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People strategy

The High Cost of Ignoring Soft Skills

Arlene Kennedy

work-soft-skills.jpgJob seekers are often told to work on soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills - recruiters need to have the capability to clearly assess these abilities in candidates.

In a market with high demand for the technically savvy, many companies are losing out on workers with a much more fundamental skill - the ability to hold a good conversation.

Soft skills are often thought of as mere resume-builders and interview aids for job seekers. But employers are now finding an alarming lack of soft skills among their employees. An employee’s capacity to work with a team, solve problems, and think critically has become extremely valuable, and thus the cost of ignoring these key abilities in candidates is high. Recruiters must now rededicate themselves to finding these soft skills gurus.

Why Soft Skills Are So Important

Put simply, soft skills are essential tools for any employee looking to progress in the workplace. Considering that mundane tasks have become increasingly automated, employees must be able to coordinate with teams, delegate project roles, set deadlines, solve problems, and stay organised - all skills that require the grace of human touch.

In fact, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92% rank soft skills as equally or more important than technical ability. While technical skills are vital, employers need employees who can work together and collaborate. Unfortunately, 89% report having a noticeably difficult time attracting such candidates.

Technical skills, on the one hand, tend to come with an official, resume-friendly stamp of approval - you can’t fake a degree in computer science. In that way, companies can treat them like currency: you either have it or you don’t. Meanwhile, soft skills are more difficult to assess. As Art Markman of FastCompany claims, they’re the purview of the humanities, a sector that businesses often prefer to neglect.

But sacrificing soft skills comes at a cost. As Markman also notes, employees with the most obvious soft skills are often the most experienced and expensive (such as storm-weathered middle managers). Finding themselves up against the wall financially, companies commonly decide to send these pricey workers into early retirement hoping to find someone with similar technical credentials, but with a smaller price tag attached.

Unfortunately, they’re having trouble filling the gap in people skills. According to LinkedIn, 58% of hiring managers believe that a lack of incoming soft skills is “limiting their company’s productivity.” So, how can companies reel in more ‘people’ people?

Starting the Conversation

For hiring managers, the rub is to find candidates who can ‘back up’ claims to soft skills. As Michael Page observes, it’s helpful to ask candidates questions that reveal how the candidate has used their soft-skills in practice: an interviewer might ask a candidate to describe a time where they helped team members come together to solve a difficult problem, or a time when the candidate had a disagreement with a superior or subordinate.

Companies also need to pay close attention to which soft skills matter most to them. Markman recommends that interviewers assess the behavior of a candidate with “the same rigour you use to track and understand the flow of money.” You should actively chart the most salient qualities of your most valuable performers and apply a scoring system to rate those qualities in interviewees. In the same quantitative way, it is enormously productive to use data analytics software, such as Launchpad’s VERIFY™, to help identify where your process is falling short in finding the skills your company needs.

In short, for a soft problem, organisations need hard answers - and, in a funny way, that can necessitate the application of technical tools and rigor. Of course, candidates with the necessary soft skills resist being pinned into easily-definable boxes, and that’s their charm. Most importantly, it’s also their value; as of late, charm is in high demand and short supply.

Arlene Kennedy

Arlene Kennedy is a Customer Success Executive at LaunchPad Recruits