When it comes to sorting through a pile of employment applications, hiring managers tend to focus on education, work experience and hard skills. These metrics are extremely useful for identifying qualified applicants and weighing their individual strengths, but onboarding the best employees often requires a close attention to soft skills. In fact, 80% of employers believe that soft skills are equally or more important than hard skills when hiring candidates, according to a 2019 study from CareerBuilder. One reason for this trend is that many technical competencies are not transferable between organizations, as recent advances in technology have allowed companies to create their own unique business applications and workflows. New employees can always be retrained, but interpersonal skills are difficult to teach with any degree of reliability. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what soft skills are and why they're important.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills refer to a potential employee's personal attributes, which characterize how effectively they can interact with others. These attributes include personality traits and social skills, which are developed over a lifetime of interaction rather than a series of training programs. Employees who possess a high volume of soft skills are able to effortlessly build professional relationships and boost morale, as their peers enjoy working with them on a daily basis. While soft skills are often difficult to quantify, they can be sorted into general categories to make them easier to define, such as:
- Communication: Almost every professional role requires employees to communicate on a consistent basis, whether it be with colleagues, managers, clients or vendors. Candidates who are able to effectively express their ideas and listen to others are exceedingly valuable for employers across industries. Some of the core skills in this category include public speaking, persuasion, reading body language, and negotiation.
- Critical thinking: The ability to analyze challenging situations and develop actionable solutions is critical to many professional roles. Employees who can accurately assess complex problems are more likely to make informed decisions when the pressure is high. Critical thinking skills are a culmination of a candidate's creativity, adaptability, resourcefulness and willingness to learn new things.
- Leadership: Although many positions do not require employees to take on management responsibilities, leadership skills can be essential when things go wrong. Fast-paced occupations rely on employees who are able to take the initiative and resolve problems without direct oversight. Effective leaders are often skilled in conflict resolution, task delegation, project management and decision making.
- Teamwork: Employees who work well in collaborative environments often stimulate creative problem solving and support team building efforts. This soft skill category is particularly important for roles that involve researching, staffing and consulting tasks, which sometimes require the cooperation of several different departments. Constructive teamwork is a combination of networking skills, empathy, intercultural competence and the ability to accept feedback.
Why are soft skills important?
While soft skills are particularly important for customer-facing positions, they are also crucial to the internal harmony of your organization. Staffing for hard skills alone can prevent you from building a truly diverse and efficient team of employees, which is why many companies have started to prioritize soft skills in their recruitment process. An early April article from Entrepreneur highlighted two interconnected factors driving this hiring trend: ubiquitous connectivity and the shortening of business cycles. The digital economy has transformed how companies operate on a fundamental level, placing greater importance on real-time communications and collaborative workflows. To meet this need, hiring managers have had to reexamine the value of interpersonal abilities and develop new methods for screening potential employees. While it may be hard to gauge an applicant's soft skills on paper, remote and in-person interviews can help recruiters identify personality traits that will contribute to their company's long-term success.