Finding a good employee goes beyond looking for someone who is up to date with hard skills like coding or technical expertise. You also need to look for someone who has the soft skills that communicative, positive, engaged employees possess. We asked small business owners for their insights on what to look for in a job candidate and how to determine if an applicant has the skills you need.
What skills should all employees have?
There are some universal skills you should look for in all employees. These skills provide the foundation for role- or industry-specific skills that are built over time, as an employee progresses through their career.
Universal skills should encompass both basic hard skills like using Excel and writing as well as soft skills like communication and work ethic.
Here are five of the most important skills you should seek in all of your employees:
This skill is key and is one that most people are trained in from a very young age. When stepping into a new role, it's vital that the employee is receptive to new information, and has the capability to learn and apply that new information.
2. Time management
Today's business world is fast paced, and, at any given time during the day, the average employee is expected to juggle multiple tasks. This is why time management is so important. Employees must be able to prioritize their tasks and organize their time to get everything done.
3. Basic computer skills
It's unreasonable to expect that every new employee comes in knowing how to code, but they should be able to navigate a computer system, use e-mail and word processing applications, and be a competent typist.
As a soft skill, communication can be difficult to measure, but it is invaluable in the workplace. A good communicator shares their thoughts and ideas in a clear manner, and can listen to and understand what others say. This ability keeps teams running smoothly and harmoniously, and helps everyone in the company understand what is going on. Poor communication skills can lead to workplace conflict and confusion, which can have a negative effect on productivity.
5. Work ethic
Employees who have a drive to work and to do well at their jobs can have a major influence on your work culture. New employees who exhibit this characteristic can reenergize your team and inspire other workers to recommit themselves to their jobs. To find someone with a strong work ethic, look for a history of promotions and high productivity, and ask references about qualities like punctuality and reliability.
What are the most valuable employee skills for employers to look for?
The hard skills that are most valuable to you may vary from what other business owners prize, depending on your business, but there are some universally agreed-upon skills that all job candidates should have.
Below, business owners share the skills they look for when hiring new employees.
Emotional intelligence, also called emotional quotient (EQ), is becoming a highly sought-after skill across industries. This is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in positive ways.
"What makes emotional intelligence so valuable is that anyone who possesses it can use it as the foundation to cultivate even more critical skills," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. "EQ allows individuals to express empathy for others, motivate and inspire colleagues, and assist with conflict in a fair manner."
Attention to detail
"Along with emotional intelligence, the most valuable skills to employers are attention to detail and constant communication," said Andrew DeBell, co-founder of and training consultant at Water Bear Learning. "Paying close attention shows that you care, and shows clients that you've actually thought about their business problems and thinking hard about how to solve them."
DeBell also places a high value on continual, open communication and a strong sense of initiative.
Tom Scarda, CEO and founder of the Franchise Academy, values workers who can easily adapt to change and are self-motivated to do well.
"Adaptability really stands out," he said. "Technology is so dynamic, but younger generations grew up with it. They have the ability to adapt on the fly when implementing new technologies because they're so accustomed to doing so."
"The hardest skill we've found to recruit are candidates with strong interpersonal skills," said Joshua Strawczynski, managing director at JMarketing Agency. "While we are inundated with technically minded (and skilled) people, very few of them possess the ability to converse freely and convince others of alternative points of view. "
According to Rasmussen College, teamwork is a skill that is highly sought after by employers of all kinds. Most positions require some level of teamwork, even some positions that are primarily independent in nature. Employers need employees who can work well with other personality types in team-oriented environments.
We live in a world that is technology-driven. Employers need individuals who are comfortable working with computers, online apps, industry-specific software, and more, and who aren't afraid of technology.
According to Indeed, employers prefer to hire those with leadership abilities. Leadership skills help ensure that employees (and teams) stay motivated and on task. Those with leadership abilities aren't afraid to take the initiative, and they often go above and beyond to do their part either as a manager or as a member of a team. Moreover, it's easier for employers to promote existing employees to managerial positions, rather than having to go outside of the company to fill these positions.
Organization is always a highly important skill to possess for employees who want to be seen as an asset to any company or organization. Being organized can help employees stay productive, manage their time and achieve goals in a timely fashion. These are skills that can be beneficial to any sector and any position.
Another important skill that employers look for in potential candidates is creative problem-solving. This skill is highly sought after, because every business has its share of obstacles and setbacks that it must overcome. Employers love to hire individuals who are not afraid to think creatively to solve issues of all kinds. Those with creative problem-solving skills are typically very valued as employees as they can save companies time and money.
Strong work ethic
Possessing a strong work ethic provides some assurance to employers that the employee is willing to go above and beyond to complete tasks, meet deadlines, make quotas, etc.
How do you determine which skills you should look for in a candidate?
When filling a role within your company, the first thing you should do to determine which skills you should be looking for is to create a detailed job description, if you do not have one already, and highlight all the skills you have listed on it. Work with the HR professionals in your organization, if possible.
Then go a little deeper and think about what skills your ideal candidate would need to succeed in the position. Do they need to be a strong communicator? A quick and efficient worker? Someone with a certain level of experience within their field? Consider the skills or qualities your organization is currently lacking and try to fulfill those with this new employee.
You can also employ modern technology to help you figure out what skills you need, said Nicholas Crown, founder and chief strategist at Resume Atelier.
"Personality assessment tools, like Crystal AI, will help build an accurate picture of the candidate you're seeking," he said. "Start with a sketch of the personality, build an avatar, and the skills will follow."
How do you verify a candidate's skills?
An employee can make a huge impact on your business with what they bring to the table, so it's important to make sure the skills listed on the candidate's resume are accurate. To gain a better understanding of a candidate's skills and how they are applied in the workplace, contact references and ask for portfolios.
"To understand candidates' soft skills, ask for referrals," said DeBell. "Then actually call those referrals. Typically, you can dig into specific questions and uncover what the actual day-to-day experience was working with that person."
References can give you an excellent idea of a candidate's leadership skills, technology skills, competency in role-specific tasks, and soft skills like communication and teamwork.
For hard skills, DeBell recommends asking for examples of prior work – like a portfolio – or for proof of certifications. This can help you get a good idea of what skills the candidates applying for the position actually have so you can feel confident that the candidate you choose will be able to be successful in their new role.
How to hire for the skills you want
To ensure that you're receiving applications from candidates who have the right skills, make sure your job posting is very clear about the skills you are seeking, and take the time to properly assess skills both during the interviewing process.
"Thoughtful planning and execution are required to build and maintain a great company culture," said Brandon Chopp, digital manager at INTO THE AM. "We don't ever skimp on the recruiting process. Spend the time and money to recruit employees who will enhance your culture."