How to Assess Soft Skills in the C-Suite
In life sciences, the value of soft skills goes far beyond simply being able to get your point across. Knowing how to assess soft skills in the recruitment phase is essential to a successful process.
In the c-suite, the ability to listen, empathize, and communicate with individuals from any department is key to any leader’s success as it encourages the kind of loyalty, respect, and transparency that are the hallmarks of any high-functioning team.
But, even if your candidate is speaking the words, how do you really know that they can walk the walk? Knowing how to assess soft skills during the recruitment phase is crucial, but you can’t absolutely rely on their CV for confirmation. First, you will need to do a bit of discovery. Then, you will have to put some of their claims to the test to find out where they really stand.
Four executive soft skills and how to assess them
Some soft skills are easy to ascertain, and some are more elusive. Let’s look at a few of the top soft skills we seek in today’s life sciences leaders and how we assess them:
Soft skill #1: Communication
Communication is a multi-faceted skill as it involves give-and-take on two different levels: verbal and written. A candidate’s cover letter should be a good initial indication of how well they communicate on paper. If it is error-free, clearly written, and there are no spelling or grammar mistakes, this is at least a good initial assessment.
Verbal communication can be assessed through direct conversations as you find out more about who they are and how they see themselves. Well-spoken statements that make their point concisely are positive, especially if your questions are framed to elicit an out-of-the-box response.
Do they listen to your question first, or do they interrupt before you’ve finished? Did they take the time to understand the question completely? And finally, did they actually answer the question you asked?
The ability to present ideas to large groups of people is often very much a part of an executive position. For these candidates, you might ask them to give you an ad hoc presentation on a topic of their choosing during one of your meetings. This will tell you several things: how they respond to the unexpected, how well they can communicate their thoughts, and how quickly they can adapt their demeanor to meet the challenge.
Soft skill #2: Collaboration
Collaboration and teamwork are essential in life sciences. No matter what department your candidate is being considered for, teamwork is the foundation of success from the c-suite to the OR.
Ask the candidate to describe a collaborative situation and its results. Ask them to talk through a scenario in which better collaboration would have improved the result. Were they able to turn things around? And if so, how did they accomplish it? Ask for specifics, and find out how they personally felt about the situation and what could have been done differently to achieve an improved outcome.
Soft skill #3: Integrity
Integrity, honesty, transparency — these are all highly desirable leadership traits, and especially important when dealing with investors, shareholders, or the public. In recent years, we have seen many cases of executives losing their way, giving in to a sense of entitlement or engaging in unethical practices that serve few but themselves.
To lead from a place of integrity requires ongoing self-evaluation and, often, the courage to seek counsel from outside of their own organization to be sure they fully grasp all the implications. This is especially important in times of economic challenge when information that comes from the CFO might only be a part of the puzzle.
Integrity is difficult to assess simply by asking questions. It may be more valuable to have a clear picture of the candidate’s background and to ask them about specific scenarios to understand how well they perform under pressure. What they do and what they say when their back is against the wall says a great deal about their character. As a leader’s ability to influence others is what will ultimately take them to the top, those who they lead must have absolute confidence in them. Integrity is essential in order to realize this goal.
Soft skill #4: the capacity to learn
Many highly skilled individuals, executives and clinicians alike, may allow their status, power, influence, or money to dictate their behavior. Once they have arrived in the c-suite, many don’t feel like there is anything left to learn.
Many incredibly smart people invest too much time and effort into simply being smart. Many would prefer to spend their time proving their validity to others instead of challenging themselves to grow and evolve. When a person sees themselves this way, they may believe that there is nothing left to learn despite what they say to the contrary. After all, it would seem pretty arrogant to come across this way, and most of them are at least smart enough to know this.
In assessing the capacity to learn, look beyond the words and make particular note of the activities the candidate is actively involved in for the purpose of furthering his or her learning goals.
While these are just a few of the soft skills that your candidates should be evaluated for, the key takeaway is that actions always speak louder than words. An executive recruiter can play a significant role in helping to assess these qualities in tomorrow’s leaders. Call or request a quote today.