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Soft skills in the workplace

Soft Skills in the Workplace

Most job ads will very clearly define what skills are required for a position. This may include formal education or qualifications, technical skills, internships, and other certifications. These are known as hard skills and are usually job specific – such as programming, property law, feature writing, photography, or any other quantifiable skill. Hard skills can be learned, tested and measured, and some jobs may even test you on these during the recruitment and onboarding process.

Just as important to many jobs however, are the soft skills. Soft skills are harder to measure, usually sound more generic (such as “can work in a team” or “good communicator”), and cannot be identified as easily by the candidate or the recruiter. They are however, critically important to stimulating a good team dynamic and well-functioning workplace.

Soft skills are hard work

Job advertisements can attract dozens of candidates, all of whom may be equally qualified. Candidates may have the same degree, industry experience, or produce work of equal quality. So why does one get picked over the other? Job interviews give candidates the ability to explicitly and implicitly demonstrate their very own “x-factor”. Research published in the Business Communication Quarterly found ten key soft skills identified as important by business executives:

  • Integrity
  • Communication
  • Courtesy
  • Responsibility
  • Social skills
  • Positive attitude
  • Professionalism
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Work ethic

The authors found soft skills are just as good an indicator of future job performance as traditional qualifications, (the hard skills). The job interview can be a quick process, particularly where there are a large number of potential hires. For recruiters, this means being able to identify not just what soft skills the potential employee has, but quickly assess how these will fit into the existing workplace culture. For the applicant, this means not just touting your years of experience or expertise, but advertising your social skills, flexibility, and team mentality.

Of the list above, the most frequently cited desired skills wanted by employers were integrity in the workplace (100%), communication (100%), courtesy (84%) and interpersonal skills (61.4%).

Identifying soft skills in the recruitment process.

Many companies, educational institutions and even the military use some form of soft skill testing to assess applicants for positions. Findings from 2013 research suggest soft skills measures are stronger predictors of earnings and employment than an applicant’s hard skills. The authors caution however, that ‘off-the-shelf’ personality tests (such as many found online) are not always comprehensive, and are not tailored to specific jobs. Recruitment software with machine learning algorithms are becoming more available to employers. These applications can collect data through the employee lifecycle to identify specific attributes that work best in a specific business. This streamlines future recruiting and allows the employer to know they are recruiting the best talent using targeted, business-specific measures. Unsuitable applicants are filtered out and HR staff get a choice of the best of the best.

For applicants, the job interview is the opportunity to show off your enthusiasm and professionalism. Some background research on the company will allow you to demonstrate how your work ethic suits the corporate culture of the employer and demonstrate how you present to stakeholders in representing the company.

Benefits of developing soft skills in the workplace

While technical, hard skills get the job done, they don’t contribute to the corporate culture, morale, or team-building. These less obvious, intangible soft skills of employees are integral to how the business is reflected to stakeholders, the desirability of the business as a place to work, and long-term retention of excellent employees. There is little use to recruiting a team member with an outstanding list of technical skills if they aren’t around long enough for the business to reap the rewards of their hard work.

Soft skills go both ways. While employees should be expected to act with integrity and professionalism, the business must as well. Employees feel valued and trust the business where information is communicated regularly and transparently. Foster teamwork and positivity, and employees and businesses will see significant mutual benefit.

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