

You don’t need to (and you shouldn’t) tell your recruiter anything you wouldn’t share with an employer, for example, your religion, family, or marital status. But you CAN tell her as much detail as possible about what you’re looking for, why you left your last job, exactly how far you’d like to commute, and where you’d like to take your long term career.

For more on how to talk to and work with your recruiter, reach out to the team at PSU.

Warning Signs of a Bad Hire

September 14th, 2018

Your candidate may smile brightly and dress well for the interview, but these superficial signs of engagement can conceal traits that might lead to trouble ahead. Job candidates almost always have two layers: the shiny exterior and the substance beneath. And shining up the surface layer comes more easily to some candidates than others. As a hiring manager, you’ll factor both into your decision; after all, excellent candidates don’t usually come packaged in inappropriate clothing or a slouching, mumbling demeanor during an interview. But you’ll also need to look closely at what lies behind a sparkling smile. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Second-degree anger or resentment

Most candidates won’t behave in a directly angry or resentful way to an interviewer (if they do, end the candidacy immediately). But they may reveal signs of anger in the way they speak about past jobs, coworkers, clients, or former bosses. It’s okay to explain why a previous job didn’t work out (“The company and I had differing visions of success”). But watch out for a candidate who engages in heated or personal venting.

Alternative priorities

Almost all well-adjusted human beings feel torn between their jobs and their families, and it’s actually a promising sign if your candidate places family first and work second in this eternal and universal conflict. But if something else comes first—like a hobby or a dream career that isn’t this one—pay attention. This may be a sign of a complex and well-rounded person, or it may be a sign of a competing goal that will pull the candidate out the door eventually.

False confidence

Competence in some areas can be easy to prove. For example, fluency in a foreign language, artistic competence, or a straightforward technical skill can all be easily proven, sometimes right there in the interview setting. But other competencies (IT, marketing, accounting) can be much harder to demonstrate. You’ll have to take your candidate at his or her word, but recognize that many people are experts at throwing smoke and fluffing their feathers in ways that conceal huge knowledge gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions or request proof of ability before you make a commitment.

Artful dodging

Does your candidate try a little too hard to steer the direction of the interview? If he smoothly avoids answering certain questions, glosses over things he doesn’t want to talk about, or keeps grabbing the wheel and bringing the conversation back to topics he’d like to emphasize, make note of this behavior. Note of the subject of these swerves, both the sore spots and the points of personal pride.

For more on how to look past the polished surface and examine the true capability and personality of your candidate, turn to the staffing and hiring pros at PSU.

How is Attitude Impacting Your Job Search?

July 27th, 2018

You may be showing up for interviews with a bright smile and responding to questions with a blast of sunshine (“I loved my last job! I’m not in it for the money! My weakness is that I work too hard!”) and you may be throwing yourself into every networking opportunity with an eager handshake and a level of enthusiasm that peels paint from the walls. But if you aren’t finding success with your search process, your attitude could still be to blame. Here’s why, and here are a few tips on what to do about it.

The corporate world is full of fakery— But that doesn’t mean you have to be.

The job search process and the corporate world are full of manufactured smiles and cheerful small talk. Positive language fills every room and people generally try not to reveal their true feelings or upset each other, at least on the surface. But it’s wise to recognize the difference between cheerful expressions and genuine satisfaction. If a job isn’t right for you, it isn’t right for you. If the culture isn’t appealing, if the salary doesn’t meet your requirements, if the business model doesn’t reflect your values, walk away. Smile if you wish, but don’t be taken in by your own smiles, and don’t fall for your own positive chatter. A bad deal is bad deal. A mismatch is a mismatch. When the answer is no, it’s no.

Honesty is the key to real positivity.

If an employer wants a candidate who can code in HTML or speak Italian and you can’t do these things, be honest. Honesty—even if it sounds a little negative—will get you where you need to go faster. When your current goals no longer work for you, drop them. When your actions aren’t helping you, give them up. Sometimes “losing” is winning, and vice versa. Unhappy careers (and lives) often start with people frantically and compulsively chasing things they don’t really want.

Open communication matters.

If you have a suspicion or a doubt, share it. If you have a question, ask. Be open with your potential employers and expect them to be open with you. Again, it does no good to omit a burning question that could help you make an important life decision (And for the record, it doesn’t impress anyone.)

Shake off setbacks.

In our modern world, most of what we call “setbacks” really aren’t. A few generations ago, for example, a rejected resume or a layoff might have been considered a serious disappointment or a career “failure”. But this isn’t the case anymore. Most candidates submit many resumes before landing an interview, and most people have been laid off at least once (often multiple times) by the mid-career level. The average employee maintains a job for about 2.4 years (certainly not for life), and mid-career pivots are far more common now than they were for our parents. Don’t let meaningless upsets get you down.

For more on how to make sure your “positive” attitude is truly positive, turn to the career management team at PSU.

Evaluating a Candidate’s Teamwork Skills

July 13th, 2018

You probably mentioned in your job post that you’re looking for a “team player”, and after publishing your post, you’re probably receiving plenty of resumes from candidates who describe themselves using this term. Chances are, just about every application you receive will use the word “team” at least once, and maybe several times. “Team players” are everywhere. And of course there’s no universal consensus on what this term actually means. So how can you make sure you’re selecting candidates who hold the specific team skills you’re looking for? Here are a few quick tips.

Ask, then check for alignment.

During the interview, ask your candidate to tell you a story. For example, try: “Tell me about a time on the job when you had to demonstrate team skills,” or: “Tell me a story that demonstrates what teamwork means to you.” Let the candidate think for a minute before answering, and compare what she says with your own definition of teamwork. See how well they line up.

Be clear, not vague.

Vague statements might seem safe and appealing in the interview setting, but they really just waste your time and contribute to bad decision making on both sides of the table. As far as possible, be clear and honest with your candidate. If you want someone who will keep quiet about company wrongdoing and execute questionable orders obediently, don’t call this “teamwork”. Call it something else. If you want a candidate who will work long hours and show up on weekends, don’t say you want a “team player”. Say you need someone who can work long hours and show up on weekends.

Teamwork may or may not make the dream work.

How will dedication to a “team” help your candidate, the company, or both? Some employers staff positions in the face of long term projects that require an extended investment, and they need candidates who are willing to stay in their seats for the next several years. Energetic, ambitious candidates who are contributing to teams left and right and working their way quickly up the ladder may not want to park here for very long. They’re great with teams, and their contributions are invaluable…but when the winds change and it’s time to move on, they shift team loyalties as well. Will this kind of teamwork work for you? If not, find out now. If so, make sure your ambitious candidate knows that staying on board for a while will be worth the sacrifice.

For more on how to define “teamwork” and “team players” for your candidate, your hiring partners, your recruiter and yourself, reaching to staffing experts at PSU.

How to Master the Interview

June 22nd, 2018

Despite what some employers want you to believe, most job interviews are more-or-less the same. Some employers want you to assume that an interview with their unique company represents a special opportunity to connect in a special way with a special enterprise. Of course that isn’t true; most companies develop their interview process using research, trial and error, and careful observation of the interviews conducted by other successful companies. As a result, nothing they do is new or special, and every question and observation they apply during the process will be drawn from a long-established set of patterns and formulas.

The good news for job seekers: If employer interviews are research-and-formula based, then employee interviews can (and should) be as well. There’s a science to this process, and a method that works in one case will likely work almost everywhere. This is a dance with known and recognized steps. Learn the steps and you’ll do well with almost every interviewer you encounter. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Settle down.

This tip applies across every industry from food service to surgery. When you’re nervous and uncomfortable, you make others nervous and uncomfortable. But when you relax, you make others feel relaxed and happy. If you can’t calm your nerves or steady your shaking hands by forcing yourself to do so, start thinking of the process as a favor to your interviewer. Help them. Make them feel at ease. Let your calm demeanor reassure them. Turn the tables, even if only in your mind.

Focus on a few key points, not a huge file download.

An interview is a conversation, not a massive exchange of data and information. You don’t need to tell your interviewer about every single accomplishment or A plus you’ve ever earned. They won’t remember these details anyway. Touch on some highlights (maybe two or three) and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re scrambling to blurt a laundry list of facts about yourself and you’re so focused on transmitting that you aren’t listening to your interviewer, something is wrong. Think of the interview as a date. If the two of you enjoy the conversation, you’ll have plenty of time later on to share more facts and details.

Look and sound trustworthy.

When we meet someone new, most of us want to look and speak in a way that makes us seem friendly, stable and pleasant. But in an interview, there’s one quality that exceeds these others in weight and value: trustworthiness. Before you convince your employer that you can expertly remove a gall bladder or design a website, you need to convince them that you will show up every day and present yourself honestly. You’ll do your best and you won’t embarrass the company. If you hit the mark, you won’t have to say these things because your voice, clothing and body language will send the message for you.

For more on how to master the basics and make a great impression in every interview you attend, contact the team at PSU.

Empower Your Employees for Success

June 8th, 2018

In order to succeed at their jobs and make meaningful contributions to the company, your employees need one thing that you may or may not be adequately providing: personal agency. Some inexperienced managers believe the opposite. They assume that the more they ride herd over their teams, the “better” these teams will do. In other words, if they spend their days telling their employees exactly what to do and how to do it, watching closely as they follow through, correcting every mistake in real time, forbidding risks, preventing failure, and scolding anything less than perfect obedience, then every project will end in victory. Employees are like oranges; the more you squeeze them, the more you’ll get out of them.

But this simply isn’t true. Studies and empirical evidence show that success lies in giving employees breathing room, so they can make decisions, solve problems on their own, and (gasp) fail. Leadership means backing off by a step a two and allowing your employees to learn and grow. Here’s how.

Stay focused on the long term.

It’s hard to watch an employee attempt something risky and fail. When we see such a failure looming, our natural instinct is to reach out and steady the bicycle so the crash doesn’t happen. But to avoid acting on this impulse, focus on the future. The quicker and harder the crash, the more the employee will learn, and the sooner you’ll see the day that she pedals confidently on her own. Keep thinking about that day.

Recognize that their real value comes from who they are, not what they do each day.

Your employee might toil along on a Monday afternoon, filing files and processing projects. But as the day and the year go by, you aren’t paying her for each of those little projects. You’re paying her for the knowledge she’s accumulating, the judgement she’s exercising, and the competence she’s gaining in her role. You’ve a hired a person, not a robot. So value the contributions she makes that only a person can make. Give her enough room to exercise her ever-growing critical thinking skills.

Trust is magical.

An employee who feels trusted will rise, as if by magic, to a higher level of trustworthiness. Before taking a risk, the trusted employee will put everything she has into making the smartest possible decision. The employee who doesn’t feel trusted, on the other hand, will accept less responsibility for the results, will not feel as confident, and will probably make a poorer decision. But it won’t matter, because if you hover over her, both the decision and the responsibility for the outcome will be yours, not hers.

Trust brings personal connection.

The simplest reason to trust your employees: If you do this, they will like and respect you more. Employees tend to work harder and stay with the company longer if they genuinely like their bosses. Step back and watch your relationship flourish. For more on how to do this, turn to the team at PSU.

Win Talent from Your Competitors

October 6th, 2017

Competing for talent can be easy when the job market stalls and unemployment begins to push both the numbers and qualifications of job seekers. But when the tables turn (as they’ve been doing for the last several years since our recovery from the economic downturn), job seekers hold more of the cards. And when job seekers hold the cards, convincing them to sign on may mean drawing them away from your competitors.

This is not to be confused with “poaching” or directly approaching employed workers and trying to pull them out of their seats. Leave that process to someone else, and focus your energy on grabbing the attention of top talent before they sign a contract or accept an offer. Gain a legitimate edge over your competition during the job search, interview and negotiation process. Here’s how.

Make a better case.

Start by understanding the kind of case your competitors will present. If they can offer benefits, offer better ones. If they can offer salaries in the low sixties, aim for the high sixties. And if you can’t outbid them in terms of monetary compensation, find other ways to identify and then reach beyond whatever they put on the table. For example, maybe you can’t match their salary offers, but you might be able to provide flexible scheduling, transit discounts, or a more rewarding workplace culture.

Get to know your candidate.

If you open the conversation by listening instead of talking, you may gain a complete understanding of what your candidate actually wants and needs at this point in her career. Maybe they’re looking for something exactly like their last job, but closer to home. Maybe they are gunning for management and they’re willing to put up with a long commute in order to get there. Maybe they have an interest in a certain type of experience, exposure, or industry mentoring. If you can identify this goal and help your candidate get there, this one detail may help you overcome deficiencies in other areas of your offer.

Establish a partnership.

Maybe you can’t give your candidate everything they want right now, but if they step on board and help you grow your business, you’ll have the resources to drive their career forward in a year or two. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but if you can both support each other’s goals, make this point clear.

Identify deficiencies in their last role.

Why did they leave their last job? If they left because the culture was toxic, build a case around your positive team energy and commitment to employee growth. If they left because they were passed over for a promotion, explain how your company can provide them with opportunities for advancement.

For more on how to attract, onboard and retain the best talent in the marketplace, turn to the Cleveland County staffing and recruiting experts at PSU.

Just Doing Your Job is a Hazard to Your Career

August 21st, 2017

Here’s a piece of wisdom that most employers and career counselors won’t tell you outright as you step into your first entry level job: Doing that job—even doing it well—can actually be a hazard to your long term career prospects.

More specifically, the hazard lies in jumping up to do as you’re told and then checking out when your assigned duties are complete. If you fulfil your job description and faithfully execute the commands of your boss, and then go back to playing games online, your future may be in more trouble than you recognize. Here are a few reasons to keep yourself busy when you haven’t specifically been handed any tasks.

You’re still in school…sort of.

You won’t keep this job forever. This place, your desk, and your current boss will all be in your rearview mirror within about five years, and probably much sooner than that. But while you’re here, you have a unique opportunity to learn volumes of information about this business model and how your industry works. Take advantage of this golden moment to pack your head with information and pack your timeline with life experience; at this stage, questions of all kinds are encouraged, and mistakes are typically tolerated—but that may not be true ten years down the road. Ask for new projects, ask for feedback, and ask for exposure to other departments. Don’t do it as an obedient servant of the company; do it to give yourself a career advantage that can last for decades.

Impressing your boss can’t hurt.

You don’t need to stay late or complete work without getting paid (think twice before answering work emails at midnight). And apple polishing to impress your current boss may land you a nice letter of reference but not much more over the long run. So don’t go too far and don’t compromise your dignity… But do recognize the value of a friendly face in the industry and a positive relationship built on trust. A nod of approval from your current boss won’t transform the ladder of success into an escalator. But it certainly won’t hold you back.

Invest now, collect later.

A few extra miles, a few long nights, a few stressful peak seasons, and a few run-ins with utter burnout won’t cost as much now as they might later on. So face these challenges head-on while you’re young, ambitious, and able. If you have extra energy in your tank, dedicate it to your job. Years from now, other priorities may pull your attention away. But right now, if you can, do.

For more on how to make the most of your entry-level position and use it to launch your long-term career, turn to the Gastonia career management experts at PSU.

The Benefits of Ongoing Feedback

July 17th, 2017

Traditional approaches to employee performance evaluation typically focus around one central event: the yearly review. Once a year, employees and managers meet for a one-on-one session in which the employee is praised for the year’s accomplishments and coached and criticized regarding “areas in need of improvement”. During the critique portion of the review, mistakes from the ancient past tend to be rehashed, and setbacks that occurred months ago are subject to scrutiny, the assignment of blame, and questions like “What resources could I have provided that would have helped to prevent this from happening?”

Employees approach the session with anxiety, hoping for a “good” review and dreading a bad one. Managers typically resent the process as well, since it can be overdramatized, socially awkward, and damaging to a relationship built on professional friendship and trust. So if this process sounds familiar—and unpleasant—why not try a new approach this year? Here are some reasons to deliver feedback all year long instead of saving it up for New Years.

Toss out the drama.

The tension and high stakes of an annual performance review benefit nobody. Being put under a spotlight six months after the fact won’t help employees better enjoy the fruits of their victories, and it won’t help them learn from past mistakes. But it will make them uncomfortable. Leave the letter grading system in high school where it belongs, and treat your employees like responsible adults, not students sweating over a test.

Real-time feedback has greater impact.

If an employee botches a presentation or misses an opportunity, sit down with them and discuss the error immediately. Better yet, don’t even sit down; just point it out in the moment (in private of course), issue corrections and coaching on the spot, and move on. The reasons for the stumble will be fresh in the employee’s mind, and she/he will be better able to identify and manage these reasons when they arise in the future.

Real time feedback is easier to remember and process.

If you exchange just a few words with your employee every day or a few times per week, then by the end of the year, you will have dispensed hundreds of tips, guidelines, wisdoms and meaningful corrections. But if you try to pack a year’s worth of comments and coaching into a one-hour session and then drop it on your employee like a load of concrete, very little of your message will actually get through. Takeaways and action items are the most important part of any feedback session. Keep them flowing all year long and you’ll see steady and continual growth.

For more on how to keep your employees engaged, committed, and constantly learning, turn to the Cleveland County staffing and management team at PSU.

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