If You Aren’t Hiring People With Soft Skills, You Just Aren’t Hiring Right

John Hollon Communication, Hiring Managers, Interviewing, Recruiting, Talent Acquisition, Talent Strategy 2 Comments

If you’re a little fuzzy on the definition of just what “soft skills” are, well, join the club.

Here’s one that I like from a website called SearchCIO:

“Soft skills is a synonym for ‘people skills.’ The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence.”

Here’s why soft skills really matter

According to Wikipedia, soft skills are “a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes[ and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others.”

This is important because there has been an ongoing push to hire more people with good soft skills. In fact, The Wall Street Journal even published a story declaring that “Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply.” The article made this important point:

“Companies across the U.S. say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.

Those traits, often called soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by.”

As someone who has always had pretty good soft skills yet was told numerous times just how much more important “hard skills” — a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform specific tasks — were, this was a big surprise.

The WSJ also said that,

“A LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers found that 58 percent say the lack of soft skills among job candidates is limiting their company’s productivity.

In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives last year, 92 percent said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89 percent said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes. Many say it’s a problem spanning age groups and experience levels.”

Are soft skills something that you’re hiring for?

Here’s my take: Despite all you hear, soft skills don’t get much respect in the workplace. As one article from a few years back observed,

“A lot of managers turn up their noses at the mention of ‘soft skills.’ But they ignore that part of the supervisor’s role at their peril.”

Yes, soft skills are downplayed at just about every level from recruiter to hiring manager to line manager to top-level executive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen high-level managers downplay and pooh-pooh the need for soft skills despite all the research showing how important they are.

But the ability to connect with employees and get the most out of them continues to grow in importance. This is especially true when it comes to the Millennial generation given how they don’t respond very well to top-down edicts or military style command-and-control management systems.

There’s a bottom line component to all of this too. As Chief Executive magazine just pointed out last month:

“According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ ‘CEO Survey,’ Seventy-seven percent of respondents believe that the biggest threat to their businesses stems from underdeveloped soft skills. After all, not striking a balance between soft and hard skills can limit businesses from maintaining a competitive advantage.”

Given the intense competition to hire people with strong technical skills — like engineers, who aren’t exactly known for their people skills — it’s no wonder that people with good soft skills are in short supply. That’s probably because they simply haven’t been valued all that much.

If there’s one thing the Millennials have made clear, it’s that the ability to connect with people personally will never go out of style. If you aren’t focusing on soft skills in your recruiting and hiring, you better get to it because you’ll need them more and more as Millennials and Gen Z become the largest — and most important — part of America’s workforce.

John Hollon

John Hollon is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on leadership, talent management, and smart workforce practices. He currently is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media. He also was founding Editor of the popular talent management website TLNT.com, and before that, Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com.
John also held editing positions at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register, and was top editor for Gannett at two statewide papers —Montana’s Great Falls Tribune and The Honolulu Advertiser. He also has deep experience in magazine and online publishing as editorial director at Fancy Publications, VP of Editorial at Pets.com, and Editor of the San Diego Business Journal.
In addition, John is an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, and a board member at the Kronos Workforce Institute. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business & Management, and lives in Southern California.

Comments 2

  1. John, I think you make several great points throughout, but I especially respect your perspective on how Millennials have shown us “that the ability to connect with people personally will never go out of style.” Modes of communication are constantly changing, and it is vital that businesses recognize that the art of communication is not necessarily lost on younger generations, but it has certainly evolved. If they want to continue to attract the best talent, their energies are better spent finding ways to communicate with these generations as opposed to allowing their agitation obstruct them.

    Great article as always, John.

  2. On the m o n e y, John.

    All the smartest people are saying hire for what people are, not what they can do. Afraid that doesn’t apply to software engineers but certainly for managers. So now is our time, buddy, since aside from the technical skills of writing and editing, that’s what our careers have been all about: knowing how to communicate effectively to different audiences.

    As for the new management style for the young ‘uns, I think of it as being a coach, not that I know anything about sports. Someone who inspires the team, gets their juices going for the task at hand, and suggests what each team member should do to win the game! And they do it because they’re so into it and because they love you.

    As a young one myself, I navigated for a racing sailboat skipper like that, who just happened to be the former editor-in-chief of “The New York Daily News.” The crew would do anything for him, including jumping overboard, cause they loved him. I told his memorial service attendees that.

    Let’s just call it Dave Duffield Management, shall we?

    Bill Kutik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *