Never underestimate the importance of soft skills, especially in our current business environment where talent is your true differentiator. What a resume doesn’t tell you - the soft skills that make each candidate unique - is just as important as what’s on paper.
What are soft skills?
When we think of skills in the traditional sense, we think of proficiency in certain programs like SQL if you’re a developer or NetSuite if you’re an accountant. It also means demonstrated mastery of skills that are critical to the role, such as interacting with customers or managing direct reports.
But a person’s success or failure in a role is also dependent on having skills that aren’t listed in the job requirements. At the beginning of the year, LinkedIn assembled a list of the top five soft skills for 2019, and they were: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management.
For example, in the case of developers, their technical skills lose value if they’re part of a project team but aren’t great collaborators. Or, if the employer uses an agile framework and they can’t manage their time well.
How do soft skills factor into a candidate’s fit?
Soft skills are often treated as nice-to-have’s, but in reality, they’re far from that. Getting a hire wrong is costly, both in terms of time, money, and lost productivity for everyone involved. Soft skills are critical to assessing whether or not a candidate will be a good fit - and if that company/role is a match for that individual - in three different ways.
Recruiters need to get a sense of whether an individual will thrive in the workplace environment. Someone who loves a start-up environment and impromptu collaboration with co-workers might not get what they need out of a company where schedules are more rigid or most employees work remotely.
Culture within a specific team is just as important, as it can differ from the broader culture and impact an individual even more directly. An individual’s soft skills should be evaluated against those of existing team members. Consider how a candidate’s personality would mesh with the team, or how their strengths and weaknesses compare to others.
Specifics of the role.
If the role calls for someone who works in a silo, the candidate should possess soft skills like focus and the ability to self start. If the work is more project- and team-based, then the candidate should be able to switch gears easily and be a good communicator.
Where do soft skills offer the most potential today?
Soft skills have additional value outside of assessing fit.
Across most industries, there are more open roles than there are qualified talent to fill them. Looking more closely at soft skills can be the answer. Soft skills can fill in the gaps for some difficult-to-find hard skills. For example, an individual with a growth mindset and penchant for learning might be the perfect fit after some on-the-job training.
In addition to solving talent challenges, soft skills can play a role in helping reach business goals as well. Here are some examples:
- It’s sometimes necessary for companies to make a cultural shift. Bringing on individuals with soft skills that reflect the culture you’re trying to achieve - more open, more proactive, more customer-focused, etc. - can help expedite the transition.
- Do you have big initiatives around growth or aggressive revenue targets? Consider the soft skills necessary to help drive that from the inside out. Individuals who are innovative thinkers, problem solvers and motivated by directly contributing to the business’ success can help you achieve this more quickly than those who work within the status quo.
A resume will always be important in assessing candidates, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what it can tell you about an individual. Understanding soft skills can help ensure you hire right the first time, fully assess talent in a tight labor market, and even accelerate business success with the right people.