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A Small Business Dilemma Regarding Employee Selection

A Small Business Dilemma Regarding Employee Selection

You are the owner/operator or maybe even the manager of a small-business and you need to hire a new employee for an entry-level position in your company.  After interviews and careful consideration, you’ve narrowed your choices down to two candidates. Candidate A has the technical skill and experience to jump right into the position with minimal training, but there are questions about his/her people skills, fitting into a team structure, and their personal character. Candidate B does not possess the technical knowledge or experience of Candidate A, but does have a proven track record of great people skills, excelling in a team environment and successfully taking instruction.  Which candidate should you choose to join your company?  It’s a dilemma faced by many business owners – hire the person with the technical skills to jump right into a position with minimal training or hire the person who will be the right fit in your company culture but will require more time to train.

The correct answer to this dilemma is to hire Candidate B, and there are two reasons why:

1. The Familial Structure of Small Business

Most small businesses have a familial culture whether they intend to or not. This is due mostly to their lack of size and low personnel turnover in comparison to a large company.  As an employee or owner of a small-business, you tend to work both in very close proximation and relationally with others in your company.  As a result of this closeness, many small-businesses tend to resemble the structure of a family.  The owner or manager may gravitate into a paternal or maternal role for their employees, while at the same time, co-workers in small businesses naturally develop closer personal connections amongst each other.  Hiring a person with questionable social skills can do more damage to this tight-knit company culture than would be the case in a larger company with a greater number of employees. A bad apple can spoil a whole barrel, right? That is especially the case if the bad apple is touching each and every single apple in the barrel.

2. Old Dogs and New Tricks: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard skills are considered technical skills, like typing or the knowledge of how to operate a tool, while soft skills are considered to be a person’s interpersonal skill set. Soft skills would include communicating effectively or cooperating with others.  Soft skills are much more difficult to quantify and measure, but like the old adage says, “You know it when you see it”.   Have you ever known a person who’s been extremely successful in their profession, yet doesn’t really seem to have a mastery of any one particular hard skill?  You can bet they have mastered the fine art of many different soft skills. That is the reason for their success.  A primary difference between hard skills and soft skills is in how they are learned.  Teaching a hard skill is usually much easier for a small-business owner or manager because often a person has no experience in actually doing the hard skill; there is no “unlearning” involved in the process. In contrast, a person’s soft skills are often hard-wired into their personality and they’ve been practicing and honing their soft skill set for the entirety of their lives.  Improving or changing a person’s soft skills is a much more difficult proposition.

Back to your dilemma. Should you hire Candidate A, the person with the technical skills but shaky interpersonal skills and character or Candidate B, the person that lacks the technical skills or experience but excels in the area of soft skills?  If you own or manage a small business, do the right thing for your company and hire Candidate B. You can teach Candidate B the technical knowledge he or she needs to help make your business successful, and Candidate A is not worth the risk of upsetting your company culture.

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