Here’s how a seasoned executive search firm can probe below the surface of a resume to reveal what really makes a candidate tick.
We’re in a booming economy just now, with an employment picture that is as rosy—at least for candidates—as any in a half century. The flip side for employers? They must work that much harder to identify true game-changing talent.
In this environment, the technical skills of various applicants are perhaps a given. They can be determined and vetted in a fairly straightforward fashion. But what about the factors that distinguish good people from truly extraordinary people? These are people who have the right blend of soft skills that can make a real difference in an organization.
Research points out the importance of soft skills to our long-term career success. The Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depends on interpersonal skills, while only 25% relies on technical knowledge.
So what constitutes soft skills? They include:
• Conflict resolution
These intangible factors are harder to calibrate and ascertain, but are essential characteristics for most employers. A recent study noted that 93 percent of employers thought soft skills were either essential or very important in hiring decisions. And yet another study, by the career platform LinkedIn, found that 59 percent of hiring managers think it’s difficult to uncover those skills.
Probing Deeply for Purpose
As talent consultants and hiring partners, our role in retained executive search is to help clients dig deeper into the minds of candidates and reveal their true motivations. We investigate what inspires them and what their sense of purpose is. What animates their lives—including the soft skills they bring from life to work—will help uncover their fit for a particular professional role and each unique company culture.
It’s crucial to understand how someone’s personal projects and hobbies—the track record of one’s personal life—translate into being a strong leader.
Is the candidate a devoted runner, climber or yoga enthusiast? That can show discipline and attention to training the mind and body to overcome adversity, which have obvious spillover effects for the workplace. Has the candidate shown leadership initiative in the community, serving on a school board or volunteering in a food bank or a homeless shelter? That can reveal a sense of engagement with others and a can-do spirit. How about an unusual lifelong hobby, like bird watching or stamp collecting? That can indicate a subtle mind that doesn’t just follow the crowd.
Our Behavioral Interviewing Process
Our competency-based behavioral interviewing process is perhaps our secret sauce, because it helps us assemble a complete picture of a candidate’s real motivations. We use it as a comprehensive diagnostic tool to understand what drives this person, in life as well as at work. Then, we build the story of that candidate around their proven soft skills and cultural fit, which oftentimes are rooted in their passion, interests and experiences.
To avoid the costly problem of hiring the wrong person, we are intent on digging below the surface of a candidate’s resume to reveal the true character and underlying motivations of that individual. We try to ascertain whether a candidate is really well-rounded, or merely piles up sparkling additions to a resume solely as an effort to look good to an employer.
During that process, we learn firsthand about the candidate’s soft skills as well as relevant experience for the position. Because of the care and thought we put into this process, which we’ve honed over many years, the candidates we place have a 95 percent “stick” rate.
Deep behavioral interviewing helped us identify the right candidate for one client that was looking to expand nationally and needed a multilingual professional. We found a candidate with those skills, but as a bonus, learned in the interviewing process that his grandfather had a coffee plantation in Brazil and that he went to high school in New Zealand and lived in a few different countries over the years. So in addition to language skills, he had a remarkably wide set of cultural experiences that made him a great fit for the job.
Another memorable engagement involved working with a client in the global travel business to fill a Global Sales Leader position that required a love of travel and the ability to develop sales strategy across 53 countries and 6 continents. For this search, we found a female candidate whose thirst for travel began at such a young age that she had become a certified flight instructor with a pilot’s license—while still in high school! Early on in her life she learned the traits and skills of a pilot which are clear communication, team working skills, decisiveness, quick thinking, the ability to remain calm and most importantly, leadership. Again, these are the kinds of details from a person’s life that can easily go unnoticed, but by digging well below the surface of a person’s resume we were able to find a great technical fit and additionally a strong leader for the sales role.
It’s All About Culture
For those new hires who don’t work out, a surprising percentage are not because they lack the technical skills to do the job. But rather, they didn’t comfortably fit into the culture of the organization and/or couldn’t handle the pace of the job. In other words, they didn’t have the proper soft skills to fit the demands of the position. The recruiting firm Robert Half, for instance, found that two out of three CFOs and finance directors they surveyed admitted to having misjudged a candidate’s fit for the job.
At the same time, according to research conducted by Harvard professor David Deming, jobs with high social-skill requirements are on the rise. Between 1980 and 2010, those positions grew by nearly 10 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force. During that same period, the proportion of jobs that were math-intensive but less social (including many STEM jobs) shrank by about three percentage points.
As business gets ever more competitive, the one crucial variable that distinguishes good organizations from great ones is transformative talent at every level, but especially in the C-suite. Thus, the need has never been greater to dig below the surface of the candidate resume and beyond mere technical skills.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On June 6, 2019
- 0 Comments