Having conducted hundreds of interviews, I’ve developed a tendency over time to place heavy emphasis on candidate temperament and demonstrated work ethic (over skillset).
A candidate needs to have certain skills on their resume to be considered for an interview, to begin with, but once the interview starts then a candidate’s poise, how they handle adversity in the workplace, and their demonstrated willingness to take on meaningful challenges plays a far larger role in shaping my ultimate impression of them than any particular technical knowledge they may possess.
After all, an interview is a snapshot of a candidate’s work (and life) experience, and the way they describe those experiences (and present themselves) often says a great deal more about what they bring to the table than their resume does. If it didn’t why wouldn’t we just have candidates with the right resume experiences take a technical knowledge exam and hire the highest scoring? For me, treating an interview like such a test misses the mark on what an interview is designed to capture.
That isn’t to say skill and experience aren’t important (on the contrary, it’s the most critical component of many roles). But I fundamentally believe that non-technical, “soft skill” attributes are a critical piece to consider in the hiring process.
Once you get beyond “table stakes” skills (minimum requirements to do a job effectively), much of the rest can be taught if the candidate has the right mindset and is a cultural fit for the organization. Give an intelligent, hard-working self-starter who brings the right attitude to work the tools to succeed, and given enough time he/she will.
Of course, this brings up the larger issue of making sure as interviewers/recruiters we don’t become so wowed by a candidate with a winning personality that we ignore red flags in their background. If one has an opening for a chemical engineer, one probably wants to hire a candidate with a background in chemical engineering. No matter how charismatic and determined to succeed a candidate is, sometimes if he/she has no applicable experience (or not enough) it may be a good idea to pass. If a position has an incredibly steep learning curve, bringing in an inexperienced hire is setting them up for failure.
Ultimately, as HR professionals we need to weigh the requirements of a job and the associated learning curve against any soft skills/non-tangible attributes that a seemingly winning (albeit inexperienced) candidate may possess. This is as much art as it is science, and is something many HR professionals hone over years interviewing for a myriad of different positions.