Hard skills determine a candidate’s capacity to perform the duties outlined in a job description, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best talent for the role. Soft skills, on the other hand, can determine whether a candidate will be a good cultural fit for the company and a healthy addition to the team.
Here, Pavi Iyer, Talent Acquisition Lead at Catapult, discusses the difficulty in quantifying soft skills and – more importantly – how hiring managers need to screen for them.
Soft skills are all about potential
Unlike hard skills, which are learnt traits developed over time, soft skills are more nuanced. Pavi says they are less tangible than technical skills, but they are just as important in a work environment. So much so that even schools are integrating soft-skills learning into the classroom.
“Soft skills are your potential skill set, such as creative thinking, how you innovate and communicate, and cultural awareness,” she says. “They are more about relationship building and interpersonal skills.”
Notably, Pavi says that for candidates who have aspirations to work in a particular environment where soft skills are required, they can hone those skills through training, experience and courses.
“You can strengthen and improve your soft skills, but the biggest thing to identify is what are you trying to improve? Instead of just going out there and trying to do every form of training possible, it’s better to figure out what soft skills you specifically need to develop for a particular role and then improve on those.”
Why savvy recruiters place so much value on soft skills
HR teams are cottoning on to the value of soft skills because they can demonstrate a candidate’s internal thought processes – something that indicates how effective they will be within the organisation.
“When we are recruiting for soft skills, we’re recognising the potential of that person – we use their soft skills to drive their career advancement and help make them as successful as possible within the organisation,” Pavi says.
“So we need to look at it from a holistic view. Start by asking, ‘Does this person have X, Y, Z of these soft skills, and could we potentially see them growing in the organisation and moving into different teams because of those transferable skills?’”
Exactly how do you recruit for soft skills though?
“That’s the most difficult part because every company has different skill sets that they value above others,” Pavi says. “Once you’ve defined the skills you want your candidates to exude, you need to figure out how you can absorb them into the actual recruiting process.
“So if you want leadership or communication qualities, what specific questions can you ask to draw out those skills?”
Pavi suggests psychometric assessments as a good tool – they can give insight into how a person thinks, and even predict their future success in a role, so you can make a more informed decision on their candidacy. There are also a range of software tools on the market that support hiring managers as they try to draw out relevant soft skills, such as Pymetrics and Crystal Knows.
Pavi herself is fond of predictive-hiring models like DiSC profiling and the old-faithful Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. “I’ve also used TMS, which lets you see the strengths currently in a team and the areas that need development. So if you’re working on a project, you can actually harness that team’s particular strengths, or the individual players within that team can use their strengths to carry out the project to the best of their abilities.”
Pavi’s top 10 soft skills
Just like hard, quantifiable skills, Pavi knows there’s a vast ocean of soft skills that are applicable to different industries and roles. But for recruiters in most fields, she says the following 10 skills are the most critical:
- Growth mindset
- Cognitive flexibility
- Communication skills
- Cultural awareness
- Critical thinking
- Leadership (or people-management skills)
- Emotional intelligence
Companies that are taking soft skills seriously
Australia is slightly behind the eight ball when it comes to hiring for soft skills, and Pavi says we should be taking our lead from what organisations in the US are doing. In the meantime, however, there are some businesses that not only acknowledge the power of soft skills when hiring, but deliberately set up their recruiting processes around those skills – Virgin Australia, in particular.
“When Virgin Australia is hiring, they actually get a driver to pick up the candidate and take them to the interview location. They basically judge how the candidate treats their driver, the receptionist and the admin staff, because that shows a lot about how the individual treats people that can sometimes be undervalued by others in the community.
“So even if the candidate did really well in the interview but they mistreated the staff or were rude to them, they won’t get a job. This allows Virgin to uncover their level of empathy and whether they would be able to work well with others in different roles – not just look down on people.
“Also, in terms of people management, someone who joins Virgin will be working with a diverse range of individuals every day, so if they can’t treat people with courtesy and empathy from the very beginning, that’s a big turn-off.”
Convincing those at the top
Virgin Australia and other large, public-facing companies might be focusing on soft skills, but Pavi says it’s still a challenge to convince most businesses about the value of hiring for soft skills.
“From a recruiter’s perspective, I know a lot of my colleagues have the same issue: fighting for hiring managers to see the value in soft skills. I know we all – as a recruitment community – tend to struggle with that on a regular basis, trying to get across the fact that, ‘Hey, this person doesn’t have X, Y, Z skills right now, but they do have A, B, C skills that are transferable and you could teach them.
“This is what I always try to tell my hiring managers: you can’t teach personality to a person, but you can teach them about a product. So for a salesperson, you can’t teach them those innate personality skills but you can teach them how to sell a product.
“That means even if they don’t come from the same industry, with soft skills you can at least see the potential that they would be able to adapt quickly into a different industry.”
The bottom line, says Pavi: “Every business needs to see the value in hiring for soft skills and transferable skills.”