I developed an Associate Consultant program where our company would recruit, hire, and train new consultants without much experience – and one of the key indicators of their success in the program had to do with personality and soft skills, not just industry knowledge experience. This was a startling discovery, as we assumed that extensive experience, credentials, etc. would be better indicators of success – and they absolutely were not. Learn what we looked for and coached on to ensure our team members were successful!
While working for a mid-sized healthcare information technology firm who was looking to rapidly grow – bringing on 70 new team members in just 7 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, whom I wanted to join our team: mid-level, senior level, and executive level. We found that we wanted 90% mid- to senior level consultants and 10% executive level consultants; however, realistically, we could only find around 20% 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 that 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 train, develop, mentor, and guide to become a mid-level consultant within one year. This was a lofty goal, but I knew that with support and strong communication that we could make it successful!
During our pilot program, we initially hired those with extensive operational or clinical experience (e.g., a nurse, and IT programmer, a registrar/scheduler) within a healthcare organization. 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 far 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 were 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 a strong personality, confidence, motivation, drive, the ability to speak well in front of others, etc. 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(s) and further developing their soft skills. After hiring approximately 45 associate consultants over the next 6 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 their instincts even though they may not yet feel like the “expert,” and more.
Though not every person in the program succeeded, our success rate went from 0% to approximately 95%. We were quite astonished, happy, and relieved. This program taught me just how important these softer 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, you need to bring your great personality, motivation to learn, and confidence with you. Allow yourself to ask questions, learn from others, and research as much as possible; and combined with your soft skills, you will 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 that has extensive knowledge and experience, but have little personality, aren’t engaging, and are 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 their confidence, expand their comfort zone, increase their 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 – is what will propel your career.
Best of Luck,