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Too thrilled about the skilled?: Balancing skills vs personality when hiring

92% of businesses say they’ve experienced skill shortages, with things only projected to get worse. While this is great news for the skilled individual seeking work, who is now in high demand, it’s not such good news for businesses, especially those just starting out. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, considering an individual’s personality is equally as important as their measurable skills when it comes to hiring, meaning you need to find a sufficient balance between a person’s personality and talent.

Fifth in the series of our Let’s Talk Talent webinars, in partnership with Give A Grad A Go, Michael Beck, founder and CEO of Reworking, gets together with Cary Curtis, founder of Give A Grad A Go. Cary and Michael discuss how vital it is to work out a healthy balance between a candidate’s skills and their personality when it comes to hiring, how to go about doing that and if one is more important than the other.

What’s more important?

“It completely depends on your situation.” – Michael Beck

“For me it’s definitely the personality of the candidate,” Michael says, making a good point about the ability to build up an individual’s skills, but not their very self, “skills can be trained or learned by the candidate, whereas it’s difficult to train someone on their personality.”

Despite the clear-cut answer from Michael, he delves into some of the complexities and considerations that need to be made, “it depends on a variety of factors,” he says. Pushing his own personal experiences aside he mentions that age, needs and urgency are all things to be considered when seeking out a candidate and that sometimes you simply just don’t have time, or money to teach the skills needed.

Cary echoes Michael’s points but advises a slightly more practical approach: “for me, it has a lot to do with the job role itself,” he says, saying that it entirely depends for him on what he needs at that given moment for his business. “You can hire great people, but they can have the wrong kind of skills, then that’s not going to be a great hire.”

Soft vs hard skills

“If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it’s how important communication skills really are.” – Cary Curtis

Considering a person’s soft skills and hard skills can be vital when it comes to the hiring process. Soft skills are personality traits and characteristics, while not completely quantifiable, some good examples of soft skills in a person can become evident as you get to know them. 

Emotional intelligence, ability to work in a team and creativity are just a few examples of soft skills that are arguably more important than their more measurable counterpart. Hard skills are what you might expect, a person’s ability to program, their ability to perform work-based tasks in general and even a completion of a degree are all examples of hard skills.

“75% of long-term jobs success depended on the amount of soft skills an employee had,” says Michael, further citing a study by LinkedIn that showed a high percentage of employers preferring to seek out their candidates based on their soft skills.

Despite his high praise of soft skills, Michael tries to highlight they’re not the end-all when it comes to hiring a candidate: “hard skills are clearly important, you don’t want to be hiring something like a surgeon if they can’t perform, likewise with developers. It depends on the stage you’re at in business.”

Cary adds on to Michael’s testimony with his own two cents, describing that it’s been vital during the lockdown to have those soft skills previously discussed, specifically communication: “the companies that have thrived throughout the course of the lockdown have been the ones where there have been some really open forms of communication and a big emphasis on team.” 

What got a lot of individuals through the lockdown was their own soft skills and ability to work coherently as a team after such a drastic pivot into a new working model  that relied heavily on the personality of employees.

Despite the integral part played by soft skills in lockdown, Cary thinks hard skills are being heavily undervalued in a predominantly soft-skilled hiring culture: “when it comes down to it, when someone is working remotely, on their own, it’s the hard skills that are going to be the integral factor in whether they do their job really well.”  

When should you invest in a candidate?

“It depends on the size of the organisation.” – Michael Beck

Whether you should consider a candidate if they don’t have the skills you require but rather the personality is an important question. Likewise, the same can be considered on the other side of the spectrum where a candidate is sufficiently skilled, but may not have the ideal personality for the position, potentially lacking some soft skills.

Michael gives some insight into his own personal experiences with ‘investing’ in a candidate, “this is what we used to do,” he says, discussing his own experiences in the business world, outside of his personal business. “They had to be graduates though,” he said, mentioning that the individuals he and the company wanted to invest in had to show they could “set their mind on a target and achieve it, like their degree.”

Michael did admit to putting his individual hires through some tests, though predominantly mathematical ones that would be standard for the position desired. He says: “primarily, the only thing we could go off was their personality,” some of the key aspects looked for in a candidate were how driven they were and if they had a genuine interest in the position they were applying for.

Despite the favoured tactic of skill investment over hard-skill hiring, Michael admits that certain companies can simply “afford to do that,” stating his own business couldn’t afford to put a high skill level role at the mercy of an untrained candidate and their drive to learn.

“The key thing is retention,” says Cary, “if you want to keep hold of your people, they need to have a clear progression path in front of them.” Cary believes that an employee needs to feel valued to be retained in your company, something that certainly shouldn’t be underestimated, especially if you have a candidate that ticks all the boxes for the role you require filled, or at the very least is on track to tick those boxes through training.

“It does take time, it does take funds that go into it, but in our experience, you get that money back,” says Cary.

How to hire the right person every time?

“You just want to have a conversation with someone.” – Cary Curtis

Michael attests that there isn’t really any exact way to determine whether or not someone will be a perfect fit every single time, but shares his own methods that have netted him a considerable amount of success: “When I’m interviewing someone, I really like to peel back the layers so to speak,” he says, “if I can get along with them and put them on the spot in the right way, there’s no set structure to that interview, you really need to take interest in what they’re saying.”

Cary mentions his businesses use of a “scoring system” that was eventually scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, something he’s seemingly very grateful for: “I think we’ve been hiring better since lockdown and COVID,” he claims, though mentions if you’re looking for a skilled candidate, the evaluation becomes a lot easier: “sending off tasks then getting good results back is as scientific you can get.”

If you’re a business that’s just starting up, it may be difficult to pick and choose when you don’t have the resources to do so, though when you have the opportunity, it might be a good idea to invest in an individual rather than a set of measurable skills.

Finally, Cary adds: “You can come away from an interview and see that someone has really thought about it, they’ve done their due diligence and their research and you’ll see that person really wants to work there. That’s definitely something you should look for.”

Find out more about Give A Grad A Go and their UK Recruitment Services, helping companies of all sizes scale up their teams and improve recruitment processes.