The hard skills of staffing are pretty easy to teach and learn – from the very basics like typing, spreadsheets, and reports all the way to the right interview questions to ask, how to properly follow-up with clients, and our employee management software. That’s one reason why when I had to hire a staffer I never worried too much about whether they had specific staffing or HR experience. Any sort of schooling or office experience would generally plug right in.
The soft skills, however, are another matter entirely. While one certainly can pick up those skills in many other jobs and even regular life, it’s important to be sure your staffers have a firm handle on these before they are truly let loose upon your clients and applicants.
One of the most important, if not THE most important “soft skills” of staffing is the art of establishing rapport with both your clients and your job seekers. Rapport is the ability to establish a close, meaningful, harmonious connection with others. Far deeper than just being likable, although that never hurts, rapport goes deeper to establish genuine mutual respect and empathy, which leads to a very rewarding result in the business world – loyalty.
The staffers who truly master this are the best in the business and are worth their weight in gold.
A few years ago one of my new staffers (I’ll call her Molly) was having a string of bad luck with her placements. People would interview, accept a position, process for the position, then just not show up or, if they did work for a day or two, up and quit without calling. Sure, this happens to all of us on occasion, but it seemed to be happening to her a lot more than normal.
Reviewing her candidate selections didn’t reveal any strikingly poor choices, so we had to dig deeper. Listening to Molly’s interactions with her applicants told the story – her words to them were dry, impersonal, and all business. She was polite and professional to them, but she also kept them at arm’s length. It was like she took an entirely different tone with her candidates than she did around the rest of us.
While being professional and not crossing any inappropriate lines is certainly important, there is a balance. Molly’s problem was that those candidates she was keeping at arm’s length didn’t, in turn, feel any sense of loyalty or duty to her. Even if they knew she was putting her reputation on the line by taking a chance on them at her very important client, they didn’t care because they didn’t care about Molly. She was just a means to an end, and when they decided they didn’t want to work at XYZ Company anymore because they won the lottery or found another job elsewhere, they didn’t feel bad, and they certainly didn’t bother to call and tell Molly.
She was failing to establish rapport, and it was costing her, and us.
Molly and I talked about letting her candidates “in,” just a little, getting on their level and showing them that she was a human being too, one who wanted to help the person sitting in front of her and do her job well at the same time. We talked about active listening, empathy, compassion, and the importance of creating a “we’re in this together” vibe with the people she sends to work. We talked about talking to them with the same voice inflections she would use to talk to her friends and co-workers.
Over time Molly’s placement success rate trended upward because, at the end of the day, people we invest in, establish rapport with, and who genuinely like us aren’t typically the same people who shrug off a job we’ve gone out on a limb to offer them or a promise to call us if something goes wrong.
I’m convinced that every staffing agency wants to do their absolute best for their clients. They want to send them perfect candidates who will perfectly perform any job their clients need, when they need them, and in as much volume as desired, preferably to infinity (the more the merrier, right?).
Problem is, even the best agencies fail in this goal. Why? Not only are our staffers and managers imperfect people themselves, but they are sending imperfect people to work. We make wrong calls, forget to send reports, don’t always follow up, miss a qualification that the candidate should have had (What, you sent someone with ZERO forklift experience to drive our forklift?)… in short, we screw up! Sure, the best agencies screw up less than the bad ones do, but they screw up nonetheless.
However, if you’ve managed to establish rapport with your clients by getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you, they will usually understand that a temporary hiccup is just that, a bump on the road of a long-lasting, mutually-prosperous relationship.
It all starts on the front lines, with your staffers. If they are able to establish genuine relationships with their clients based on mutual-respect, those clients may be a little bit less likely to start picking up a few of those four dozen business cards the competitor agency reps left in the lobby last week. Of course, nothing replaces simply doing a fantastic job all the time but, like I said, nobody is perfect!
The ability to establish rapport is one of the most important soft skills a staffer can have. That’s why it’s more important to hire for personality than for skills or even experience.