Team Building: Six Soft Skills To Seek with New Hires - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Six Soft Skills To Seek with New Hires

It’s natural to want to find employees who have years of experience in the landscape industry and have the necessary skill set so you don’t have to spend quite so much time training them. However, that caliber of team member isn’t always readily available, so you have to keep your eyes peeled for the next best thing.

What is the next best thing? Employees who have the soft skills that will set them up for success. To determine if a candidate has the soft skills you’re looking for, you need to ask behavioral questions. Below are some of the soft skills to look for during the interview process as well as the type of questions to ask.


Unless your landscape operations are wildly different than the norm, chances are most of your employees work on some type of crew. Even if they work in the office, they are part of a specific department, such as sales or design. Nothing your company does can get accomplished if everyone is not working together.

One question you could ask to gauge a person’s ability to be a team player is “How did you deal with a team member who constantly opposed your ideas?”

Team players are able to negotiate with their co-workers, are perceptive, sensitive to others’ needs and genuinely value their ideas.


Good communication skills go hand-in-hand with being a team player, as you need employees who can clearly convey information and prevent costly miscommunications from occurring. Many of your hires will also interact with your customer base, so they need to be able to effectively address any of their concerns and possibly upsell your other services.

Interview questions that ask the candidate to describe a time they had to voice their opinion during a project or how they went about communicating with a difficult colleague can help determine this soft skill. Strong communicators also need to be able to get their message across clearly through different mediums such as emails, instant messaging and video tools, along with in-person.


Listening is another aspect of being an effective communicator to look for. Active listeners consider others’ points of view before speaking.

You can pick up on whether your candidate is really listening during the interview process or thinking about their next response. Look for those who ask clarifying questions, offer relevant feedback in response and recall information in the future. A possible question to ask specific to listening is, “When was the last time you asked for direct feedback from a superior or a customer? How did you use this knowledge to improve your personal performance?”

An active listener will be able to take the feedback received and know how to apply it to improve versus someone who gets caught up in taking the critiques poorly.


Things can and will frequently go wrong on a jobsite, whether it’s an upset customer, another contractor impacting your crew’s ability to do their job, or unforeseen issues with a site. Employees with strong problem-solving skills are able to stay calm during these situations and focus on getting to the root of the issue.

Having team members who can think critically and provide solutions means you don’t have to come up with an answer for every single situation. Some of the questions you can ask to analyze a job candidate’s problem-solving skills include “Have you ever had a deadline you weren’t able to meet? What happened?” and “How have you handled a dissatisfied customer?”


Severe weather, client change requests and material delays are all challenges your team frequently has to respond to, so you need to look for individuals who can embrace change and respond well to it. Adaptable employees stay calm under pressure, are willing to try out new tools and techniques to improve their work and accept new employees and working styles.

You can ask questions like “How do you adjust to changes you have no control over?” and “If a project’s requirements change suddenly, what would you do?” to get a feel for how well they handle unpredictable situations.

Time Management

There are only so many hours in a day and depending on where your company is based, you may also be limited by the seasons. Naturally, time is of the essence to complete your work, so candidates who understand how to use their time efficiently and prioritize are a boon to your business.

Those who are good at time management know how to deal with distractions at work, meet deadlines, and find a balance between their personal and professional life.

Questions like “How do you limit distractions?” and “What do you do to avoid procrastination?” can help you understand better how that person ensures they stay on track and meet deadlines.

Keep in mind that even if a job candidate doesn’t have all of these skills but they seem to be a good cultural fit, you can still find ways to coach them up in their underdeveloped areas.

You can learn more about how to help underperforming employees get better and stay in their assigned roles at Pam Dooley’s ELEVATE session on Monday, Sept. 11 at 1:15 p.m.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.