Life Without Soft Skills is Hard

There are certain kinds of “Help! It’s an emergency!” calls I

The ability to work together is as important as the skills themselves.

The ability to work together is as important as the skills themselves.

get regularly. One of them is “I really thought this person was going to be great. I thought I asked all the right questions. But after three months I can’t even look at them…..” It turns out the employee was great in their previous job at a big corporation but they cannot figure out how to do more with less at your small company. Or they can handle all the tasks of managing the front desk, but they still don’t understand which calls to prioritize. Or they’re great at coming up with innovative graphic designs for your marketing agency, but they refuse to sacrifice their artistic vision for what your clients are actually asking for. These are the so-called soft skills. Life without soft skills is hard.

It’s crucial, of course, that you hire someone who has the basic skills you need. If they’re an administrative assistant, for example, they need to be able to run all the software you use, organize their time, quickly learn your business and clients and prioritize tasks. But they also need to be able to sink into how you do things. They have to understand the rhythm of your organization, the way you communicate, the things you value about teamwork, problem solving and dealing with difficult situations. If they have years of experience in another organization and they insist on running that mental, emotional, relational program, they’re never going to fit and you will have months of frustration followed by having to hire someone all over again.

When you think about how your organization works, you should focus on the best working relationships you have. What makes them great? How do you communicate? How do you approach a difficult client or handle change? Break that down into its components and then see what you need to apply to a new employee. Think about how you work, not just the work that you do. Then ask candidates how they work. For example:

When was the last time you learned something new? How did you do it?

If you need someone who is good at “figuring it out” without supervision or hand holding, this question will help you better identify that person.

How do you handle competing priorities?

If you need somebody who can make independent judgements based on nuances—such as which client is more crucial to your business or which one will be better able to handle waiting an hour—you don’t want someone who has black-and-white rules about “Whatever hits my inbox first.” On the other hand, if you have black-and-white rules, you don’t want someone superseding them.

What is your approach to teamwork?

Some people like competing against their co-workers, feeling it makes them sharper. Others are more collaborative with a rising-tide-raises-all-boats mentality. You need someone who can enjoy working in the environment you have.

Some people are really aware of how their organization operates and what soft skills are important to building the culture instead of throwing a monkey wrench in it. Other people are less aware, that’s just not where their focus is. We specialize in understanding people, since helping organizations deal with human dynamics is one of the most important things we do for our clients. If you could use help understanding your organization’s soft skills and how they play into hiring, give us a call!

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at or call (512) 420-8267.

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