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Why Are Soft Skills Important in the Workplace and How Can You Assess Them?

7 minute read

In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report, 92% of HR professionals reported that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. And 89% said that when a new hire does not work out, it is because they lack critical soft skills.

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What are soft skills?

Soft skills are "people skills." They refer to personal attributes that make for a high level of emotional intelligence. Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical skills and ability to perform specific tasks, soft skills are applicable across jobs and industries. They are the skills that enable people to fit in at a workplace. It includes their personality, attitude, flexibility, motivation, manners and more. Though like most employers, you will probably see them be equally as important as hard skills, the problem is they are less quantifiable.

Why do soft skills matter?

“De zachte krachten zullen zeker winnen” which translates to "The soft forces will surely win" is a much-quoted line from the Dutch poetess Henriëtte Roland Holst. These words, written more than a century ago, have proven to be prophetic.

In this article, we will share some ideas and ways to assess the soft skills of new hires.

Let's have a look at the soft skills employers appreciate most.

Communication skills

Communication skills top the list. Especially in frontline workers, who deal with customers daily, good communication skills are the first thing you will look for in candidates.

Leadership skills

Leadership skills are not required for every job, but as an employer, you will want to know if a candidate can make decisions when push comes to shove and has the ability to grow. Do they have the skill set to become a manager one day?

Critical thinking skills

Creativity, flexibility, and curiosity are characteristics of critical thinkers. You will definitely want employees who can analyze situations from different points of view and make informed decisions.

Teamwork skills

Successful team players are good in negotiating, accepting feedback and appreciating diversity in a team. The latter, in particular, is rapidly becoming a decisive requisite for a company's performance. You can read more about this popular topic in Diversity in the Workplace, a Work in Progress.

Positive Attitude

Employees who are a pleasure to be around are worth their weight in gold in any workplace. The ability to bring a positive attitude to the office is especially important in a fast-paced, high-stress work environment.

This list can, of course, be expanded, as every job requires its own skillset. But, one of the strongest arguments to look for “people skills” in your new hires is that these skills are transferrable. They can be used regardless of the job. That makes employees with good soft skills very adaptable within an organization.

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How to assess soft skills in job candidates

Soft skills are hard to quantify. Candidates are well versed in composing resumes that highlight their qualities as team players or born leaders. They are prepared for every question you ask on these subjects and, you will probably get the right, rehearsed responses. Thus, assessing soft skills in the application stages can be difficult and demands more from recruiters than the traditional interviewing techniques. But, there are ways to get around this and find out what a candidate can really bring to your company. Asking behavioral and situational questions is always a good tactic. This allows candidates to talk about their individual experiences in their own way.

Here are some tips that can help you make a correct assessment.

Assess candidates when they are not expecting it

Watch how job candidates interact with other people. Non-verbal cues can give you an insight into the candidate’s personality and how they might interact with others while on the job. Do they greet the other candidates or smile at the receptionist? Do they show a keen interest in your coffee table brochure while waiting for the interview? Ask your staff to keep an eye out for these signs. Small as they are, these cues can provide some food for thought.

Ask candidates what soft skills they think are essential for the job.

Do not tell candidates what you think are important skills for a given job instead ask them for their input. Let them list the most vital soft skills for success, in their opinion, from 1 to 5. This will also give you an indication of how well they understand the job requirements. And if their list matches yours, all the better!

Ask them about a time they have seen these skills in action.

Get candidates talking about the times they were impressed by colleagues. That will give you a better insight into the people you are interviewing rather than letting them glorify their own skills and performances.

Test them in a simulated situation

Arrange a test with other applicants to see if a candidate takes the lead, respects the opinions of others, and generally makes a convincing impression.

Test them in a real work situation

A clever way to reveal soft skills is to set up a small project for the candidate to work on with some of your employees. Not only will this allow you to evaluate their ability to work as a team player, but your employees can also give you their feedback on the candidate’s soft skills. When working on a real project, applicants will tend to forget that they are under assessment, and you will get a better idea of their suitability for the job.

Use online tests

Companies like Koru and Pymetrics have developed pre-screening online assessments. Koru’s 20-minute test asks candidates a series of questions to generate scores on seven key skills, while Pymetrics uses games to measure some 90 cognitive and emotional traits. These online tests are especially useful to screen large pools of talent quickly.

Conclusion

Most employers have come to realize that people skills are as indispensable as technical skills, and companies are actively looking for candidates with attractive soft skills sets. An issue employers face is that these skills are difficult to assess during an interview, and only time will tell if a new hire lives up to the expectations. However, asking the right kind of questions, setting up simple tests, or making use of online assessment tools can help you get a realistic impression of a candidate’s personal make-up and suitability for the job.

For more information on building more lasting and loyal relationships with your employees, check out this research study!

Rob is a content writer, copywriter and novelist. His work for Apple, WWF, Mercedes-Benz and many other brands has been awarded with prestigious creative awards.

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