The use of valid and reliable employee recruitment and selection methods is one of the most critical human resource management functions, providing meaningful and measurable impacts in an organization.
A study just published in the Academy of Management Review, the flagship journal of the largest scientific association of management scholars worldwide, has provided further evidence that firms utilizing more selection practices (such as psychometrics and applicant tracking systems) generated greater productivity and increased sales per employee.
HR professionals use a variety of different tools and methods to attract, screen and select the most appropriate candidates, and often need to choose between hundreds if not thousands of them. This is especially the case in entry-level jobs, where candidates of different backgrounds and education, compete with each other in order to land their “dream” job.
On the other hand, companies also compete in order to attract high-flyers and the most promising candidates, also working hard to retain a positive brand image as an “employer-of-choice”.
These two perspectives often “meet” in graduate recruitment programs, i.e. recruitment initiatives organized by companies in order to attract and select young graduates, normally with limited, if any, work experience.
However, an issue that often arises is what should companies be looking for when recruiting graduates, especially via graduate recruitment programs. The main idea behind these initiatives is that new recruits often rotate between different departments and positions inside the organization for a period of time, before settling down in a position. As a result, companies may be looking for recruits with different skills and competencies but who are also able to adjust to different positions.
According to numerous studies, such as research conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2016 and others, (e.g. Adecco Staffing Report) a major skills gap exists between graduates’ skills and the skills organizations are looking for, not only for today’s jobs, but mainly for future job openings.
Organizations do not pay anymore increased attention to hard skills or knowledge acquired during a candidate’s university studies, but are predominately looking for a number of soft or interpersonal skills.
So what are soft skills and how are they defined? They are defined as a set of transferable and trainable individual characteristics, that can help an employee reach high performance. They are often associated with characteristics enabling an individual to interact effectively and include skills, such as adaptability, flexibility, resilience, decision-making, teamwork, work ethic, etc.
These characteristics can help an employee perform above and beyond the performance level achieved with the use of technical or knowledge capabilities desired in a position. Whereas technical or hard skills are almost exclusively taught via traditional training, e.g. in university teaching or traditional corporate education, soft skills are often acquired via non traditional training (e.g. experiential training).
Moreover, the constantly changing working environment requires employees with skills that cannot be easily developed during formal and traditional university education. However, their importance is substantial and their significance will increase even more in the near future. Also, the fact that they are malleable and prone to training and development make soft skills even more desirable to employees.
Companies have the opportunity to evaluate and train their employees on those skills in order to increase their performance levels.
Numerous studies have identified and explored the most sought out soft skills, especially among young graduates. Different studies report different lists but there seems to be a general consensus for skills that help newly recruited employees to adjust better and faster to a new working environment. For example, adaptability and flexibility seem to be two very important characteristics.
We define Adaptability as the ability to deal with change successfully and adjust to different or new environments and flexibility as the ability to modify behaviors in response to changing circumstances and adapting to situation-specific demands. Constant and often rapid changes in work organizations and the society in general require from individuals to be able to adapt successfully or even embrace change as part of their every-day life. Adaptability is useful in dealing with uncertainty, ambiguity and stress and is often associated with career progress and career success.
Flexibility is related to adaptability and how people perceive and react when things change. Do they “stick” to the initial plan without demonstrating any kind of plasticity, or they can change their course of action, if needed to do so? Flexibility is also related to the willingness and drive of an individual to demonstrate this type of behavior.
Apart from adaptability and flexibility, the complexity of today’s working environment require from employees to demonstrate hardiness and the ability to bounce back from difficulties. Therefore, an important characteristic among young graduates is Resilience.
Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from setbacks and failures, adapt well to changes and keep going in the face of adversity.
It is an important aspect for personal and professional effectiveness, and has become a necessary characteristic in almost every aspect of life. The growing uncertainties associated with the changing nature of work and the workforce across employment contexts make resilience a necessity for success in individuals and organizations. Resilience is often associated with emotional stamina and describes people who display courage and adaptability in the wake of life’s misfortunes, assisting them to deal with or bounce back successfully from failures, difficulties and personal or professional disappointments.
Finally, companies today when they recruit a young graduate, they do not simply expect a “yes-man(woman)”, or a person who simply obeys and follows orders. They are looking for individuals who are able to take a decision, to choose successfully between alternatives and apply their decision. Decision-making thus is another important characteristics. It describes the process of selecting the best logical choice among several alternative possibilities.
It refers to the individual’s ability to make a decision and/or even demonstrate the initiative to do so, entailing both the process and the skill to make a decision.
Knowledge economy requires that every employee, both senior and junior have to make many decisions throughout their working day, therefore it is a fundamental requirement of almost every position.
Concluding, we consider the soft skills presented above as very important both for employers and employees in today’s changing work environment. These are core competencies for every new recruit. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to be able to assess them using valid, reliable and objective assessment tools, which also offer a more fun and innovative experience to participants, especially of the younger generations.
 Kim, Y., & Ployhart, R. (in press). The strategic value of selection practices: antecedents and consequences of firm-level selection practice usage. Academy of Management Journal. doi:10.5465/amj.2015.0811