As some of you may know by following my articles, once or twice a year, I call around to see how my friends are doing. A bunch of them are still in the ad business, but a few have drifted into different fields since such as pharma, manufacturing, healthcare, entertainment, and technology, among many other fields. It’s always interesting to call folks that I went to school with or met along the way in my career to see how far everyone has come and how far folks have drifted in new and exciting ways.
One of my closest friends growing up recently had a major promotion at work. She was excited to tell me all about it, and I sure was proud of her. But, one of her major complaints was frustration at colleges in the area. They were not graduating folks she could hire right out of school. She said that the amount of on-the-job-training she had to do was quite high. And she spent a bunch of time on basic skills that amounted to something she ultimately felt that the schools should teach, not her or her company. She felt that these folks coming out of schools were merely learning on the job.
It was hard not to empathize with her. I have experienced similar things in my own field. And it got me thinking a bit about what the function of colleges is today and whether colleges are the place where education occurs or on-the-job-training should take place. Traditionally, colleges were institutions of higher learning for higher learning’s sake. And vocational schools or trade schools were where people would go to learn a skill or trade. Yet, trade schools are disappearing all over the country. That is an article for some other time, but the gap in the type of education that a college provides versus the type of education that a trade school provides is great. It’s a whole different ballgame. Plus, it puts some burden on colleges to teach actual job skills, which is challenging to their founding charter.
Still, the sentiment among my humble sampling of friends was the same. No matter what business. No matter what role. I kept hearing the same things over and over again:
Colleges are not graduating the right candidates. And we won’t or can’t do any on-the-job-training. We are a business, not a school. And it really boils down to turn-key hiring. We want to hire people who are ready to go on day one.
This got me thinking about how I hire and what I look for in a candidate. I have gotten hiring all wrong in the past as some of my readers know. But what has always helped was a focus on “soft skills.” This means looking for people based on what makes them extraordinary, not what is listed on their resume. For instance, I tend to hire a lot of military folks, men and women who have served our country honorably. Most have exactly zero experience in my field, but I have found that there is a thread of humanity that runs through most individuals who agree to hold the value of their nation above the value of their own lives. It turns out that this commitment is easily translatable to roles at a civilian company. This tends to result in someone who is teachable and chock-full of soft skills.
But, it’s not just the military that provides extraordinary candidates. It’s also other fields that are unrelated to the field you are hiring for. I have found that retail sales associates tend to make great account managers. Nannies tend to make great project managers. And engineers tend to make terrific accountants. And so on. And I found that, in 100% of cases, I prefer to hire soft skills over specific industry knowledge.
Because industry knowledge can be taught, no matter what industry you work in. And I think it’s our due diligence to teach it. Am I talking soup-to-nuts teaching here? No. But, I am talking about some training and some on-the-job teaching to improve the chance of staff doing well. While it might be true that colleges are not graduating turn-key employees for your company, it is still our responsibility to make sure that whoever we hire has a fair chance at doing well. And it is imperative that we focus on activities that will help this person succeed in any given venture.
Because what it really comes down to, at least for me, is that these so-called “soft skills” are not really soft at all. They are skills like empathy, a desire to learn, a hunger for information, a yearning to do well, critical thinking … there is nothing soft about that. And they are skills that, once joined with specific industry teaching, I find to be the most important.
Nir Bashan is an executive creative director/managing director with over 19 years of advertising, entertainment and business development experience. He helps teach folks in non-creative fields how to think creatively to solve problems. He leads workshops and lectures on topics relating to The Creator Mindset. McGraw/Hill is publishing a book on The Creator Mindset that will be released in 2020. http://www.nirbashan.com.