job interviewMaking your next hire a perfect one is everyone’s goal. The ideal candidate, the perfect fit, the purple squirrel – it’s what we all search for, whatever your role in the recruiting and hiring process. Evaluating candidates and trying to predict future success during the interview process can be a daunting prospect. Everyone has a story (maybe more than one) about the candidate that didn’t work out, even though they sure looked like they would be perfect. When a candidate has the requisite skills, education and experience, why don’t they work out? Usually this is when the phrases, “cultural fit,” “soft skills,” or “intangibles,” come up. People sometimes know them when they see them, they know when they are missing once things get underway, but don’t have a good idea of how to identify or interview for them.

Fletcher Wimbush, writing for, has some interesting insights into how you can become better at identifying what intangibles matter to you and your company, and how to interview for them and ultimately make better hires. His article, Learn to Identify the Qualities You Really Want in Your Next Hire, provides some practical strategies for identifying what he categorizes as “attitudinal” or “emotional intelligence” qualities.

The first step is to identify what qualities you are looking for. Many managers have a gut feeling when interviewing someone but it’s critical to translate that gut feeling into identifiable qualities such as self-motivation, resourcefulness, or a “can-do” approach to problem solving. What matters most in your department or company may be different than in others, so although his list contains some frequently mentioned qualities, it’s useful to run through the exercise with your management team to get at what’s really important for your business.

The second step is to identify what that quality looks like when it is successfully demonstrated in your company. If a “can-do” problem solving attitude is what you want, what will it look like? “Can-do” can mean working overtime to solve a staffing shortage, finding a way to reshuffle schedules without incurring excess costs, or it could mean using a flexible workforce strategy employing temporary contractors. All three are viable and none are wrong, but which one is best for your situation? Wimbush suggests looking at current successful employees who you think possess the skill to help learn how to recognize it more readily in candidates. Once you’ve done it with one skill, move on to the others on your list.

Third is the need to develop interview questions that will give you a response that accurately demonstrates that a candidate has what you’re looking for. As Wimbush points out, it is not as simple as asking, “Do you have a can-do attitude and please tell me about a time when you put it into action to solve a problem?” He stresses the importance of thinking carefully about the question or questions that will get at a real answer that truly represents their abilities. Don’t ask things in a way that will elicit a canned, prepared response that only shows they can prepare for an interview!

Now it may seem like this only applies to you if you recruit directly or plan to hire full time employees, but process can be absolutely critical when working with a staffing supplier. You may have heard your staffing partners say, “the more you can tell me about what you are looking for in terms of cultural fit or intangible qualities, the better able I am to source candidates that will really meet your needs.” If you take Wimbush’s advice, you’ll be better able to do exactly that. The information gleaned from this exercise will help you write job descriptions that more accurately reflect your desired abilities beyond the basic requirements. A conversation with your account rep or recruiter about how these qualities are demonstrated to your liking will result in better candidate submittals, which in turn will likely mean faster and more successful hires. Efficiency and the probability of lower turnover will translate into cost savings, in addition to simply saving you on headaches!

Wimbush’s article resonated with me because it focuses on something we see people struggling with every day and it provides some real, actionable ideas on how to improve things. I’ve been recruiting for 20 years, and in many different ways I’ve agreed with and put into place process and procedures to address the issues he raises but I’m always happy to learn from someone. I liked his take on things and I hope you find them helpful too. Let us know your strategies for identifying the intangible qualities that make employees successful. We all want to make better hiring decisions!

Wendy Sun
VP of Recruiting
ATR International


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