When you’re working for a high-tech company, there’s a lot of discussion around the “right” skill sets for developing software aimed at improving the world around us. Basic skill sets for coding, UI/UX capabilities, design, etc., become crucial. However, I would argue that those skills, while important, don’t necessarily translate into the success of an individual as part of an organization or team.
This is where soft skills come into play, and within a high-functioning, high-tech environment like our startup, soft skills at times can be even more important than technical skills for our employees to have. Here’s why: we look at hiring in our more technical positions not as “checking a box” but as adding a valued team member to a group that must be able to be a team player, meet the expectations set and roll with the changing nature of a startup.
So what are some of these “other” skills? Here, I outline five soft skills that new hires should possess:
When you’re aiming to join a company that’s a startup, this is an essential skill. For many of us within the startup environment, our roles have changed and evolved as the product or needs of the organization have evolved, so it’s crucial to come into this kind of workplace with an adventurous mindset. How do we find out whether a candidate is flexible? We ask a lot of questions about what they did and didn’t like about their previous role, how they handle shifts in priorities and engage in more personality assessments to ascertain whether they’re a good fit.
2Receptivity to Feedback
Our team here tends to be very kind and supportive, and as a result, we tend to interpret disagreements as negative when really, it’s quite the opposite. Naturally, teams will disagree and debate on how to move forward, so it’s crucial for members of the organization to be able to not only take the feedback receptively, but also give the same kind of feedback to others. This is where our best ideas come from and this soft skill is important in achieving more in a team environment.
3Effective Communication Skills
When I was hiring customer service representatives, I was a firm believer that I could train someone on the more technical aspects of a role, but being an effective communicator wasn’t something that was easily imparted. Similar to the above, the necessity of being able to give feedback and communicate what you mean effectively while navigating multiple personalities and work styles is an essential function in operating within a teamwork-centric environment.
There’s something to be said for an employee who is able to determine the environment in which they thrive, whether it’s aligning in mission/values or a role. Being in the startup world, we realize this world is not for everyone. The reality is that you’ll be frustrated at times, and for those that need more structure, it might not be the best cultural fit. When you’re looking at candidates, asking the question, “What frustrated you about your past roles?” can give a better indication of whether someone is a good fit for a startup like ours. If you complain that there wasn’t a clearly defined role, you might not be exactly suited to our company. But if you felt like you weren’t given enough room to be creative and evolve, this might be the place for you.
5Ability to Take Ownership
Being a part of a small, agile and forward-thinking team can be really fun and exciting, but there’s a level of ownership that is required when you’re aligned with this type of organization. For younger employees, we find that there’s a hesitation in really taking ownership of a project and being able to follow through with it whether it succeeds or fails. When things don’t work, that’s a true testament to a person’s work ethic. We want people who are able to say, “OK, this didn’t work, but here’s how we’re going to fix it moving forward.” It’s important to hire people who don’t need things to be perfect all the time, but who look for ways to improve and overcome failures — because they do happen.
As a hiring manager, it’s easy in this environment to tick the boxes necessary to do the job, but when it comes to being an active participant of a team and a contributing member of the organization, certain soft skills really stand out. As a hiring manager — or as a candidate — it’s important to look beyond what’s on paper, establishing how someone fits as part of the overall culture of the company. That’s where the magic happens.