While working for a mid-sized healthcare information technology firm that was looking to rapidly grow, I developed a strategy to hire at a fast pace without compromising the quality of team members.

I created a three-tiered strategy of mid-, senior, and executive-level consultants that we should aspire to have on our team. The goal was for 90% of our consultant base to be at the mid-to-senior levels, with 10% as executives. However, in reality, we could only find 20% of our total needed including all tiers put together.

After I realized this issue, I knew that I needed to fill the gap by finding a way to bring on 45 skilled, consultants who didn’t exist.

Brainstorming with my director, we decided it would be beneficial to develop a junior-level consulting program. This would include hiring trainable resources, which we could then use to guide and mentor junior consultants until they reached the mid-level designation within one year. While this was an ambitious goal, I believed that as long as there was open communication and support throughout the process, we could make it work successfully.

Our pilot program initially hired individuals with experienced backgrounds in operational or clinical fields within a healthcare organization (e.g., nurses, IT programmers, registrars/schedulers). We assumed that having insiders on our team would mean they could easily learn the vendor system and relate to our end users. But we couldn’t have been more wrong—every person failed miserably.

The experience highlighted the importance of soft skills in the workplace. While these individuals possessed the necessary technical knowledge, their lack of soft skills such as effective communication, adaptability, and teamwork resulted in their failure to perform adequately. Recognizing the importance of soft skills became pivotal in reevaluating our recruitment and training strategies.

We couldn’t understand how this happened despite putting the candidates through an intense screening process that included face-to-face interviews and guidance throughout. The results of the pilot program were so poor that it seemed like the entire idea might be abandoned.

Suddenly, I had a realization. Although I was hired into the healthcare information technology industry, none of the reasons had to do with experience in that field. Instead, I was hired for my personality and soft skills. My intelligence also played a role in my hiring–I had to take exams and rank highly in my business school graduating class. Now it all made sense–most likely, anyone can learn something new, but those who will excel must also have strong personalities, confidence, motivation, and the ability to speak confidently in front of an audience. Based on my past experiences, I’ve learned to trust my intuition, or what some might call an “inspired idea.” And that’s exactly what happened when I thought of changing our hiring strategy to focus more on soft skills rather than experience.

I requested to restart the project with more careful consideration this time around. For example, I paid closer attention to people’s personalities and interpersonal skills. We based the program on them learning a software application as well as honing their abilities in other areas. I hired 45 associate consultants over the next six months and set up weekly exercises where we practiced mock interviews, writing assessments, presenting information to different audiences, manipulating message tone, handling difficult situations or conversations, learning how to push back on an idea without seeming disrespectful, trusting our instincts even when we didn’t feel like experts yet, and more.

Out of the people who participated in our program, 95% found success- a massive improvement from before. We were overjoyed with the outcome and grateful that we could walk away with some important life lessons. This experience taught me how crucial soft skills are and I want to pass on a few key insights that I learned: the importance of soft skills, especially in the workplace, cannot be overstated.

1. No matter your level of expertise, you can achieve success.

The only requirements for success are a great personality, motivation to learn, and confidence. When you allow yourself to ask questions, learn from others, and research as much as possible; combining that with your soft skills will make you an amazing asset to any company or industry.

2. Having experience does not always equate to success.

How many times have you known someone who has extensive knowledge and experience, but has little personality and levels of engagement, and is on a stagnant career path? I can name many.

3. Soft skills can be developed, to a certain extent.

People generally assume that so-called “soft skills” are inborn, not something that can be learned. I believe that for the best results, both nature and nurture play a role. I had the privilege of watching many of my team members increase their confidence, find motivation, and improve their public speaking skills. With time, open feedback, and support, these abilities can be sharpened much further than what you’re born with or (presently) comfortable with. It’s admittedly easier for someone with an upbeat personality to develop these skills, but that doesn’t mean somebody who isn’t feeling very positive right now can’t make strides.

If you want to get ahead in your career, it’s not enough to just acquire knowledge and experience. You also need to develop strong social skills. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone so that you can improve in these areas.

In what ways have you developed your social skills? Share with us in the comments section below!

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