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Soft skills in hiring: The complete guide

June 6, 2023
A network

What’s the difference between ChatGPT and your employees? Well, mainly their soft skills. In the age of AI, more employers are recognising the power of the humanity of their workers. It’s easier than ever to recognise that this is one element that is simply irreplaceable. In fact, 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers believe that candidates with strong soft skills are increasingly important, and 89% feel that bad hires have poor soft skills.

Clearly, soft skills are becoming essential for recruitment. But what actually are they, why do they matter, and how can you incorporate them into your own hiring process?

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are traits that relate to personality and interaction with others. These can be, for example, creativity, communication, problem-solving, empathy, and time management.

While hard skills are easy to quantify and qualify — whether it’s proficiency with a certain piece of software, fluency in a language, or even typing speed — soft skills are more nebulous personal attributes, making them a lot harder to measure.

Why are soft skills important for hiring?

It’s no secret that technical competencies are important when hiring and, as an added bonus, are easier to measure. Yet, despite this, so many businesses are now highlighting the need for soft skills. Which, when you really think about it, makes perfect sense — many soft skills are predictive of job performance and success:

1. Soft skills never go out of date

The half-life of technical competencies is diminishing: a competent programmer might find themselves coding in an outdated, useless language in a few years’ time, but no one is ever growing out of the need for creativity, teamwork, or critical thinking.

Many of the technical features of different roles are now, or in the process of becoming, automated. Businesses are increasingly aware that manual tasks are no longer what drives a job. Instead, soft skills complement automation. Creativity, for example, allows employees to think outside the box, produce interesting results, and find unique solutions.

2. Soft skills are better indicators of fit

Hard skills can be learnt pretty easily — your hire will usually be able to pick up the technical component of the job eventually. However, mastering soft skills takes far more time and relies on individual personality quite heavily. While ability and experience may help you discern who is capable of completing their everyday tasks, it’s the soft skills that allow you to identify who truly suits your company culture better, who is nice to work with, and who can contribute to your overall success.

The way your employees interact with each other can also be predictive of longevity in a role. Soft skills are heavily relied upon in communication and relationships, so they can help you prevent a high turnover rate. Take conflict resolution, commitment, or work ethic — those who possess those qualities would be long-term assets, not just short-term.

Further reading: Should university degrees be required when hiring?

3. Soft skills are essential for teamwork

Obviously, there are jobs that require more teamwork than others. But, even in those ‘lone wolf’ roles, interacting with others in a productive manner is crucial; whether it’s creating a pleasant atmosphere at lunch, or reporting to stakeholders.

Especially for jobs that demand brainstorming or working with different people within a team (or even different parts of the organisation), teamwork should be seriously considered. Soft skills such as communication and empathy are major factors in a candidate’s ability to work well with others.

4. Soft skills mean a wider network

A personable individual has most likely picked up some connections along the way, some of which could be invaluable for an organisation. Be it attracting other top talent into your ranks, getting more shares on social media, or achieving beneficial mutual relationships with other companies, a hire with excellent soft skills means a wider network for you to tap into as an employer.

5. Soft skills manifest development

Did you know that two-thirds of employees prefer to be managed by someone who was promoted internally within their organisation, rather than someone hired from the outside? Internal mobility is an upward trend in today’s business environment, with more and more employers realising that it can save them time and money as they can then skip recruitment fees and reduce the time spent interviewing and onboarding.

Great soft skills mean that your workforce is more predisposed to growth and development. They also include traits that are essential for leaders, such as delegation, flexibility, and communication.

A face with the brain highlighted

How do you measure soft skills?

So, we’ve established that you should, in fact, rely on soft skills when hiring. Which is great and everything, but how to actually do it is a whole different ball game. Like we’ve previously mentioned, measuring soft skills is far more difficult than hard skills. However, there are still a few things you can do to make sure you’re incorporating soft skills into your decision making when it comes to recruitment.

1. Have clear values in mind

Before you can assess someone’s soft skills, you need to know what you’re actually testing for. Different organisations will highlight different skills and values they’d want to see in a candidate. And then, you need to consider that different roles require different skills. That’s why, when you decide you want to recruit for a job, you need to have your company values in mind, as well as the specific traits that are necessary for working that particular role within that particular team.

For example, a salesperson would need to show flexibility and communication. In your interview, you can ask a candidate to give you an example of a time when they had to think on their feet, or when a miscommunication occurred and how they solved it. This will give you a much better indication of their flexibility and communication ability, but in order to do this, you have to first decide that these are the skills you’d like to find in a hire.

2. Rely on personality assessments

We’d all love to get a cheeky peek into someone’s psyche. But it’s not just for our natural curiosity — personality assessments are an invaluable tool when it comes to measuring soft skills. They gauge the skills and attributes that are important for your business and the specific role, and give you a proficiency score in a similar way to ability tests. This is a great way to make the intangible tangible, as long as you use valid and scientifically-proven assessments.

Thrive, for example, provides personalised assessments for any role you may have. Developed by leading occupational psychologists, these assessments test for the traits that objectively predict success for your exact role. You are also able to then build on this by customising exactly to what your business needs. Candidates are then benchmarked against millions of others to help you identify high performing employees. Where Thrive has measured a risk, you will also receive interview questions written by a leading psychologist to help you structure interviews and determine their suitability.

3. Call up those references

Those who have already worked with your candidate, while not able to measure accurately, can give you a sense of what their soft skills are like. If you’re still unsure about a fit, it never hurts to ask the people who know your potential hire. The first rule applies here too, though — you can ask the reference to generally describe what it’s like to work with your candidate, but it’s also important to prepare questions that will help you assess specific deficiencies you’ve recognised, or the particular traits you are looking for.

If you want to assess a candidate’s soft skills as well as their ability, Thrive can help. Speak to us today to learn more.

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