Next time you are sitting around the table with your management team discussing the attributes you are seeking in your next new hire, try this experiment:

Ask your team, “What are the top five skills we need in a person to be successful in this position?” Go around the room and let everyone give you at least one and up to five skills. I’m willing to bet that the majority of the skills listed will be soft skills rather than hard skills.

Hard skills are those skills you learn in school or training courses. Welding, Microsoft Word, engineering, bookkeeping and marketing are all examples of hard skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are generally people skills and behaviors more closely linked with how people work together, how they process information and what drives them to go to work every day.

Hard skills are learned in a classroom; soft skills are learned in life through experiences. Note that soft skills are learned through experiences, not experience, meaning that a person can learn about teamwork while playing sports rather than just working in their job.

In our service-oriented society today the typical top five soft skills employees need are:

• Communication — This one skill is so important it could be a study all in itself. Communication with customers, co-workers, managers, subordinates and suppliers is so key to the success of a business that failures in communication are often at the root of most business problems. Half of the communication issues revolve around listening. A customer tells an employee about a problem, but if listening isn’t involved, the problem isn’t fixed and usually grows. Even just acknowledging you received a message from someone, even though you are not able to provide an answer immediately, just lets the other person know you are listening.

• Teamwork — Throughout most of our formal education we are graded on our own individual performance. But once we get into the workforce, we must work with others and generally our individual success depends on the success of the organization and team. The ability to support others and combine or complement each other’s talents is essential to success.

• Problem solving — The ability to customize a solution for a client is what makes a company stand out in the marketplace. Think about all the iPhones Apple has sold in the last month and how each one looks just like the other, until the owner begins to customize it with various accessories, apps, ringtones and more. Every consumer wants to be unique, just as every customer has unique issues. Individuals who can analyze a problem and come up with a solution can help an organization shine.

• Ability and willingness to learn — How long does it take for technology to change? While some foundational learning is important, the specifics to an industry change constantly. It isn’t just technology either. How many business owners are trying to figure out how the Affordable Care Act affects their business and their employees? Suppliers change parts and products to keep up with changes in society. Trends change as well as customer wants and needs. Change is the only constant in life and people who don’t have the willingness to learn will hold your company back.

• Responsibility — Everything from showing up on time to doing what they say they will do, to being able to step up and make certain a project gets completed for a customer. Similar to working in teams, individuals who show responsibility are those who will help lead an organization and take on tasks that are not necessarily assigned to them, but also need to get done, above and beyond their own work load.

These skills are evident in every person’s past. Some have more examples than others, and that’s just the point. Those who have more experiences should be able to tell you about when they have had to exercise these traits. So when speaking with potential hires, prepare questions that relate to these traits as they fit your organization. If you can identify these traits before you hire the person, you will build a team of superstars.

Mike Calvin is an employment consultant with 1st Fruits Consulting and helps organizations with their hiring needs including full life-cycle recruiting, candidate sourcing, selection process, interviewing and assessments, and win-win negotiating. Based in North Pole, Mike can be contacted by email at info@1st-fruits.com.