Soft Skills Are Not So Soft Anymore
By Jorge Gutierrez
For the longest time I’ve held the position that referring to leadership skills as soft skills is a misnomer. The inference has always been that leadership is not necessarily a science or a technical field; hence, the soft skill mantra, as if calling it a soft skill makes it less important — rendering it less desirable in a career path. This is far from today’s reality and even further from future needs in the marketplace where people are hoping to spend their lives pursuing their professional dreams.
It is also important to remember that candidates are now better prepared to pass initial interviews, as they have more access to professional coaching and resume builders that make them look great on paper yet are devoid of the very essence their resumes argue for. Here are some things to remember that are also easily applied in today’s busy environment.
Everyone needs one, but not everyone has one. Some people believe they don’t need a piece of paper because they carry themselves in a way that opens doors for them. I have read or heard someone say their résumé is their smile. And while this is very true and carries wisdom, today’s corporate reality requires more than a smile for a potential candidate to join the team. So, the absence of a resume should tell the hiring manager something about the candidate.
When looking at the resume, what are the clues one should focus on to make a hiring decision? What is the story this piece of paper tells you about the candidate? And if you are the candidate, then what is the message you wish to convey? These are important questions that not only need answers but also must be explained during the interview process. So, here is something to think about: If I am the hiring manager, I want to see a blend of education and experience. And if I see leadership experience in the document, I’d like to see how many recipients of that leadership there were and what was the value of the resources the candidate was entrusted with.
Years ago, I decided to change careers. As you can imagine, this decision caused a great deal of anxiety, since I had the future of my family’s well-being resting on my landing well into a new career path. When I finally found someone who showed interest in me, we agreed to meet for an interview. At the time, I was living in Hawaii, and the new career required me to work in Virginia, so traveling that far for a face-to-face interview was a tough decision to make. So, the company called on someone local they knew and asked them to conduct an informal interview before committing resources for the first meeting. This particular meeting went well, as we both hit it off and enjoyed each other’s company. To me, this was just good-old common sense. To the company, this was a cautious step to confirm the resume with an actual person.
Finally, the interview took place. This required a long flight, rental car and an overnight stay in Virginia for what I thought would be a 30-minute to an hour interview. I could not be mistaken more than I was. I expected to meet with a hiring manager, but this turned into a meeting with an entire board. The meeting lasted approximately five hours, and it was in no way an interview. It was an in-depth mutual evaluation to ensure my goals and motives were in alignment with the company’s vision and with their mission. It was tough, but it was worth it — and it continued over lunch, where the vice president of the company told me to expect an offer and a chance for a second interview with HR.
This is a different mindset, one that when taken seriously will pay dividends over time. Are you just looking for a job that pays the bills, or are you in pursuit of a fulfilling career that aligns with your values, a place and a people you can develop trusting relationships with over time? Are you as a hiring manager looking to fill a slot to fulfill a set of tasks to be managed, or are you looking for someone to join a dynamic team with similar goals and aspirations that align with your organizational culture and vision of the future?
These are complex questions, and not everyone is fully prepared to answer them unless they purposely spend time thoughtfully planning. The first interview must be a mutual evaluation to find the fit. This is where it gets difficult for the hiring manager unless he or she engages in understanding the total-person concept and learns to look beyond the resume.
When meeting face to face, one must understand the anxiety the candidate is feeling. Easing into the process helps to build enough rapport to minimize the anxiety and dive into the probing questions and answers necessary to get on with the business at hand. Observing each other becomes a critical part of communicating effectively. This means learning to listen with your eyes and understanding the nonverbal cues that may not be consistent with the words being spoken.
Remember that soft skills like these are not so soft anymore. Organizations need people who can be team players with proven leadership potential for growth. Mutual evaluation is a complex process for everyone, so preparation is essential to get beyond the piece of paper that simply opens the door to meaningful life experiences.