STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths), as well as coding, are said to be in shortage and in high demand by UK business. 2017 was rife with discussion on this topic, and on the concerns and even national panic felt for the UK’s talent pool, recruitment and global competitiveness post-Brexit. This is of course especially relevant for start-ups and small businesses where recruitment, if not done right, hurts financially and risks damaging team morale and therefore productivity.
However surprisingly Google recently challenged this way of thinking with its research reports ‘Project Oxygen’ and ‘Project Aristotle’. These contained in depth stats and analysis of the company’s recruitment processes since 1998, and unexpectedly reveal that the characteristics of their best, most effective employees are those that align to soft skills.
When one of the world’s most desired employers, and one competitively entrenched in STEM, suggests that we need to re-prioritise our recruitment focus onto soft skills, we should listen. Additionally, longer term, with tech automating some tasks and removing others altogether, soft skills can offer employees a way to differentiate in the workplace, and also at interview stage.
As a tech business that has doubled in size in two years, and is forecasting to double again this year, we have worked hard at developing our culture and environment. We therefore involve different people from across the business with our recruitment process. This helps give us an opportunity to bring in new team members with the right attitude and mindset, not just technical skill set. Here are ten ‘soft’ skills that we value at Mention Me, and believe give our recruitment criteria and team the edge.
This is the number one soft skill. Someone who can spot a problem and address it themselves is worth their weight in gold. These people also tend to relish taking on responsibility and so once they’ve proven themselves it’s great to let them run and show what they can do.
Whether you’re running the company or you’re the newest hire, we all play a role in driving the overall motivation and energy of a team. Someone who approaches things with enthusiasm and positivity will lead others to feel more positive and enthusiastic. This in turn drives morale, performance and productivity.
The desire to learn and the ability to take coaching and act on it enables people to grow as fast as possible. We don’t need people that know everything already; we want people who are hungry to learn.
Empathy and emotional intelligence
Hiring people who understand where others are coming from, results in a team that gets things done and clients that feel understood and listened to. It also minimises any personality clashes that can be unhelpful distractions. This doesn’t mean we want people to avoid conflict; it means that we’re looking for them to approach healthy conflict in a way that avoids it becoming personal with their team, and is viewed as consultative with their clients.
We love hiring people who want to be entrepreneurs later in life. They tend to love to take ownership and have a bias for action. They also tend to be hungry to learn and to progress as quickly as possible. We also love the fact that we can help them and mentor them for when they choose to go for it.
Adaptability to change
In fast growing businesses, things change all the time. The best team members relish this and seize the opportunities that this creates. Those that struggle to adapt end up becoming resentful of any new direction or approach, and draining energy from the rest of the team.
There are so many distractions in today’s work environment – socially, digitally and the wider environment. We look for people who have the ability to switch off from the distractions and get things done.
We’re not interested in rock stars who can’t work with others. We want people who will bend over backwards to help each other and who will ask for help when it’s needed.
Sometimes this can be our clincher for hiring – and can override concerns over skill sets or experience. It impacts how somebody comes across in meetings, how they present to the team internally and to clients, and how they engage with new colleagues and clients.
This is such an important quality and soft skill for people to develop across all walks of life. Emotional resilience enables people to cope with all manner of work and non-work issues and situations.
Recruitment has become far tougher in recent years, with more opting for further education, resulting in an ever more competitive marketplace. For the employer this should provide an ever wider playing field, but too often instead it results in job seekers focussing solely on developing relevant technical skills over and above awareness of the importance of ‘soft’ skills. If Google has recognised the impact of these on their team environment, then we should too. We still look for talent, but believe in not shackling ourselves purely to technical know-how.
Andy Cockburn is the CEO of Mention Me, a referral platform for retailers to tap into word-of-mouth as a marketing channel.