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  • Kellie Dodds

Executive Search Insights: The Curious Case of a 98.5% vs. 52% in Technical Skills Assessment, and the Position that Slipped Away

Updated: Jan 26

Executive Search Insights: The Curious Case of a 98.5% vs. 52% in Technical Skills Assessment, and the Position that Slipped Away

Last week, a former colleague shared a disappointing job search experience. Despite securing an impressive 98.5% in the technical stage of a role demanding advanced procedural and technical infrastructure skills, he lost out to a candidate who scored 52% in the same assessment. The hiring manager explained that the company's standardised second-stage interviews, focusing on soft skills, carried more weight than technical proficiency. This made me reflect on the hiring process's balance between technical expertise and interpersonal skills, and how executive search firms can help their clients determine whether companies prioritise the best fit for the role over the best performer in interviews.

The Ideal Candidate Left in the Lurch

If we look at what happened here, the top-scoring candidate demonstrated an unmatched technical proficiency essential for the role. He was well equipped to handle the responsibilities of a self-sufficient standalone position. However, despite excelling in the technical assessment, he lost out on the position due to a disproportionate emphasis on soft skills (not necessary to succeed in the role) during the interview process.

The 'People Skills' Paradigm: A Case of Misplaced Priorities

The company, following a standardised interview process, placed greater weight on questions related to team motivation, team training, leadership capabilities, and conflict resolution. While these skills are undoubtedly important in team-oriented roles, in this specific context of a stand-alone position, the emphasis seemed misplaced. As a result, the candidate with superior technical competence was on the losing end of the hiring decision.

The Balancing Act: How can Executive Search Firms Help their Clients to Prioritise Role Relevance

Executive search firms play a pivotal role in guiding their clients towards selecting the most suitable candidates for specific roles. In this case, executive search firms must advocate for a balanced approach that aligns interview assessments with the actual requirements of the job. Emphasising the importance of technical assessments in addition to soft skills evaluations ensures that the selected candidate possesses the skill set necessary for success.

The Dangers of Overstandardisation in Interviews

Although standardising interviews can be crucial for ensuring fairness, maintaining a careful balance is equally vital. Placing undue emphasis on soft skills in roles primarily demanding technical expertise can result in unfair treatment of highly skilled candidates, especially those whose careers may not have prioritised soft skill development. Companies must exercise caution to avoid losing sight of a role's distinct requirements when implementing standardised interview processes.

Benefits for Companies: Striking the Right Balance

Executive search firms advocating for a balanced approach benefit their clients in the long run. It ensures that candidates selected for technical roles possess the necessary expertise, minimising the risk of poor hires. While soft skills are undoubtedly valuable, their weight in the hiring process should align with the specific requirements of each role, avoiding unnecessary trade-offs between technical proficiency and interpersonal strengths. By striking the right balance between technical expertise and soft skills, companies can secure top-tier talent that not only excels in interviews but also thrives in the day-to-day challenges of their positions.


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