Why Southwest Says Soft Skills Reign Supreme

For the 10th consecutive year, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) has been recognized by the Employees' Choice Awards as one of the 2019 Best Places to Work. Thousands of Southwest employees from Dallas to Des Moines to the Dominican Republic have lauded the company for its opportunities for career growth, exceptional company culture, and unbeatable perks.

Ranking 10th overall among large U.S. employers and No. 1 among airlines, Southwest credits its Glassdoor award win to one thing: employee feedback. Being able to hear team members early and often has ensured that the executive leadership and managers can consistently improve experiences.

"When it comes to engagement, an astounding percentage of our employees describe their career at Southwest as a calling," says Greg Muccio, director of people at Southwest. "Not a stepping stone. Not a job. A calling."

It's a source of pride for him, and one of the main reasons Muccio has been with the airline for nearly 18 years. Because Southwest is focused on its people, hiring is a top priority. And while other companies may place technical skills over traits like conflict resolution and dependability, for Southwest, Muccio says, those soft skills are essential.

"Instead of calling them soft skills, I would actually call them essential skills," he says. "Some of the most crucial of these skills include: communication, teamwork, leadership, relationship-building, balance, reliability, and dependability."

Read on to hear more about how soft skills and the ability to positively interact with customers could make you a perfect fit for a job at Southwest. Plus, learn what Muccio says is in store for the future of aviation and hiring.

Glassdoor: Congratulations on the win again this year -- Southwest has won 10 times now! What does it mean to have Southwest employees honor the company as a 2019 Best Place to Work?

Greg Muccio: This recognition is especially meaningful because it comes from our own employees. In fact, our internal celebration of this honor will say "We're No. 10 because of the No. 1 employees in the business." We were founded on -- and have maintained -- a people-centric philosophy, and our people are at the forefront of every decision we make. We are focused on being the best place to work, and to be recognized for an unmatched 10 consecutive years by our employees and Glassdoor is validation that our efforts are paying off.

Glassdoor: What are two or three steps your company has taken within the last year to double down on company culture, employee engagement, and employee feedback that may have led to this win?

Greg Muccio: We take our employees' feedback very seriously. In addition to our comprehensive annual employee survey, which drives action plans for improvement, we also now send quarterly surveys for a real-time pulse check. We want to offer our employees more frequent touchpoints to provide their feedback, which gives us the opportunity to consistently enhance their experience. When it comes to engagement, an astounding percentage of our employees describe their career at Southwest as 'a calling.' Not a stepping stone. Not a job. A calling.

We also introduced paid parental leave, a benefit our employees really wanted. This allows the mother, father or both (we have many "LUV Couples," or Employees who are married) to care for and bond with their new addition during the baby's first year of life.

When big decisions are made, it's not unusual for our CEO Gary Kelly and other senior leaders to ask, "What does this mean for employees?" before making a decision. We are always asking the questions "How can we care for our employees?" and "How can we improve their experience?"

Glassdoor: This award speaks volumes about the company, but also signals to job seekers that this is an amazing place to work. Why should job seekers apply for an open role at Southwest? What are two to three benefits, practices, or traditions that are unique to your company?

Greg Muccio: When you think of a career at an airline, many candidates are excited about the free flights. And those are definitely a nice perk! But our culture is what sets us apart. What you read about Southwest will never be able to fully capture the heart of our employee experience. Regardless of the position, I think we do a really good job of providing purpose in our work -- a shared cause to rally around.

And, speaking of rallying ... each year, we spend the month of February hosting Southwest Rallies in some of our cities. Part state-of-the-union, part family reunion and party, this event is like none other. It's an opportunity for our employees to hear from our senior-most leaders on the direction of the company, ask questions and of course, have fun.

Sure, we offer great benefits. We invest in our employees. Our financial rewards include 44 consecutive years of profit-sharing payments, with our 2017 contribution coming in at $543 million to our employees. We have a generous 401(k) match. And, we offer high-quality and low-cost medical benefit packages that truly provide safety and security for our employees and their families -- this is a comforting feeling.

We also encourage employees to get involved with causes they're passionate about. Employees are encouraged to volunteer for causes that matter most to them, and Southwest supports them through our Tickets for Time program by donating round-trip tickets to nonprofits based on employee volunteer hours. Plus, we offer several volunteer opportunities throughout the year to allow employees to make a difference with their Southwest Family. In 2017, [employees] logged an astounding 180,000 volunteer hours!

There are too many fun and quirky things about working at Southwest to list here, but we rounded up a list of a few of our favorites if you want to take a look."

Glassdoor: Glassdoor is all about transparency and helping people everywhere find a job and company they love. What insights can you share about the interview process at Southwest? What types of questions do you ask, and what kind of soft skills do you look for?

Greg Muccio: First and foremost, it is not a cliche when we ask candidates to be themselves in an interview. We genuinely desire that. Southwest is not a place where you have to separate your true self from your work environment self. We want you to bring your passions to our company to ensure this is the right fit.

We are known for our values that make up what we call 'Living the Southwest Way.' Those are a Warrior Spirit, a Servant's Heart and a Fun-LUVing Attitude. We challenge our recruiting team to only hire candidates who embody all three of these core values. It is the criteria on which we measure our employees, so the majority of our questions revolve around these three things.

Glassdoor: How do you screen candidates to ensure that they will be engaged and have that Fun-LUVing Attitude?

Greg Muccio: I challenge our recruiters to not be afraid to present to a hiring department a candidate who may not have all the hard skills they want, but who truly displays all of our core values. We can train for skill, but attitude is a bit harder to teach. On the flip side of that, they should never consider someone who is not a Southwest fit. We are going to spend as much energy seeking to understand each candidate's attitude as we do identifying his/her hard skills. Engagement is a two-way street, and this process helps us hire candidates who are already living the Southwest way and exemplifying our values.

Glassdoor: Southwest has long been a partner of Glassdoor's. How are you using our platform to attract the types of candidates you're looking for?

Greg Muccio: We share Glassdoor's commitment to transparency, both for our customers and for our job candidates. For our customers, it means treating customers honestly and fairly, and low fares actually staying low. Bags fly free and there are no change fees. Likewise, we are transparent about our positions and our hiring process. It is important for people to fully understand the elements of each job. We want people to know the benefits and the challenges, because it will provide a more realistic viewpoint of each role.

For example, part of working on the ramp is being outside. If you don't enjoy physical work in unpredictable climates, we want you to have the opportunity to determine, 'this isn't the right position for me.' Some elements of a job will never change, and people deserve to know them on the front end.

Glassdoor: You've been with Southwest for almost two decades. What keeps you engaged? How can other employers retain top-notch employees like you?

Greg Muccio: I've been here for 17.5 years. It really is the people I work with who make coming to work each day enjoyable. I also appreciate the challenging work that I get to tackle in my role. Overall, I'm motivated by the mission of Southwest and getting to be a part of something that is so much bigger than me.

Glassdoor: What's next for Southwest?

Greg Muccio: Well, we're very excited because Southwest has announced its intention to sell tickets in 2018 for service to Hawaii, subject to requisite governmental approvals. It's astounding to see how this little airline from Texas has evolved into the nation's largest domestic carrier!

Specific to careers, we have a very heavy focus in 2019 to continue to enhance our candidate experience, both internally and externally. We are focused on making our application processes more transparent and efficient.

Glassdoor: Looking ahead to 2019, how can job seekers get prepared for the future of work in the aviation industry?

Greg Muccio: As a whole, the industry's big focus is on innovation. At the micro level, innovation is centered on each airline's customers and employees. On the macro level, it means staying competitive with other airlines. Airlines are asking more for more support from the government in relation to innovative opportunities.

To be successful in this industry, one must be agile and able to manage large volumes of change. There are many variables that are outside of our control that impact our operations, so there is more pressure to adapt. Change is constant in the airline industry.

This article originally appeared on Glassdoor.com.

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Glassdoor has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.