Companies that want to hire the best people are increasingly coming to the realization that they need to look for strong soft skills in their candidates. But what are soft skills? Why are they important in the workplace? And how can employers identify and evaluate them?
Sales and training expert Rob Jolles defines soft skills as “communication skills, time management, problem solving, working with teams, selling, negotiating, and basically learning how to work well with other people.” In the past, companies have usually prioritized hard skills (skills that can be taught and measured, such as knowledge of a software program). But the days of soft skills being underrated may be coming to an end. With “one in three recruiting professionals [believing that] job candidates’ soft skills have gotten worse in the past five years,” there’s widespread agreement that “parents and colleges need to do a better job of teaching students soft skills before they enter the workforce.”
With his famous assertion that “technology alone is not enough,” Steve Jobs placed a high value on art, design, and social considerations at Apple. Other tech-oriented companies have been following suit. More and more Silicon Valley organizations are recognizing the importance of cultivating social and cultural skills among their employees.
For example, a few years ago, Google analyzed the HR data from its first fifteen years and found that “among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last”—a startling realization for one of the top technology companies in the world. The corollary to this discovery was equally stunning. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:
- Being a good coach
- Communicating well
- Listening well
- Possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view)
- Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
- Being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
- Being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Hard skills are important, but putting too much emphasis on them makes it hard to establish a positive and productive workplace. In light of such findings, it’s clearly time for employers to recognize the importance of soft skills when searching for new hires.
It isn’t easy to evaluate candidates’ soft skills, and because hiring the wrong person can be very costly, many employers are using technological solutions to help them make smarter hiring decisions. Video screening (as a recorded video cover letter or as a live interview) and pre-employment screening tests are a few useful tools. Some employers also require candidates to participate in job simulations that shed light on how they would perform on the job.
As the business world shines an ever-brighter spotlight on soft skills, hiring managers and HR staff must develop new—and more effective—ways to identify and analyze them. Although tech skills have dominated much of the hiring conversation for several years, the abilities to communicate, negotiate, and work well with others will never go out of style.
This article was originally published in Advanced Resources HR Insights Magazine.