If you put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager and tried to pinpoint the most important skill for a new hire to have, what would you pick?
Whatever you decided, technical prowess probably wasn’t too far down the list. And years ago, Lonne Jaffe, CEO of Syncsort, would agree. Today, though, he finds another skill at the top of his list: As Jaffe explains in an interview with the New York Times, he now values the ability to prioritize over hard skills when hiring.
Earlier in my career, I tended to focus a little bit too much on technical aptitude and not enough on the ability to prioritize decisions about how to spend their time… Figuring out how to spend your time is almost more important in some ways than how well you execute.
It makes sense. How far can a technical powerhouse go if he or she is constantly chasing the next interesting problem instead of strategically addressing the greater goals of the company and team? Like Jaffe, other hiring managers no doubt have this in mind when on the search for new hires. In fact, Jaffe will deliberately ask questions about decision-making to try and glean some information on a candidate’s prioritization skills.
When they tell stories about prior roles and projects, I’ll ask about the decision-making process. Did somebody tell them to work on something, or did they realize that it was clearly valuable? How did they deal with smaller decisions they had to make while tackling the larger questions?
Knowing this, your mission as a job seeker is to make sure you get across to the hiring manager that prioritization is a strength of yours.
How to do it? Make sure the stories you tell during interviews show more than your ability to tackle problems, but also your thinking behind them. Be careful not to make any assumptions about your listener. It might be extremely obvious to you why you, say, flew across the country to meet with a client, but it probably isn’t as clear to your interviewer why those company dollars needed to be spent. So, when you’re working through your examples, explain your reasoning along the way with a particular emphasis on how and why you prioritized certain actions.
While soft skills can never take the place of hard skills, the opposite is true, too. So, when interviewing, make sure you’re presenting a balance of the tangible abilities you can bring to the job, as well as the qualities that are harder to find on your resume.
Especially if you’re sitting across the table from Jaffe.
Photo of numbers courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author