Recruiter gives soft skills the hard sell

A Toronto-based recruiter claims to focus on the soft skills just as much as the hard by providing job candidates with surveys and scenarios designed to test their ability to fit in with potential employers.

Toronto-based Vpi, which launched a Web site earlier this week called, focuses on soft skills assessment for the simple reason that employers want to take some of the guess work out of the hiring process, said Gail Rieschi, president and CEO.

“We’ve taken a unique approach where we combined personality testing with work simulations, so we get at both the hard and the soft skills,” she said.

The companies that Vpi works with include everything from manufacturing to insurance to the music business. Vpi tailors its questions to those clients, starting with its organizational culture and only then getting into specifics of the job requirements.

“A job can vary in its demands from one org to another so we make sure . . . we know what the critical factors are,” said Rieschi.

The company has been providing these services since 1988, when Rieschi first founded Vpi, but its only in recent years that soft skills have come to the forefront.

In fact, it’s hard to overstate their importance, said Ed Chyzowski, division director for recruiter Robert Half Consulting‘s Vancouver office.

“Soft skills, realistically, are 80 per cent of getting the job. Communication is the key. Marketing yourself is probably second,” he said. Chyzowski said he’s heard of various tools to measure the soft skills of a job seeker, but nothing can replace a meeting in the flesh.

Vpi relies on a variety of procedures, said Rieschi, include one-on-one meetings, but also improvised job scenarios, where a candidate will react to a typical work situation, and tests that would measure a candidate’s ability to problem-solve.

“Rather than give the individual a three-hour job situation, we might break it down into 20 minute sections (that are targeted to specific job functions). It’s very specialized,” she said. “It really depends on what the employer is wanting us the get involved in.”

IT in particular has faced a soft skills crunch over the years and has been forced to shed the image of people hunched over desktops, banging out lines of software code in isolation.

“The swing is away from the technical geeks in the back room to the people that can implement technology,” said Paul Swinwood, president of Information and Communications Technology Council, based in Ottawa.

IT need not only to just implement an application but also explain why an application needs to be installed in the first place, he added. Mere technical skills are becoming marginalized to some degree, and are often removed to an offshore location.

Vpi offers a variety of HR functions, including reference checks, to clients in addition to the soft skills assessment. Some of its longstanding clients include public sector organizations like the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

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