Hard Hiring Decisions: Do Soft Skills Count?

Consider Soft Skills When Hiring

In the recruiting world, skill sets are often reduced to metrics.  But what about so-called soft skills?  Do they matter?

If you use an applicant tracking system (ATS), you save time and money posting jobs, parsing suitable candidates, and viewing organized feedback on your hiring choices.

For any job opening, you have applicants with superb technical skills, great credentials, and the right certification.  You also have less experienced candidates, without the same credentials, but possibly with diverse backgrounds and novel ideas.  Which way do you lean?

Gifts differing—the importance of soft skills

Whether they are Boomers, Millennials, Gen-X, or someone in between, even candidates with similar resumes have different personalities and strengths. The difference you cannot see on a resume, or LinkedIn profile, is sometimes more important than the technical skills and experience in plain sight.

It goes without saying that some positions in your company are more—or less—technically oriented.  Especially for highly technical work, skill alignment supports your bottom line. But even in these positions—great interpersonal skills are now a must.  What am I talking about?

As quoted in Forbes, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, once said, “we can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude.” Put another way, hard skills can be taught, while soft skills are often inherent.  Basically, this points to considering the present and future of your company when making individual hiring decisions.

While you might need a Cloud Domain Architect right now, it serves your company best to take your time and consider both hard and soft skills.  Consider the importance of these qualities:

  • Dependability: Along with tech applications and the right degree—can your applicant dependably deliver good work?  What is “dependable” as it relates to your work environment?  Is it important for a potential hire to be on time to work?  With any candidate—be realistic.  Do you expect this person to arrive early, stay late, and devote weekends to your company?  What is their track record?  Along with talent, is there evidence of work ethic, constancy, and focus?  These key characteristics are important aspects of being dependable.
  • Mission focused: More and more companies are structuring their enterprise, and products, around a business mission.  To a certain degree, this means the lone wolves of the world fit less and less in a collegial, team-oriented, work environment.  For new hires, and longtime employees, a purpose, or mission, creates tangible structure and orientation for work and career development.  Mission-oriented individuals are often passionate about causes, know how to achieve objectives, and understand the need for brokered-change.
  • Flexibility: A quote attributed to many sources goes something like this, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”  In the current economic climate, the ability to adapt skills and attitude is critical for individual and business success.  While highly specialized niche players are valuable, more valuable are those same players who can reorganize around a new need, opportunity, or solution.
  • Problem solving: Staying competitive is crucial, regardless of your industry. Potential candidates with demonstrated problem solving abilities are often innovators.  Quick thinking and adaptive, good problem solvers see beyond the box and realize potential relationships and structures unseen to others.  When combined with subject matter expertise, and diplomacy, individuals who might be soft on hard skills could someday lead your organization.

The hiring cycle is a two-way street.  While you look to talented candidates for purposeful behavior, dependability, flexibility, and creative problem solving—they are assessing your company for similar qualities. Be prepared to offer candid feedback if asked.

How do you assess for soft skills?

Cognitive, written, and tech-based assessments offer guidance about the interpersonal skills of your candidates. However, the interview process can be even more important and offers a wealth of information, including:

  • You have an opportunity to observe how your candidate approaches new challenges, people, and ideas.
  • There is ample opportunity to ask situational or behavioral questions that allow applicants to discuss team work, flexibility, leadership, and problem solving.
  • Non-traditional interview settings and activities like role playing, self-assessment, or informal conversations with multiple parties, give you a better chance to understand your potential hire.

Do soft skills matter?  Absolutely.  The abilities to persuade, prioritize, and creatively solve problems are essential in today’s fast-changing work environment. When making hard decisions between candidates—be sure to factor in the critical value of soft skills.

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