SkillsCamp: how a soft skills school finds talent

By November 25, 2016Small business profiles
Small business profiles

Today’s workforce isn’t necessarily short on formal education. However, the value of soft skills ­– also known as people skills, or emotional intelligence – continues to grow as young companies look for socially-savvy talent to help build successful teams and company culture.

Bailey Parnell saw that growth as an opportunity. The award-winning digital marketing professional is the founder of SkillsCamp, a recently-launched small business that teaches the “missing curriculum” that makes people more employable and better leaders. The goal is to help employers develop and retain their top performers, and provide resources for students and individuals looking to grow and improve; skills – examples include mindfulness, networking, public speaking, resilience, and more – can be learned à la carte, or as part of packages like “The Millennial Manager,” or “Startup Leadership.”

As part of our ongoing series of small business profiles, we chatted with the SkillsCamp founder about running a small business in a rapidly growing and competitive digital market where attracting the right talent is the key to sustaining growth and development.

bailey_parnell_headshotWorkopolis: As a smaller business, how do you approach hiring to support growth?

BP: SkillsCamp is still quite young, so we haven’t had to conduct much hiring yet. However, because the founding partners all had career starts in higher education, we saw value in launching a paid internship program early on. The first two internships lasted four months, and were filled by students from Ryerson University’s journalism and business marketing programs.

How did you go about sourcing interns and gauging student interest in the SkillsCamp mandate?

We found these candidates through a less formal process. The journalism student worked with me previously at an online student life brand, and though the context was different at SkillsCamp, her willingness to learn and ability to take direction made her an appealing candidate. I knew I wanted to take her with me.

We found the second student at a Ryerson conference, where they had worked on and presented a case study on our friends at Splash Effect. That presentation gave us the opportunity to recognize his strong leadership skills, which ultimately led us discussing an interview.

How do you use social platforms to get to know people from a professional perspective?

I Google candidates at every stage of the hiring process and check most, if not all, social platforms. Admittedly, this process is just as important to me as the resume and interview. I’m generally looking to see what type of content they post, and who they are in the social space. I try to see how they present themselves – do they have a full profile complete with photos and a bio? Do they make use of recommendations and endorsements? I check their communication skills, particularly concerning spelling and grammar. If I’m hiring candidates for a role directly related to marketing or social media, I also analyze how they use the platforms and their features, and how they work to make these various tools get their message across.

Do you use formal HR practices when you hire? Do you have an in-house HR team?

We have not done away completely with formal HR practices, but have added our own twist. If we don’t already have a candidate in mind, we craft job descriptions and place them on our website and on external job posting websites. The team also shares postings on their personal social media, which is typically enough to garner applications.

I prefer a well-crafted LinkedIn profile over any resume or cover letter, however I recognize the job market still hasn’t caught up to me, so I request all three: resume, cover letter and LinkedIn. Before I even read a resume or cover letter, I Google the candidate to give me a primer. I can’t help it – it’s a millennial’s second nature. If I like the resume and online presence, I will read the cover letter.

If we like certain candidates (even if there’s only one), we have them come in for an interview. We try our best to make it feel as informal as possible, because we want to learn about who the person is and whether they’re a natural fit to our team. We think the deposition-style interview is anything but a normal way to learn someone’s honest personality, so we ask some typical questions and then focus on the candidate’s personality. Following the interview, and depending on the role, they might receive a short challenge to complete. I would say that for small businesses especially, hiring any one person is a big deal. We want to make extra sure we have it right.

How do you approach employer branding? Has it been a priority for SkillsCamp?

I see the incredible value in employer branding and it’s something we are looking to dedicate more time to. Finding strong talent is difficult, and we notice companies having to market to talent as much as talent is marketing themselves to us. We also recognize the importance of a strong employer brand being an aid to job seekers when they’re deciding on a career path. This is especially important for us millennials – we want to ensure we’re giving our time, energy and attention to a company that is worth it.

What do you look for in people to propel your company forward?

Being a soft skills training company, we definitely look for soft skills over anything else. We want our employees to be self-starters, resourceful, goal-oriented, inclusive, emotionally intelligent, ambitious, and adaptable. It is easier for us to teach hard skills than teach someone how to be kind, but we’re well aware that soft skills cannot replace threshold skills. We want employees who are the best at what they do, or are actively trying to be. We want our employees to take pride and ownership in their work – so much so they come to us with ideas for improvement.

What are some of the hiring lessons you’ve learned?

Finding talent in itself is hard work. Writing proper job descriptions, developing employer branding, posting to the right websites, crafting advertisements, screening, and interviewing candidates all require a lot of time and effort. And just like every other part of a small business, to find the best people for the job, you have to put in the work. I think we’ve learned that you’ll get out of it what you put into it. It may be easier to go with the person your friend recommended, but it’s worth following some of the traditional HR practices of screening candidates to make sure they’re who you really need and want.

See also:
How Jive PR hires for growth
SMB Hiring Lessons from Splash Effect

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