Overcoming the fight for talent


By Sarah Maldonado, MHRM, SHRM-CP

COVID has forever changed the landscape of the workplace — from the way we work, to where we work, and even where and how our customers expect to interact with us. As we continue to normalize in a post-COVID world, the search for talent remains a constant challenge for banks across Texas. “The Great Resignation,” a product of the pandemic, continues to impact hiring managers as they push to fill open positions. The competition for qualified candidates across all verticals is fierce, allowing candidates to have the upper hand and leaving hiring managers searching for new ways to recruit and retain top talent. While this shift in the workforce has been challenging, it has also allowed us to reevaluate the quality and potential of an applicant more soundly.

As we look beyond experience and explore candidates with a more professionally diverse background and transferrable skills to fill both entry-level and career-level positions, this shift has created a skills gap that hiring managers are going to have to address.

For Colby Smith, AVP/Human Resources Manager at The First State Bank in Louise, the concept of hiring for soft skills is something he has seen firsthand success. Previous experience or a college degree didn’t stop candidates from leaving the bank after only two months. Smith and his team were seeing a revolving door of turnover with no end in sight.

One day, a colleague forwarded Smith the resume of a young lady who had no prior experience, no college degree and high turnover in her previous jobs. Most hiring managers wouldn’t have given this resume 30 seconds of their time. But for Smith, he was able to see that every job she had was customer facing and involved cash handling — two transferrable skills that could make her a successful teller. 

“At this point we had nothing to lose,” explains Smith. “She was extremely polite in the interview and just needed experience. We took a chance on her and two years later she has received two promotions and two salary increases.”

Smith took a chance on the soft skills she had gained in her previous jobs knowing that he could train her on the technical aspects of the position.  

The reemergence of soft skills

I started my post-undergraduate professional journey as a teller, fresh out of college, having only a perception of what the job entailed — a job description and what others shared with me. It was a professional blank canvas. Through various part-time jobs growing up, along with the experience I gained in college, created a solid foundation of soft skills that proved to be critical to my career success. 

While in college, I was afforded the opportunity to work side-by-side with career professionals in a program that allowed me to grow as a leader and further refine some of my soft skills as a building manager at the university. Highlighting some of what I later determined to be an incredibly valuable experience, I honed my customer service, communication, delegation, organization and leadership skills. The bank was willing to train me to be a teller in part because I was able to articulate the key soft skills required of a successful teller. According to Monster’s 2022 Global Report, 63% of employers are willing to hire someone with transferable skills and train them. 

Five soft skills to focus on

Proven indicators of success

Throughout my career, I have seen hiring managers struggle to find candidates with experience that is an exact match for the position. After hiring thousands of employees for the various organizations I’ve worked for, the following soft skills are the ones I focus on during interviews as they have proven to be good indicators of success. 

1 Leadership

Not all managers are leaders. Employees who frequently share ideas, speak up with thoughts and opinions and offer creative solutions are all makers of a great leader. An employee who demonstrates leadership skills will inspire others to achieve their goals and will frequently seek out ways to improve their skills and experiences. 

2 Communication

Effective communicators not only understand their personal communication style, but can easily detect and adapt to the styles of others. They can bridge the communication gap between themselves and anyone they meet. A good communicator knows when and how to speak up, and when to sit back and actively listen to those around them. 

3 Critical Thinking

Employees who can look at the big picture with an analytical mind while remaining flexible to new ideas and approaches demonstrate critical thinking skills. They frequently evaluate future trends and best practices and offer solutions to potential problems that can help the organization. They see opportunities for team advancement by utilizing individual strengths. 

4 Adaptability

As we are two years into COVID, adaptability has become a normal part of life both personally and professionally. In the workplace, adaptability means you are open and willing to learn new things. Employees who are adaptable will take on new challenges and make the necessary adjustments to ensure success. They respond quickly to changing ideas, expectations, strategies or processes. 

5 Teamwork

Re-integrating people who have been working remotely and in isolation during the pandemic can be a challenge. Finding people to work for the good of the team and not for their own benefit is a skill that will drive success, especially as we evaluate hybrid working models and teams adapt to new norms. 

The power of great customer service

My uncle, a regional vice president at Bank of the West, is in the same fight for talent as everyone else. Recognizing the importance of soft skills in candidates, he carries a stack of business cards around with him everywhere he goes. Anytime he sees someone providing excellent customer service, he hands them a card. He knows you can teach people the technical skills of banking, but the intangible qualities that make a great employee are the ones you can’t teach. Someone going above and beyond to make sure the customers are taken care of — they have what they need and they have a great experience — are the soft skills that directly transfer to the positions we struggle to fill. 

These soft skills heralded by my uncle rang true at the beginning of banking and are still the cornerstone of what it means to be a banker in Texas today. No matter what our role is in the Texas banking industry, I think we can all agree with my uncle: intangible qualities that make someone great at their job can easily transfer from industry to industry. I personally look forward to welcoming a “new” generation of talent into Texas banking, one steeped in a customer-first mindset. 

Sarah Maldonado, MHRM, SHRM-CP, is the Vice President of Human Resources for the Texas Bankers Association. With more than a decade of experience, Maldonado has worked in virtually every area of HR, with the majority of experience being within the construction and real estate development industry.