The race to snag a job will be on for countless college students graduating this spring. Yet they may not be as prepared as they thought to impress business leaders. The problem, it would seem, is a disconnect between what’s being taught in the classroom versus what matters most in the boardroom. A High Point University poll highlights the difference between what executives want out of new-hire candidates versus what they’re getting.
In the poll, nearly two-thirds of C-suite leaders from midsize to enterprise-level companies said they valued applicants with life skills over those with technical skills. Unfortunately, most agreed that it was much harder to find talented young people who had been taught to hone a skill set like emotional intelligence than one who was technically savvy.
These are critical findings if you’re planning on plucking performers fresh from campuses around the nation. Unless you’re armed with the right questions, you may have trouble distinguishing between a candidate with superior life skills versus one who will struggle to adapt or work with your team.
Not sure how to upgrade your interview discussion points for the incoming rush of newly minted graduates? My interview with High Point University’s President Dr. Nido Qubein should help. Dr Qubein serves on several corporate boards for Fortune 500 companies and currently serves on an executive committee where he participates in industry recruitment and job-creation discussions. His experience on both the education and business sides gives him a unique perspective on how business leaders can make sure they make the right hiring decisions.
Serenity Gibbons: What makes you certain that businesses would rather pull from a talent pool of people who have learned life skills and not just technical ones?
Dr. Nido Qubein: We’ve surveyed the C-Suite to get insights on what they desire in new hires. Their answer is loud and clear: We want graduates who are armed with life skills, such as the ability to solve complex problems, adapt in a rapidly changing world, and communicate well with others. And employers have shared that colleges can do a better job in this critical area.
Colleges do a good job in equipping students with technical skills. Where colleges can improve is in the life skills development of students.
Gibbons: How do you define “life skills?”
Qubein: Life skills are capabilities that outlast technical skills. Some might refer to them as “soft skills.” Life Skills include the development of a growth mindset, an entrepreneurial spirit that drives motivation, determination, personal initiative, and coachability.
Gibbons: Are you suggesting that technical skills are less important than their “softer” counterparts?
Qubein: Technical skills are important. But those skills are becoming obsolete at an ever-increasing pace.
Most companies have adequate training programs to help their new hires with technical proficiencies. But life skills are much harder to develop, so when given a choice, companies prefer to hire the person who has grit and courage and is excited by the challenge of solving complex problems.
Gibbons: Tell me more about what you see as the talent needs for organizations that want to thrive and succeed in the coming years.
Qubein: Organizations that thrive have developed an ecosystem of positive transformation. They need experienced leaders with a command of the holistic context of the business climate, challenges, and opportunities. They also need an infusion of emerging leaders prepared to add value, be willing to learn, and to be coached as leaders. Employees who are equipped with life skills will be valued and called upon to lead.
Gibbons: How can business leaders find out if a job applicant possesses life skills and the potential for leadership? What are some ways to coax out information during an initial exchange or even final interview?
Qubein: Get candidates to talk about failure. Armed with life skills, a candidate in an interview will display humble confidence by sharing a lesson learned and how their failure became a productive steppingstone in her professional development. It’s a warning sign if the interviewee can’t recall or communicate any sort of learning that they’ve gained from a project or experience that didn’t work out.
Gibbons: That makes sense. Do you have any other suggestions based on your years of experience in business as well as academia?
Qubein: Employers can also ask the candidate for examples of work they’ve completed but didn’t necessarily like. This is a way of getting a sense of the candidate’s personal motivation.
Good leaders equipped with life skills will adapt to scenarios they don’t like in order to find a way to complete the mission. In our rapidly changing world, being equipped to “Figure It Out” is an important characteristic of good leaders.
Gibbons: Any final thoughts on choosing young employees who could wind up taking the reins down the road?
Qubein: Companies need to look for candidates from a university where life skills are inherently embedded in the curriculum. The magic is in the mix of both new, young hires and experienced, tech-savvy employees.
Businesses need talent with a broad spectrum of experiences contributing to decision-making and execution. It’s an example of what I call intentional congruence.