Why Soft Skills Matter and How to Identify Them
The traditional job hunt emphasizes the importance of hard skills when pursuing a particular career, whether it is knowing how to use certain programs or having the expertise needed to complete the duties of the role. In the world of increased competition and with higher stakes on the line, however, the importance of soft skills can’t be understated. Companies are spending more than ever on recruiting efforts in order to find and attract employees with certain essential core values that improve productivity.
“Employers are increasingly looking for workers with strong soft skills—those traits that don’t show up in a job posting but are essential for succeeding in the workplace, like working well with others and taking initiative,” the Wall Street Journal’s Kate Davidson reports. When reading a position description, soft skills refer to the personable traits that enable an individual to work harmoniously and effectively with other people. As revealed in a LinkedIn study this year, the most in-demand soft skills include communication, organization, teamwork and punctuality.
“In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives last year, 92% said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills,” she writes. “But 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes.”
At Inc.com, Lou Adler argues, “People don’t under-perform because they lack technical skills. People under-perform because they lack soft skills.” After all, you can train or teach employees certain skills for how to do a job, but you cannot teach soft skills, which help employees excel in any industry, any function and any position. “In pursuit of the ideal employee, companies are investing more time and capital in teasing out job applicants’ personality quirks, sometimes hiring consultants to develop tests or other screening methods,” the Journal reports.
Joshua Zigman, a Managing Director at executive search firm Raines International, highlights just how integral soft skill evaluation is within the recruitment process.
“We at Raines spend a considerable amount of time evaluating a candidate’s soft skills. By the time we are actually interviewing candidates, we know they are technically qualified for the role. So in reality, almost all of the interviewing process focuses on assessing soft skills, especially executive presence and communication skills.”
Sometimes clients explicitly state what soft skills they need in a potential hire, displaying them alongside technical and hard skills on a position description. As trusted advisers to their clients, sometimes search professionals need to be “ahead of the curve to determine what would make a candidate a good fit so we ensure a long-term, quality hire,” explains Zigman.
So how do search professionals and hiring managers assess soft skills? The Omnia Group recommends asking specific interview questions to candidates. The World Bank suggests role-playing exercises and skills-based interviews.
“At Raines International,” says Zigman, “we specifically take note of how a candidate handles him or herself throughout every stage of the interview process, from the first point of contact through offer negotiations. How does the candidate interact with our Search Coordinators and administrative team? Are they quick to be frustrated by changing logistics or schedules? How do they process feedback? All these interactions shed light on how the candidate is going to perform on an interpersonal level when working with the client.”
It is important to note, that while soft skills are popping up on position descriptions and are increasingly seen as crucial to making a good hire, there is no perfect set of skills that will land you any job.
“Because we deal with such a diverse set of clients, Raines knows that not one style of candidate or set of soft skills fits every company,” Zigman explains. “Some companies require a more collaborative team, so they will emphasize communication and problem-solving skills. But others need candidates with thicker skin who can work independently.”
While each company has a different formula for the combination of hard and soft skills to make a winning hire, one thing remains clear: soft skills matter. “At the end of the day,” Zigman concludes, “fit and soft skills close the deal and get a company excited about a person.”