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Human Resource Professionals Say, Focus On Soft Skills During Hiring Process

via The Gazette : CEDAR RAPIDS — In a world of ever changing industry and technology, companies are refocusing new employee hires based on qualities other than solely skills or a degree.

Human resources consultants and recruiters from around the Cedar Rapids say they’ve seen a shift in area companies’ hiring process in recent years due to an increased emphasis on positive workplace cultures. When a candidate begins the process of seeking a job, companies nowadays are looking for personalities and values compatible with the company’s core values as well as the appropriate skill sets for the role.

“The last 10 to 12 years it’s become important,” said Russell Curry, owner of the consulting company Wide Prairie HR and who has been in the HR world for 25 years. “I have seen an increased value in those things, and I think overall, when used properly, it’s a good idea.”

In some companies, such as Rockwell Collins, hiring managers have incorporated assessments in the interviewing process to determine how well an individual would fare. Steve Schulz, global talent acquisition for Rockwell, said his employer is trying to accurately assess how compatible an individual is with potential co-workers, if she or he has to ability to develop as an employee and become a good team member for the long-term.

This came about when Kelly Ortberg was named CEO in 2013, Schulz said.

“What’s important for us is ensuring we’re doing our best to make good decisions,” Schulz said. “We want to determine an individual is going to be more successful in a role.”

This is a trend across businesses as well as companies of all sizes, added Jennifer Lawrence, owner of Corridor HR Solutions, an HR consulting company in Hiawatha.

“In the end, they’re definitely going to get a better quality candidate if they share the same organizational values,” Lawrence said. “Having the wrong people can have a negative impact on moral and management and company time.”

Curry of Wide Prairie said this broader search beyond skills comes in a world of ever-changing technology. Although a candidate may have the necessary skills for the job when hired, he or she may have to be retrained as soon as six months down the road, Curry said.

Soft skills and culture

Rockwell’s Schulz said you can teach skills, but “it’s oftentimes harder to teach the soft skills” such as collaboration or communication.

“It’s become critical for company to focus holistically,” he noted.

All this also comes about within a hiring process as a determining factor in whether an individual fits into the workplace culture, Lawrence said.

Workplace culture has become a main topic when discussing a potential hiring candidate in Eastern Iowa companies.

“Whether companies recognize they have a culture or not, they have a culture,” Schulz said.

Kurt Heiar, CEO of Immortagen in Coralville, spoke on workplace culture at The Gazette-sponsored Iowa Ideas conference last week, during a panel with other C-level business executives. Heiar said the more companies align workplace culture around their strategic goals — such as productivity levels and retention — the more values for the company are improved as a whole.

“It’s not just about salary, but it’s about life style and work balance and all of those kinds of things,” Heiar said. “We understand that we don’t have to mandate every single hour that people work.

“We can give people some empowerment, some flexibility. I think all of those create opportunities for us to keep and retain our employees and have a much happier workforce. That’s important,” he said.

Some companies face challenges when it comes to workplace culture, particularly when defining it. Curry said its “not uncommon” for there to be a mistranslation from the top down on what the company values in a potential hire.

A company values quality, for example, it doesn’t turn out well for a new employee who has been trained in quantity, Curry said.

But there’s also an additional risk involved when using these standards as strict guidelines, Schulz said.

“The risk in all of this is you don’t want to create an environment that lacks diversity,” Schulz said. “Just because we say we want certain individuals … we don’t want a homogeneous culture.”

But if implemented properly, consultants and recruiters say looking for soft skills in hiring can create a positive workplace culture and save expenses for the company in the long run.

“There are hidden costs in placing wrong talent in jobs,” Schulz said.

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