Life in the startup world is fascinating. It can also be pretty brutal. Things turn on a dime in hours, even minutes. People are hyper-focused, on edge, working to build something great together.
So when the going gets tough (and from time to time it inevitably will) you want to be able to rely on your teammates to see things through.
This is where soft skills come in and help.
While we all know these skills won’t be listed on a resume, there are few ways to quickly assess whether a candidate has what your business needs.
Hiring for Soft Skills
Emotional intelligence, teamwork, startup DNA/flexibility, accepts feedback and creativity—these are the top soft skills our clients are seeking in potential candidates when hiring this year.
While every business is different, there are a couple key ways to get a good initial read on these skills.
- Conduct a thoughtful reference and background check. A candidate’s job references provide a very clear picture on the kind of person he or she is at work. Ask that the candidate provide a diverse set of preferences, including at least one from both a past manager and past coworkers.
- Ask the right questions. Anyone can ask a candidate a set of questions, but asking the right questions for the right role takes a decent amount of planning and insight. You want your questions to elicit an emotional response or a reaction.
Let's look into the questions to ask and what to assess when hiring for soft skills.
Yes, working at a startup is like being on a roller coaster but for 10-12 hours a day. Given the nature of the environment, candidates need to have an appropriate level of emotional intelligence. Knowing when to have conversations (or not) when stress levels are high is incredibly important.
Some things to look for when assessing candidates for this skill: If a candidate talks about failure, pay attention to their words. Do they suggest an awareness of some personal responsibility or does the person blame others? When it comes to handling criticism, is the person able to acknowledge any shortcomings and keep things in perspective or do they become defensive?
Being a team player means someone works confidently in a group setting, contributes ideas, takes ownership, and accepts and learns from others. Knowing how he or she can provide value to your team and a business, is particularly important.
Some things to look for when assessing candidates for this skill: How can you tell if someone is really a team player or not? You’ll have to dig in a little. Find out what they enjoy most about working with others. Ask what are important behaviors and how they like to resolve conflicts. Study their mannerisms and pay attention to how they react when you ask these questions. If they freeze, odds are they don’t like working with a team or maybe don’t have experience.
You need employees that can move with you when working in a setting where things rapidly change and innovate by the minute. Candidates with a growth-behavior mindset will help.
Some things to look for when assessing candidates for this skill: While some people are naturally more growth-oriented, consider trying to find out how much time a candidate spends on personal development. Are they a curious learner? Do they ask questions? Are they active in new social groups and immersed in new surroundings and perspectives? All key things that will give you a good sense of how they will adapt and uphold a high-level of performance given the uncertainty in startup environments.
Feedback can be a hard pill to swallow. Giving and receiving it is an important skill at every level of a business. It’s a key part of lifelong career development.
Some things to look for when assessing candidates for this skill: When screening candidates, ask about times they’ve either had to initiate a tough conversation. Have they been asked to provide feedback on a coworker or client? How did they handle it? Do they see the situation from different POVs? If they were on the receiving end, did they show empathy without getting defensive or blaming others?
Creatives types can really thrive in startup environments because these are settings that require employees to come up with out-of-the-box solutions on their own. Creative types are great for this.
Some things to look for when assessing candidates for this skill: Every person is creative in their own way and to some degree. Ask about what outside interests they have like painting, music or poetry, and see that they dedicate time to discover and cultivate their creative interests.
In the end
When considering your new hires, make sure you dig in, think about the role and spend time evaluating what mix of skills it’ll take for someone to succeed in your business. If you find candidates whose soft skills who don't align with your core values— even if they were a superstar—it might not be worth the cultural headache it accrues over time.