Knowing what you are looking for in a potential employee is not always as simple as putting together a job description and looking for the person who best matches its skill profile. Recruiting should always have some space for recognition of a candidate’s academic qualifications and previous experience, for sure, but it’s questionable whether these should be the key considerations when looking for a new employee. If the knowledge or experience gained through those avenues is essential to working for you, then that’s one thing, and those details should be used as a screening stage to filter out candidates who won’t be appropriate. But the ones you should hire will come down to an evaluation of soft skills.
The most important soft skills are often hard to gauge. In fact, soft skills in general aren’t easy to gauge by their very nature. You can’t give a percentage value to how professional someone is. However, there are certain touchstones you should be absolutely certain to focus on in the interview and/or any assessment day that you hold in order to pick the candidate(s) that you hire.
It’s generally a good sign if a candidate at interview shows signs of being engaged, enthusiastic and chatty. However, the communication needs to be focused and sharp. If they take every question as an opportunity to deliver information about themselves, then it may be a sign that they aren’t going to be ideal in a role where they have to follow specific briefs. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if they pause or ask for clarification during the interview – it’s going to be easier to work with someone who makes sure they know what they are talking about before getting into it.
The “are there any questions you have for us?” section at the end of an interview is potentially very revealing as it allows a candidate to show that they have engaged with the details of the job. A candidate who is prepared to ask questions at the interview stage is likely to be an employee who will arm themselves with all potential knowledge before embarking on a task – which is something that will benefit your business in the long run.
It’s not a bad thing to have a candidate who is nervous at interview, because although they may fall over what they are trying to say here and there, their nerves denote something positive. They wouldn’t be nervous if they didn’t want to make a good impression and – by extension – get the job and work for you. Once you find a mentor for them and get them used to the process, they’ll be more confident and effective. There are certain (highly competent sounding) candidates to whom a nervous candidate might be directly preferable. Most specifically, you don’t want a candidate who is relentlessly negative about aspects of their past employment.
If a lot of the answers you hear are along the lines of “I think I showed a lot of versatility in my last role – well, I had to, because my employer didn’t know what they were doing from one day to the next”, that’s a concern. Maybe their last employer was incompetent – it happens! – but the fact that they choose to highlight someone else’s shortcomings rather than their own strengths doesn’t bode well. Think for a moment how they might affect team morale if they start “speaking their mind” in the break room and upset existing employees by unleashing their inner Gordon Ramsay.
It’s easy for an employer to fixate on the candidates who flatter them. Any boss, CEO or other high-up at a business will be delighted to hear how the candidate would just be so grateful for the chance to work for such an amazing company. If a candidate has clearly read up about the company and is able to reel off facts and relate them to why they were attracted to this job, that’s great. It makes them much more likely to be an institutional fit.
With that said, the way a candidate talks about their outside interests can also be instructive. If they take the time to talk about how they enjoy reading in their spare time, or about the lifestyle business they’ve been running, or even just how devoted they are to their pets, it demonstrates an enthusiasm and an engagement that will help them stay switched on even when they’re finding the job hard. If they are consumed by how great it would be to work for you, then they’ll find their worldview shaken when the job becomes stressful or tiring – which all jobs do at some point. A rounded professional can roll with the punches a bit more.
Discipline and punctuality
High-quality timekeeping is something you are entitled to expect from anyone you hire. An employee being late to work can be highly detrimental to how the business functions – if a meeting can’t start on time, it means everything else is held up, or some things don’t get covered in detail. Lack of punctuality has knock-on effects, and it tends to go hand in hand with disciplinary issues.
If a candidate is late to the interview, they had better have a good reason, and be extremely apologetic about it. They had also better communicate this ahead of time, by calling to say they will be late and giving a reason. If traffic was chaotic because of an accident, that’s not something they can control, and of course a delayed arrival can be understood. That said, it needs to be explained ahead of time – because even though it’s not their fault, you’d hope that they would be seriously concerned by the implications of showing up late and want to give their account before they became late.
A prospective employee can give you all sorts of clues to how they’ll fit in during the assessment process, and by keeping an eye out for how they react to challenges in the recruitment stage you’ll be able to judge their suitability for the role.
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