How do I hire for the soft skill of managing chaos?

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail’s Nine to Five on October 31, 2023

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.

To read the second answer by Jasmine Leong, HR business partner, Phoenix Labs, Vancouver, published by the Globe and Mail, please click here (accessible to subscribers).

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