The Importance of Soft Skills
While working for a mid-sized healthcare information technology firm that was looking to rapidly grow—bringing on 70 new team members in just 70 weeks—I developed a strategy to hire at a fast pace without losing the quality I desired in a team member. This was no easy feat, my friends!
This strategy was based on three tiers of consulting resources I wanted to join our team: mid-level, senior level and executive level. We found that we wanted 90 percent mid- to senior-level consultants and 10 percent executive-level consultants; but, realistically, we could only find around 20 percent of our needed total in all three.
With this knowledge, I knew I needed to bridge this gap. I had to find a way to bring on approximately 45 talented, billable consultants who didn’t actually exist.
After brainstorming with my director, we decided to develop an associate- or junior-level consulting program. This program would include hiring resources that we could use to train, develop, mentor and guide a junior-level consultant to become a mid-level one within a year. This was a lofty goal, but I knew that with support and strong communication, we could make it successful.
During our pilot program, we initially hired those with extensive operational or clinical experience within a healthcare organization (e.g., a nurse, an IT programmer, a registrar/scheduler). We assumed that experience in the industry we were working in would help them learn the vendor system easily and relate to our end users. However, the result was very different—each person in the pilot program failed…miserably.
We couldn’t understand. How did this happen? We vetted and screened candidates, we conducted in-person interviews, we helped and guided them through the entire process…Something just wasn’t adding up. The results of the pilot program were so poor, the entire idea was almost postponed indefinitely.
A few days later, a light bulb went off in my head. I had been hired into the healthcare information technology industry based on a few different factors, and none of them had to do with experience in that industry. Rather, I was hired based on personality, soft skills and a particular level of intelligence (taking exams for the company to even consider me, graduating at a certain percentage ranking in my business school, etc.).
It all made sense now—most likely, anyone can learn something new, but those that will succeed at it must also have strong personalities, confidence, motivation, drive and the ability to speak well in front of others. You see, I always trust my gut and what I call “inspired ideas” or “inspired thoughts” that seem to come out of thin air—so when this idea suddenly popped into my head, I trusted it, ran with it and revised our hiring strategy to be based on soft skills rather than experience.
I asked for the opportunity to try again, and this time I vetted and interviewed people for personality and these soft skills. In fact, we built the entire program around them learning the software application and further developing their soft skills. After hiring approximately 45 associate consultants over the next six months, I set up exercises on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis where we ran through mock interviews, writing assessments, developing and presenting information for different audiences, message manipulation through tone of voice, handling difficult situations or conversations, learning how to push back on an idea without overstepping boundaries, trusting instincts even when you may not yet feel like the “expert” and more.
Though not every person in the program succeeded, our success rate went from zero to about 95 percent. We were quite astonished, happy and relieved. This program taught me just how important soft skills are—and I walked away with a few key lessons that I believe are important to share:
1. You don’t need to be the expert in something to succeed
Rather, all you need to bring with you are your great personality, motivation to learn and confidence. Allow yourself to ask questions, learn from others and research as much as possible; combined with your soft skills, this will enable you to become an amazing asset to any company or industry you work in.
2. Experience alone is not necessarily an indicator of success
How many times have you known someone who has extensive knowledge and experience but has little personality and levels of engagement and is on a stagnant career path? Personally, I can name many.
3. Soft skills can be developed, to a certain extent
Often, people assume that these softer skills are inherited rather than developed. I would argue that they are both inherited and developed for optimal success.
I watched many of my former team members grow in confidence, expand their comfort zones, gain increased motivation and improve their public speaking/presenting/interviewing skills. With practice, honest feedback and encouragement, these skills can be developed far beyond what is just inherited or (right now) natural to you. Now, yes, it would be easier to develop these skills for someone who naturally has a positive and driven disposition, but nonetheless, they can be greatly improved upon for someone who doesn’t feel this way at the moment.
Push yourself beyond the norm. Push yourself to improve your social and soft skills, because these, in combination with knowledge and experience over time, are what will propel your career.
How have you developed those soft skills? Tell us in the comments!
This post originally appeared on Levo League.
Nina Ferraro is the creator and primary contributor for Nina Inspired, where she provides career advice, inspirational challenges and webinars to help professionals and college graduates continue to propel their career. Her ultimate goal is to help coach, guide and motivate individuals and teams to extraordinary levels of success.
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