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Develop a Soft Skills Focused Hiring Strategy | RainmakerThinking

By: Bruce Tulgan

In manufacturing, a significant portion of the labor market requires substantial technical training, but that may be done in less than a year. These trainings and certifications are sometimes provided by a public or private vocational education program, sometimes affiliated with local employers. In other cases, employers themselves provide pre-employment training or extensive on-the-job training. These programs are intended to provide “job ready” employees. What amazes me about the training for these roles is how they focus almost exclusively on the hard skills, and pay only lip service to soft skills training. Then they complain bitterly about the soft skills of these new employees, especially the youngest among them.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. And soft skills training is increasingly seen as a crucial component of total “job ready” skills training. But the reality is that most training programs are still in the process of catching up – and it may take a while before employers start to really feel the benefits of these programs.

The bad news punch-line is that you cannot hire your way around the soft skills gap. Therefore, you must plan to address it in every aspect of your human capital management. The good news is that you can hire smarter and give yourself a competitive advantage by making some slight adjustments in your staffing strategy, recruiting, and selection of new employees.

Yes, you need to hire people who have or can learn the required technical skills. Yes, if you are hiring at the higher end of the skills spectrum, you have no choice but to hire those who have acquired the necessary education and training. Yes, there is a limited supply. Yes, increasingly, job applicants are the ones wielding the real power in terms of choosing who they ultimately decide to work for. No, that doesn’t mean you can ignore soft skills in your hiring.

It is rare that managers tell us a new hire failed because of a lack of technical skills. Nine times out of ten, an unsuccessful hire fails due to soft skills, not hard skills. Never forget, one very good hire is much better than three or four or five mediocre hires. No matter where you are on the skill spectrum, build soft skills criteria systematically in every aspect of your staffing strategy and hiring process:

Step One: For every single position, build a profile and job description that includes not just key hard skills, but also key soft skills. Describe them in detail. Build those criteria into the basic job requirements in no uncertain terms from the outset.

Step Two: Look for talent from sources well known for the strong soft skills you need. This is why so many employers want to hire those who have served in the military: you can be sure that most people who have served in the military will display respect for authority, willingness to wear a uniform, excellent manners, timelines, consistency, follow-through, teamwork, and initiative.

Step Three: Include your high priority soft skills behaviors in your employer branding and recruitment campaign messaging. That’s why it’s so important to name your high priority soft skills – to have meaningful slogans to capture them.

Step Four: Start with a bias against hiring: Look for red flags. The biggest mistake hiring managers make – especially when hiring for low-supply, high-skill-demand jobs – is continuing the “attraction campaign” until the job candidate has accepted the job, and sometimes until they’ve started the job. If someone comes late for the interview or falls asleep during the interview, those red flags are telling you, “DON’T hire this person!”

Step Five: Build a selection process that places a heavy emphasis on high priority soft skills. Scare away young job candidates who only think they are serious by highlighting the downsides of the job. Consider all the ways you can provide a realistic job “preview” to your candidates. This might be a probationary hiring period, or a pre-real job internship, during which you can try out the employee for a little while, and they can try out the job.

Step Six: If there is any significant lag time between the time an offer is accepted and day one of the job, take advantage of that time. Use the delay to keep sending the message about your high priority soft skill behaviors: Send books, videos, or other targeted learning materials. In every way you can, keep sending the message that those soft skills really matter.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website