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At Softchoice Corp., an IT services business based in Toronto, it's important that potential employees be a people person, if not a dog person. (Radius Images/Corbis)
At Softchoice Corp., an IT services business based in Toronto, it's important that potential employees be a people person, if not a dog person. (Radius Images/Corbis)

Recruiting

Emotional intelligence trumps technical know-how Add to ...

A strong technical bent is clearly important for anyone seeking work at Softchoice Corp., an IT services business based in Toronto. Even more important, however, is that the candidate be a people person, if not a dog person (Softchoice allows employees to take their dogs to work).

Softchoice helps its clients plan for, acquire, manage and maintain the sophisticated technology they need to operate their businesses. If problems arise, Softchoice employees are on hand to troubleshoot.

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"Our people have to be pretty technically competent to deal with customers, to deal with the vendors and to manage the business," chief executive officer David MacDonald said in an interview.

Still, "we tend to hire people with more of a liberal arts background," he said. "We joke around that there are only two engineers in the whole building."

Like a growing number of Canadian employers, Softchoice looks beyond the hard skills and qualifications of job candidates and places a high premium on the so-called soft skills - capacity to learn, problem-solving ability, creativity, adaptability and what human resources specialists refer to as emotional intelligence, or EQ.

"When I am interviewing somebody, I am definitely looking for clues that this person is a relationship-builder … it's just really important that you are going to get along with people," said Maria Odoardi, vice-president of people at Softchoice.

"We're heavy on development. When we hire, we hire people who are open to growth and learning. Once you're here, we can train you for the next job," Ms. Odoardi said.

"People move around in jobs in this company all the time because they want to, and it's great for us because we can plug and play them in different parts of the organization as they learn and grow."

The 20-year-old company now has almost 900 employees, an international client base and annual revenue of more than $1-billion (U.S.). It has also been recognized as one Canada's best mid-sized employers by the Great Place to Work Institute Canada.

William Greenhalgh, chief executive officer of the Human Resources Professionals Association, said the Softchoice approach to skills and employee development is reflective of an emerging trend.

"A lot of companies are going in this direction. They realize that, with the shortage of skills, they are probably better off hiring for attitude and then training for skill," Mr. Greenhalgh said in an interview.

When employers turn to Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions to find them the "ideal candidate," the checklist is extensive, said Brad Beveridge, who heads the firm's executive search practice in Canada.

"A lot more employers, even at the very senior levels, are coming to the table and saying I want somebody who can be very flexible, very adaptive, somebody who can manage and navigate well in a very ambiguous environment. Nothing is so easily defined any more," Mr. Beveridge said.

"Technical competencies are obviously very important," he said. But employers are seeking much more - not just at the C-Suite level, but throughout their organizations.

"We are finding much more emphasis on people who can relate to their co-workers, so it ties into the EQ. They can inspire others to participate in team-related activities and, really, when necessary, mitigate any conflict among their co-workers," Mr. Beveridge said.

"We are finding much more emphasis on that, and the whole idea of problem-solving and creativity, really trying to drive unique solutions through creative, innovative approaches rather than simply relying on the tried and true."

In today's multi-generational and multi-cultural workplaces, it is essential to recruit and promote people "who have the sensitivity and the ability to build rapport," Mr. Beveridge said.

Employers are more open to hiring from other industry sectors than they were in the past, said Frances Randle, managing director of recruitment solutions at Knightsbridge. "What I am also finding is that they are looking for people with global experience … they're saying that having someone who understands how other parts of the world works would be a great asset," Ms. Randle said.

Employers should realize, however, that these highly sought employees are "kicking the tires" as well, Mr. Greenhalgh said. It's no longer a question of post it, and they will come.

"A lot of companies are starting to realize that it has come full circle - when you are trying to attract candidates who are in great demand, you really have to have a great brand as a company. Candidates are looking to see if all the right things are there: the compensation, the training, the development, the challenge, the career, all these things are important."

From his glass-walled office at Softchoice, Mr. MacDonald surveyed the buzz of activity and reflected on the downside of recruiting and developing such a talented group of employees, whose commitment extends to directing and managing the firm's charitable activities.(Their efforts are often rewarded with "Beer Fridays" at the end of the week.)

"A lot of our competitors short-circuit and recruit from us … That gets to be a little annoying," Mr. MacDonald said.

But it's not as if other companies can import Softchoice's strengths and culture by raiding its staff, he added.

"It's more than just people. It's the environment you put them in, it's how you manage them. It's the dogs. It's the beer."

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