Do Your Skills Match What the Hiring Manager Wants?

Two Way StreetWe spend a lot of time talking about job skills here on Dice — the need to have them, ways to get more of them and a fair number of arguments about how many you need. The focus of these skills are what I would call “hard” job skills — certifications, programming skills, methodology skills, and all those things to show you know how to do the work.

But what if all of that, when it comes to the hiring manager, was simply not important?

We get frustrated when we see things like this in the news:

In fact, many organizations are hiring in droves. Much as job seekers would like to think the problem is the market, and they’re perfectly qualified, that simply isn’t the case. Candidates are failing at their job search because they don’t have the skills that employers want, plain and simple.

I can see the comments already!

The above quote, is based on some fact. Using a survey of over 500 managers and 700 job seekers, the gap between the available skills (of job seekers) and what the managers were looking for were quite different.

Here is the money part of the survey:

At the entry-level, the skills and traits with the highest indicator scores were a strong work ethic and the ability to get along well with others. For mid-level candidates, problem-solving and communication scored highest.  At the managerial level, business acumen and global outlook did.  Across all three levels, strategic perspective received the highest score.

You see why there is a big gap between what we think of as job skills and what employers want? What hiring managers are looking for has little to do with “hard” skills — programming languages learned, certifications achieved or even business results. Instead, it’s about problem solving, working with a team, and understanding how the pieces fit together in the bigger picture of the work.

Now, I’ve always argued that your resume is what gets you the initial screening interview, so what you need to prove in those early stages is that you have the skills to do the work. If you prove that, you can move on to the interview.

Once you make it to the hiring manager, though, the interview becomes more about your motivation and how well you will fit in with the boss and the team. The assumption is that, yes, you do have the hard skills to do the work. But do you get how your work fits into the bigger picture? Can you work with the other employees?

Most of us either go into the interview or leave thinking it’s about our cool technical talent. When that’s not what the hiring manager is looking at — we get a skills gap.

If this were job advice, I’d take this survey at face value and say we need to focus our hiring managers on our problem-solving capability and understanding of the bigger picture. I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’d like to ask you about your job interviews with hiring managers (not phone or screening interviews, but hiring managers): What are the questions you’re asked?

Are they questions that ask about your problem solving, communications with others, and big picture fit? Or are they questions about how you think code is poetry? Tell me by posting a comment below.

Comments

  1. BY Alvin says:

    If all this is true; and I’m sure there is some truth to it; why do hiring companies give you a test that can only serve to show how well you’ve memorized the manual?

    What’s the point of passing such a test if they’re looking for someone with communication skills?

    Maybe I’m just a bitter, frustrated job-seeker, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply a buyer’s market, and that’s all there is to it. So companies can demand people who are not only Self Starting Non-Supervised Team Players with Work Ethics and Communication Skills AND happen to have all pertinent manuals memorized. And if you come up short in any of those categories, they can afford to keep looking.

    So what they’re going to end up with will be semi-autistic automatons able to spit back all their cliches, and then they’re going to wonder why nothing gets accomplished.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Alvin — yes, it is a buyer’s market with 4-5 qualified applicants for every job.

      Companies want the certifications because at least you had to memorize the manual — and from that, they hope that you also can do the work.

      I think the important point, though, is this: the hard job skills, however attained, are simply the base to get into the door. When you get to the hiring manager, yes, you also need to have the communications, team, and strategy skills to the level that you can fit in with the manager and team.

      I’m not sure about the automatons, though. Automatons generally don’t communicate well and don’t get how business works.

      But I share your frustration. Go get ‘em!

  2. BY Dustin Estes says:

    Hey Scot,

    I came across this post and I think you explained this brilliantly. I have been on a number of interviews in my career. And every single one of them went exactly as you put it above. You don’t make it to an interview unless the company thinks you have the skills. There is no ‘new information’ to be presented in an interview that you didn’t put on your resume regarding skills. As a matter of fact, I am in the interview process with a company right now that follows the same process. I had an email sent to me to see if I was still on the market and to see if I would call back and show some initiative. The phone call was brief, mainly to find out if I was still looking, an overview of the company and the position and if it sounded like something I would be interested in. I was then given the opportunity to come in and meet the recruiter and the position’s manager. This meeting consisted mainly of questions about myself, projects, achievements and experience not getting technical at all. Also a lot of questions to evoke stories about myself to get an idea of who I am. It wasn’t until I passed this interview that I was given a third to go to a semi-informal lunch with the team I would be working with and perform the “tech interview” part.

    I understand Alvin’s frustration but look at it this way. Employers realize that although people don’t stick with companies as long as they used to, they will still have their new hire for a long time. I say this next part with all due respect to people who work their tails off to master a product as I have done the same. Skills aren’t everything to everyone. To lots of employers it is easier to fill a gap in tech knowledge than it is to fill a gap in people skills. It’s tough to recover from a bad hire, and it could damage the teams bond. Especially if that well qualified individual comes with baggage and a portfolio.

    After I get hired at a company, and I’ve developed a rapport with my manager, I like to ask them how they decided to pick me over other, better qualified, candidates. (If you think there aren’t better qualified candidates then you need to sit down and think about it, that could be your first problem there). The answer 99 times out of 100 is “I think you would be a better fit for the team”. Unless you are a road warrior going it alone on contract jobs I think this is something that the job seeking community will have to get used to.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most job sites start posting less and less “how to write a resume” posts and start putting up “how to prepare yourself mentally and socially for the interview”. A lot of the praises I hear from successful interviews are things like “I liked that you said you don’t know everything about . We like someone who is humble and willing to admit shortcomings or areas of potential improvement” or saying things like “The team and I worked together on this project planning and implementation”. This gives them some comfort in knowing that you aren’t a glory hogging egomaniac or trying to stand on your mountain and proclaim that you were the only one at your last company competent enough to perform such amazing tasks. Don’t lie about working with a team if you haven’t, just try not to come off as a lone wolf unwilling to let outside help penetrate your fortress of knowledge.

    I apologize if that became long winded or sounded rude but, as Scot mentioned, it is a very important part of the interview nowadays and you have to get it right. I really appreciate him for shining a light on it.

    Dustin

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