Recently, I moderated a panel discussion. Panelists were 3 leaders with decades of experience in Manufacturing, Automotive and Healthcare. Majority of the audience consisted of professionals responsible for bringing complex projects to fruition successfully.
One of the questions I asked was, “During the hiring process, what do you look for in a candidate? How do you identify the ones likely to deliver projects successfully and become top performers for your organization?” All 3 of the panelists had similar answers. All of them mentioned looking for proven ability in building professional relationships, networking and building connections, in order to identify highly productive new hires. In other words - people skills.
I have posed the same question to 10’s of leaders and managers over the past 3 years and have yet to hear anyone mention a specific Engineering or Project Management tool or software, any certification, or technical skills etc. as the key requirement. People skills come up at the top, again & again.
As an engineering and project management leader responsible for talent acquisition for my employers in the past; for our own firm today; as well as for our clients, I totally agree with the panelists. This is perhaps not really a secret. Yet, I see a disconnect between what hiring managers seek and the actual competency many professionals’ have in these skills. The need for people skills may not be a secret for the hiring managers. Yet, there are 3 “secrets” as to why this disconnect may exist for some professionals looking to change jobs or those that have recently changed jobs:
- Lack of awareness of the need for people skills. They simply don’t understand that their success in finding a new job or succeeding in the new job depends on the ability to network, build relations & people skills.
- Awareness of need may exist but there is a feeling that these skills cannot be learned or that their inherent personality does not fit with these skills.
- The need and want exists, but they are unable to find the right offering to develop these skills.
It’s true that these skills are very hard to develop. However, they are NOT impossible to develop. Its, true that there is perhaps no “offering” that can teach these skills in 1 or 2 days or even in a week. This learning is a lifelong journey. Hence, the key is to look for offerings that:
- Are provided by professionals who are practitioners in relevant functional areas (PM, Engineering, etc) from the industry with proven track record in people skills
- Provide triggers, pointers, tips and techniques to be used in the real world.
- Are not transactional. Learning does not end after the “training”. Instead, learning & implementation of skills continues with guidance and customized action plans to be pursued even after the “training”.