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The question

I run a small but rapidly growing company. I’m having difficulty retaining staff who are able to manage chaos effectively. We’re working toward establishing more stability. But meanwhile, I need to hire more staff and I don’t know how to weed out people who can’t manage the ever-changing nature of work here. As much as I try to explain to candidates what to expect, I’m still finding a high rate of turnover. How do I hire for the soft skill of “managing chaos?”

The first answer

Julie Labrie, president, BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

If you ask candidates: “Can you deal with chaos?” just about everyone will say “yes.” Jobseekers want to make a good impression and are often optimistic that they’ll figure things out once they’re hired.

The key is to ask interview questions that lead candidates to demonstrate how they’ve dealt with workplace chaos in the past. Avoid the trap of questions that require only a yes or no answer.

Consider asking: “Give me an example of when you worked in a chaotic environment. How was it? How did you handle the situation?”

Then, continue probing deeper with more questions, such as:

● “How do you deal with a constantly changing environment, from one day to another? Give me a specific example of what happened.” When a candidate responds, ask them to elaborate with details (for example, Who, what, when and where).

● “Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision and procedures were not in place?” Here, you can see how the candidate approached the situation. How did they handle uncertainty?

● “When things change in the workplace from one minute to another, what do you do? How do you cope with that?” Seek out more context and situational intel on how the candidate reacts to chaos.

You want to get candidates to open up and talk freely, so you can understand how they think and how they react to certain situations. Jobseekers can’t rehearse for such questions.

Remember this adage in recruitment: The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

The second answer

Jasmine Leong, HR business partner, Phoenix Labs, Vancouver

Soft skills can be tricky to interview for; there are several measures you can take when hiring to give the candidate the best chance at success.

Being transparent is key: Ensure people know exactly what they’re walking into, as early attrition happens when expectations are different from the realities of a role. This can start within the job posting itself by describing your organization thoroughly and defining the soft skills needed to succeed.

When screening candidates, pay close attention to their work history. Do they favour longer, more corporate environments? This person might not be the best fit for you.

Get granular during the phone screen. While this may feel like you’re driving candidates away, to some individuals who thrive in ambiguity, it could be the differentiating factor of choosing this role over another.

Ensure you’re asking the right questions during your interviews: What kind of environment do they thrive in? If they require consistency and stability, they will not be a good fit. Alternatively, have they been in organizations similar to yours and enjoyed it? That could be an indication of future success.

If you’re hiring for an entry-level role with candidates low on experience, it’s fair to ask them about difficult times they’ve overcome in their personal lives (if they’re comfortable sharing). Perhaps they have felt previously defeated in an educational or family situation, but how they handled the situation and moved forward is telling of how they’ve adapted and learned from their experiences.

Lastly, utilize their references if this is part of your practice. Give context on the situation and ask if they can see this candidate thriving in this type of environment.

Have a question for our experts? Send an e-mail to with ‘Nine to Five’ in the subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered.

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