Measuring and Testing for Soft Skills

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According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, ‘employers are increasingly looking for workers with strong soft skills…but many employers say it has gotten harder to find those applicants as the labor market tightens.’ This is just one of many articles and studies highlighting this issue.

The WSJ article was based on a study by LinkedIn’s team of economic researchers who analyzed 2.3 million LinkedIn profiles in order to determine the soft skills that were most sought after by employers. At the top of the list were communication, teamwork, social skills and interpersonal communication.

These findings are certainly consistent with other surveys, articles and studies.  Lists of the most sought after soft skills usually distill down to the 8 areas listed below.

Eight most sought after soft skills
  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Interpersonal and Social Style
  4. Decision Making
  5. Organization
  6. Self-Motivation
  7. Problem Solving
  8. Leadership

In many of the articles detailing the importance of soft skills and the difficulty of finding people who possess them it is clear that employers will readily hire applicants with strong soft skills but weak technical skills. In a study of 700 HR Managers and professionals, 93% felt that technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills.

Psychometric tests for recruitment

If you have problems finding people with the right soft skills, the solution is to use an online psychometric test for your recruitment. Why would an online psychometric test solve the problem? To understand why, it helps to start by examining the actual term ‘soft skills’. The use of the word ‘skills’ is highly misleading since it strongly implies that they can be taught. In fact, most of what are referred to as ‘soft skills’ are not skills at all but are actually personality traits or characteristics, which are of course inherent or natural to the person. Most of the ‘soft skills’ listed above are readily identifiable by introducing a short psychometric assessment into your recruitment process. Candidates would complete it online and you would receive a comprehensive report outlining strengths, weaknesses and how they compare to your requirements.

Tests do identify soft skills but interviews do not

Extensive research has shown that interviews are notoriously bad for evaluating the ‘soft skills’ of job candidates. There are several reasons for this but what it comes down to is that job candidates are able to fool you during interviews since they know what you want to see and hear. Since we are, as has been shown, actually trying to determine the natural or inherent traits and characteristics of the candidate rather than being fooled by the false image that they portray in the interview, the only practical and efficient way to do this is to have them complete an online test that measures soft skills. This is especially so, given how accurate (over 90%) and effective tests are at drilling down to the traits necessary for success.

Online psychometric tests today are very easy to use since administering a test is as simple as sending the candidate a link. The candidate’s test results describing their soft skills are available for viewing by you instantly. Considering the many benefits of using an online psychometric test for recruitment, their cost, typically $30-60, is a small price to pay when you consider the cost of a making a hiring mistake.

Conclusion

Today there is no practical reason to lament the lack of soft skills in job candidates. What is necessary is to understand that it is not skills that you need to identify but personality traits and characteristics. With this in mind you can focus your interviewing process around identifying the most critical traits accurately, efficiently and economically. Incorporating an online psychometric assessment test into your recruiting process will do this. If you have any comments or feedback please let us know. If you would like to learn more about our services, and perhaps to have a complimentary demonstration please visit us here.

Sales Testing Accuracy

 

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Unsolicited Testimonial about our Sales Test

Below is an unsolicited testimonial from a client who has used our sales assessment test for almost five years.  For anyone who is skeptical about the accuracy of our sales test this should provide comfort.

PS. I have to say that the Rating is not that important to me on our Ejecutivo de Ventas profile.  I go into the text.  For every candidate I read them their results to see their reaction, to learn who they are (I don’t review before the interview – I want to see if the person in front of me matches the results I am reading), and see if I like the mix.  Then after reading them their results I ask every person how accurate the results are on a scale of 0-100%.  I have not had any one person (after more than 300 interviews) say that the results are lower than 75%.  Many people say that the results are 90%, 95%, and 98% accurate.  This alone is a testimonial as to how well you guys have created the test.  Thank you.  (And feel free to use this when promoting STOL to other companies.)

Use our Sales Personality Tests to Benchmark your best Sales People

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One of the lesser-known uses of our sales personality tests is the ability to ascertain the common personality traits among your top sales people. By identifying their shared personality trait drives, benchmarks can be created. In turn these benchmarks (we actually call them Target Profiles) can be used to compare sales candidates against, when you are hiring.

The benefits of conducting this kind of analysis and using the results when hiring, are immense. Here are a few:

  1. Working with a clear understanding of the role

A very common reason for bad sales hires is not having a clear and articulate insight into the requirements of the sales role. Without this clarity one is operating similarly to a casting director who conducts auditions with no specific part in mind.

  1. All new hires will have high potential

You would be fooling yourself to think every candidate who matches your benchmarks is going to be a sales success. Sales personality tests will definitely tell you if the candidate can do the job but this does not guarantee that they will do the job. Nevertheless, hiring without using sales personality tests means certain candidates who lack this potential get hired merely because they looked good when interviewed. Hiring sales people whom you’ve determined possess at least the potential for success allows you to operate with the comfort that you are not wasting your scarce resources trying ‘to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’.

  1. A streamlined hiring process

By devoting your energies to the high potential candidates you will save valuable time and you can devote extra effort to vetting these high potential candidates even more carefully. You will interview fewer, but better candidates, and not waste time interviewing the marginal ones.

  1. New hires will get up to speed much faster

Hiring candidates who you know have the potential means you will have a clear understanding of how to work with them from day one. Areas such as strengths, weaknesses, how to train and motivate, will not require a learning curve since you will be managing sales personalities with which you are highly familiar and about whom you have a thorough understanding.

What are the steps?

  1. Identify your top performers

The first step is to identify the top performers to use as the benchmarks. In doing this it is important to only use those top sales people who are successful in the way you would like new people to do the job. Anomalies should be excluded. As an example, if you are trying to hire new people to be good sales hunters your current best hunters should be the ones you test. If though, you have veteran sales people on your staff that hit their numbers via re-orders/renewals, it is possible that they should be excluded since they are not ‘hunting’. Conversely, a less experienced sales person who is obviously doing the job in the way you desire but whose numbers may not yet reflect it, should probably be included.

  1. Rank and test

Once you have decided who to test you may immediately go ahead and do so simply by emailing each person the testing instructions. You will also need to provide us with a ranked list with their names. How many you decide to test can vary but as a general rule the larger the sampling the better, as the inevitable outliers and anomalies become more obvious and are less likely to cloud the picture. The top performing 20% is usually a reasonable number. We also suggest that you provide us with any information about the role such as a job description, our completed Job Profile Form, copies of ads, or even any comments you may wish to send us about what would be the ‘ideal’ person for the role. These additional items let us look beyond the statistics found in the test results and help us to better understand our findings.

  1. Analysis and discussion

Our real work begins once your top performers have taken the test.   We look at their results to determine the common trait drives of the group. Not only do we look at the entire group but typically we also analyze the ‘best of the best’ and other sub-groups to see if this demonstrates a strengthening of the trends. We also analyze and break out the traits of the ‘outliers’ since this also provides valuable information. None of this is done in isolation since we would already have looked at the job description, your comments/feedback and the completed Job Profile form. It is sometimes necessary to have a discussion with you about the test results in order to square them with your description of the role.

  1. Set the Target Profiles and adjust as required

Once we enter the settings and set your Target Profiles, all test takers will have a score (eg. 80-100% Excellent, 0-19% Very Poor) on their test results that rates them for closeness to your Target Profiles. It is sometimes necessary to adjust or tweak the Target Profiles at this point, which of course can be done quite readily. It is worth noting that adjustments to Target Profiles can be performed at any future point should the requirements of the role change.

Considerations

  1. Different sales personalities can be equally effective

An important point to bear in mind is that all sales roles have more than one Target Profile (benchmark) against which sales test takers are compared. This is to reflect the fact that, while an analysis of the top performers in any particular sales role will identify clear trends, this does not mean you should expect them to be identical. Take a simple example of a group who are all very assertive and all very independent. When we look beyond these traits we find that while many are extroverts a very large minority are introverts. The Target Profiles we set would need to allow for this, to reflect the fact that in terms of introversion vs. extroversion (in our example) test takers of either style are highly suitable for the role and therefore their Suitability Rating needs to reflect this. This is one very simplified example. For each role we set up to three Target Profiles in order allow for these differences while maintaining the clear trends.

  1. Playing the odds and outliers

Different styles aside, there will be sales people among your top performers who are ‘outliers’ in most aspects relative to the rest of the group. In my experience the fact that the ‘outlier sales person’ is a top sales performer can sometimes be hard for some clients to wrap their head around. Their typical response is to put forth the ‘if I had used your sales test when he applied I would not have hired him’ argument. My counter to this is that my perspective is a little different since I have profiled thousands of sales roles and that in my experience intentionally hiring more of the ‘outlier’ style will result in serious grief. Proving a negative can be almost impossible but I will usually use the approach that hiring against the Target Profiles is like playing the odds. Hiring sales people who fit the Target Profiles does not guarantee success, as some candidates will still fail. Conversely there will be some people who defy the odds and succeed. Nevertheless, if one were to hire 10 sales people who fit the benchmarks and 10 sales people who were opposite to the benchmarks the success/failure rates would become brutally obvious.

  1. Sample size

Some of our smaller clients express concerns about sample size. While a bigger sample is usually better a small sample is never a stumbling block. Since we have profiled so many roles over the years our knowledge of these other roles and how they compare to your role solves this issue. In this situation the Job Profile Form, job description and your feedback as to what you require in the role becomes very helpful and useful.

Conclusion

Using sales personality tests when hiring will enable you to be much more accurate about who to add to your sales team and will dramatically cut down on costly hiring mistakes. Using the sales test results of your top performers to create Target Profiles (benchmarks) takes the accuracy of your hiring to a whole other level.

If you are interested in learning more about bench-marking your top performers, or simply have comments or questions, please let me know.

Sales Personality-Why Sales Hunters can be “difficult”

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Many of our sales testing clients hire sales people to develop new business.   ‘Sales hunter’ is the typical term used to refer to these sales personalities. Often we engage in discussions with clients about the relative strengths and weaknesses of these and other sales personalities and what type would best fit the role(s) for which they are conducting the sales assessment.

These discussions almost always come around to the ‘two edged sword’ conversation. This is where I liken sales traits to the proverbial ‘two edged sword’ as a means of explaining that the ‘flip side’ of the sales personality that they intend to hire also possesses some rather undesirable aspects. I am not alluding to anything deep and mysterious but rather making them aware that the very personality traits that create the sales person’s potential strengths also create potential difficulties.

This could be said of any sales personality. This article however is focused on ‘sales hunters’ only because this is a type of sales person that many hiring managers are trying to recruit. I thought they would find this helpful. (For greater detail about the specific combination of personality traits that create sales hunters please see this article Hunters Defined.)

In summary, here are the trait drives of sales hunters:
  1. A very high level of Assertiveness. This means they are highly competitive, dominant, authoritative and take-charge types with a need to win, be in control and be recognized. They tend to think big and be risk-oriented.
  2. A very high level of Sociability. This means they are very extroverted, people oriented, outgoing and therefore require a lot of interaction with others as well as recognition and acceptance. They tend to be very persuasive in the way they communicate.
  3. A very low level of Patience. This means they are very impatient and are restless, pro-active and have a lot of nervous energy. They thrive on change/variety and dislike routine/repetition. They are deadline oriented and possess a sense of urgency.
  4. A very low level of Dependence. This means they are very independent, self-reliant, resist supervision, dislike rules and guidelines and tend to be quite weak with the details. They are risk and incentive oriented.

When one views these trait drives in combination one can easily understand why hunters are good at opening doors. They have the ego drive and confidence to absorb rejection and their high sociability and people orientation means they meet and relate to prospects quickly and naturally. A combination often likened to ‘an-iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove’. Their impatience means they have a built in sense of urgency that, along with their other traits, means they are true self-starters. Additionally, they are very independent so require little direction from management and being very risk oriented they are highly motivated by incentives.

It is also pretty easy to see that their rather large egos mean that even though they may not express it, deep inside they believe they can do your job better than you, therefore taking direction is not one of their strong suits. This issue is amplified by their distaste for procedures and guidelines which, from their perspective, they find very restricting and a hindrance to their need to operate autonomously. Their weakness with activities related to reporting/paperwork/details is tied into this view of being restricted as this is seen as a waste of time that keeps them away from the other activities they would prefer to be doing. Team environments are often a problem for them since the required effort to tone down their large egos can be inconsistent-and, truth be told, they only like team-work when they can lead the team. When making sales their belief that getting the sale overrides any need to follow the organization’s policies and systems, can create extra work for management. Their tremendous nervous energy (tapping fingers, shaking keys) seems to give off waves of impatience to those around them. This lack of ‘sit-ability’ can sometimes be quite disruptive.

Of course this is not a complete listing of the potential ‘difficult’ manifestations of their various trait drives. And to be fair, some of these ‘potential’ issues with sales hunters will not necessarily be seen in all sales hunters. It is worth noting here that our descriptions of trait drives and their resultant behaviors are not taking into account other aspects of the person such as experience, age, training, education and intelligence. These, and other factors, can often have a softening or mitigating influence.

Nonetheless, if you have managed enough sales hunters you have no doubt witnessed many of these behaviors and come to wonder if these sales hunters (sometimes referred to as ‘prima donnas’) are worth the hassle; they may make the sales but they can be very disruptive. Realistically of course, you do not really have much of a choice but to work with them since you need these sales personalities because they do open new doors.

So what can be done? The first thing to understand is how to work with them as productively as possible. A great thing about these sales personalities is that their thick skin (big ego) enables you to be extremely direct and blunt in the way you communicate with them, as they tend to find this quite motivating. If possible, let them work the role as if it were their own ‘business’. With broad and general direction, incentives, authority, responsibility, minimal details and reporting they will tend to thrive. Keep them very busy, since the faster the pace and the more they have on the go the more highly motivated they tend to be. When trying to get them to ‘tone down’ some of their ‘difficult’ aspects never forget that they are motivated by ‘what’s in it for me’, therefore always try to relate your ‘suggestions’ to something that will benefit them in a way that pushes their buttons, i.e. more money, more sales, more authority, more freedom. Any changed behaviors will come about from self-interest rather than any sort of fear of reprimand. I do hope this has been helpful and perhaps contains a couple of suggestions and insights that might be of assistance. As always, I look forward to your feedback, questions or comments.

Sales Personality and Sales Drive

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A lot has been written over the last few years about the subject of ‘sales drive’. The essence of these articles is that in order to be successful in sales one has to possess this very specific ‘characteristic’. Apparently, if you have this key quality of ‘sales drive’ you are more likely to become a sales ‘rock star’, to use the latest sales management jargon.

As anyone who has read any of my previous articles will attest, I wholeheartedly agree that one can ascribe the reason for sales success in certain sales roles to the presence of specific personality trait drives.

I fully realize that I am at risk of seeming like a nitpicker about this subject, but I find these statements about the presence of ‘sales drive’ as it relates to sales success to be very imprecise and vague.

Unfortunately, this imprecision and vagueness contributes to an erroneous and flawed impression of what accounts for sales success and therefore which sales people you should hire for your sales roles.

The first problem with the sales drive = rock star argument is that it is based on the assumption that all sales roles require hunters. Of course many sales roles do require hunters but many do not. The second problem with the sales drive = rock star argument is that the term ‘sales drive’ equates sales drive to a high level of assertiveness. The third problem with the sales drive = rock star argument is that the use of the term ‘sales drive’ strongly implies that there is one and only one type of ‘sales drive’ when in fact the many different kinds of sales personalities demonstrate very different and diverse ‘sales drives’.

This article is meant to firstly, add clarity and explanation about the subject of ‘sales drive’ (or more accurately stated ‘sales drives’). As well, this article is meant to explain that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to sales roles, wherein a specific ‘sales drive’ is appropriate for all is very simplistic and misguided.

All Salespeople have some form of Sales Drive

Just as all people by and large are motivated by a wide variety of factors, it logically follows that sales people are motivated by this same wide variety. It is these differences in the factors that motivate them that result in sales people having different sales ‘styles’. For example, it should be obvious to any sales manager that a sales ‘hunter’ is motivated by a very different set of factors than a sales ‘farmer’. Of course there are many more sales personality styles than these two frequently referenced types.  They are each motivated and driven by a different combination of trait drives and motivational needs. Each has a particular sales personality style that is the product of these trait drives and motivational needs.

One could say that the sales hunter has a ‘sales drive’ that is directed towards the need to win, need for control and need for independence. One could say of sales farmers that their ‘sales drive’ is directed towards altruism with a desire to help the customer, the team and the organization.   Each has a very strong ‘sales drive’ even though they are very different and therefore have very different strengths and weaknesses. And of course, each is suited to a different type of sales role. If you buy the sales drive = sales rock star argument you would naturally be very reluctant to hire the sales farmer. This could be a big mistake since, depending on the role you are hiring for, the sales farmer is exactly the sales personality you should be hiring.

For a more detailed understanding of sales hunters and sales farmers please see these two articles:

Hunters Defined

Sales Personality: Hunters vs Farmers

Match Sales Drive to the Roles Requirements

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ sales drive? As mentioned previously, the concept of sales drive = sales rock star is flawed because it is based on the assumption of the presence of high assertiveness being desirable. One might as well view it as high assertiveness = sales rock star. There is some truth in this when one is talking about hunters and closers, although even in this scenario there are many caveats one should be aware of related to whether certain other trait drives are or are not also present. When it comes to other sales roles such as the above example of a sales farmer, a high level of assertiveness is usually unnecessary. In many instances it might even be detrimental, especially when one considers that high assertiveness is often accompanied by a strong distaste for procedures and details, something that often has great importance in these roles.

I suggest that a ‘good’ sales drive is one that is appropriate to the role and is a match for what the position requires.   While I have leaned heavily on the terms ‘hunter’ and ‘farmer’ for explanation purposes I do want to reiterate that there are many different sales personality styles. Each has their respective strengths and weaknesses. As well, each sales role has it’s own individual requirements.

In my opinion the ‘sales drive’ of sales ‘rock stars’ comes in many different forms since what constitutes a ‘rock star’ in one sales role can be entirely different from another sales role. The most common denominator though is that they are well matched to the requirements of that specific sales position.

I do hope the above has been helpful. I invite your thoughts and comments.