With 53% of employers agreeing that soft skills are essential when making hiring decisions and 91% of talent professionals agreeing that soft skills can transform the workplace, there’s little doubt that soft skills are a key consideration in recruitment.
But how are soft skills defined? Which ones are most important to look out for in hiring? And how can soft skills be evaluated effectively in the recruitment process?
This article will tell you everything you need to know about improving your hiring accuracy and efficiency using soft skills.
What are soft skills and hard skills?
The types of skills that people have can be separated into two categories: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are skills that are quantifiable, objective, and technical. They can be taught in training or education and are required for a specific profession. Examples of hard skills include reading, coding, and woodworking. With hard skills, it’s easy to measure whether someone has the skill or not – put the individual in front of a computer and ask them to code and it will soon become clear whether they have this skill.
Many of the skills included on a CV or LinkedIn profile are hard skills, for example a person applying for a data analyst job will include their data analysis skills on their resumé with evidence of the training courses or experience that have allowed them to build these skills.
Soft skills, in contrast, are broader interpersonal skills that impact the way a person works and interacts with other people but are not specific to a particular profession. They are harder to measure and quantify because these skills include things like communication skills, problem-solving skills, leadership, or critical thinking. However, while these are more difficult than hard skills to assess, there are still effective methods for evaluating a person’s soft skills (more on this later).
You may be surprised to learn that the concept of soft skills originated with the US army in the 1960s. At that time, people in the army realised that many key activities in the military such as leadership or motivating other soldiers were not dependent on technical skills at using machinery or equipment, but instead used broader skills.
Today, many recruiters, hiring managers, talent management professionals, and employers recognise the importance of soft skills in the workplace. However, due to the broad and hard-to-quantify nature of these skills, it can be difficult to know which skills are essential to look out for while recruiting. Here are the most essential soft skills to look for from your candidates in 2023.
An all-time important soft skill, effective communication remains at the top of the list of soft skills recruiters and employers need to look out for in 2023. Good communication skills are essential to job success – they allow individuals to effectively share and understand information with their team members, offer and listen to feedback constructively, and get their message across effectively in presentations or written communication.
This skill is especially important in the increasingly hybrid workplace, where remote working has become commonplace since the Covid-19 pandemic. When a team isn’t all working together in one place every day it’s even more important to recruit individuals who can communicate effectively in multiple ways: face-to-face conversations and presentations, written communication in online instant messages and emails, video, and audio calls.
Candidates with strong time management skills are crucial in the workplace. It’s not just about meeting deadlines – good time management skills mean that a candidate is good at organisation, planning, prioritising, and goal setting.
These skills are especially important in hybrid or remote workplaces where the new recruit will be away from the workplace and will need to prioritise and plan to get their work done independently, without a manager nearby to keep them on track.
Therefore, any organisation that will continue with a hybrid model or fully remote workplace in 2023 should look out for new employees with good time management skills.
Often overlapping with communication skills, the soft skill of teamwork is essential in most workplaces. Candidates with good teamwork skills are those who are able to collaborate well with others, achieving better results than can be achieved alone. They’re good at managing conflict and disagreements within teams and coming out stronger than before. Often, they’re also good at mediating between different team members or viewpoints and coordinating team efforts towards goals.
Teamwork is a skill that can be tricky to evaluate in individual interviews, so you might ask candidates for examples of their previous work with teams and how they approached issues. Another option is to use group interviews where groups of candidates are assigned to tasks together – this helps you analyse how they perform in a team setting.
Problem solving is essential in any career but some candidates are naturally more effective at solving problems than others. Although we may think of problem solving as a soft skill in itself, it is actually a combination of other skills such as analysis, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and self-confidence.
While recruiting for a role, looking out for problem solving skills means evaluating candidates’ abilities to rise to challenges and come up with solutions to problems. The types of problems will depend on the workplace itself; a customer service role will involve a completely different type of problem-solving to a project management role or an IT role.
Remember that you’re not analysing an applicant’s ability to solve a problem using their hard skills such as IT skills, but rather evaluating the way they approach a problem and the initiative they show.
When recruiting a new employee in 2023, work ethic is one of the most important soft skills to look out for. After the so-called Great Resignation of recent years and the growing popularity of the ‘quiet quitting’ trend, finding candidates who will be engaged and hard working employees who will stick around for a long time is essential.
Work ethic encompasses an individual’s discipline and motivation towards their work as well as their professionalism and dependability. It’s one of the harder soft skills to assess in a job candidate because applicants always want to impress recruiters and hiring managers with their work ethic. To get a better understanding of work ethic, interview questions about their past roles are useful.
Critical thinking is about analysing the facts to better and more comprehensively understand a situation. Closely linked to problem solving, critical thinking skills allow employees to analyse, infer, and come up with plans to move forward. It also involves overcoming bias or assumptions to analyse situations with objectivity.
Critical thinking skills are seldom obvious from a CV, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile, so they are often identified in the interview or skills testing process. Interview questions about a job seeker’s past experience are useful to analyse this soft skill. Tests such as situational judgement tests also provide an insight into how candidates critically approach information.
Defined as the capacity to recognise, control, and express your emotions, emotional intelligence is closely linked to empathy. EI encompasses self-awareness, empathy, and self-regulation. It’s particularly important for employees in high-pressure or fast paced roles such as in social services, healthcare, or even hospitality because these careers sometimes have high burnout rates. With good emotional intelligence skills, individuals are more able to handle stressful environments and have more productive relationships with their coworkers.
To analyse emotional intelligence in job candidates, it can be helpful to ask questions or use an assessment to see how they would respond in different situations.
Adaptability refers to an individual’s ability to adjust to change and work effectively with it. Also sometimes referred to as flexibility, adaptability is a soft skill that allows employees to work in a fast-faced or ever changing environment. This is often linked to open-mindedness and decision-making skills.
One of the most important soft skills your candidates should have, empathy links closely to other skills such as teamwork, communication, and emotional intelligence. Empathy is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as:
‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.’
In other words, empathy is about being able to intuit the feelings and thoughts of others – a key interpersonal skill that allows for better interactions and communication. For example, in recruitment for a customer service role you need to ensure that the candidate is able to understand the feelings of the customer in order to give them the best experience.
However, empathy is a soft skill that is also important in a range of non customer-facing roles. Whether you’re hiring an HR team member, a designer, or a marketing expert, choosing a candidate with strong empathy is important because it means that they will understand how the work they do impacts people.
If you’re hiring someone for an entry level role there’s no need to think about their leadership skills, right? Wrong. Leadership skills are important even in entry level positions because these skills can help them thrive in their roles and maybe one day be promoted.
Leadership skills include a range of other soft skills including management, mentorship, emotional intelligence, and patience, all of which are beneficial in the workforce.
People with strong leadership skills are an asset in your organisation, even if they’re not hired for leadership roles at the present moment.
How to assess soft skills in hiring
Despite the importance of a workforce with a good range of soft skills, 57% of companies struggle to assess the soft skills of applicants. This is because soft skills are notoriously hard to test.
However, there are some ways to effectively test soft skills in recruitment. Skills tests are a great way to do this. While some skills tests focus on hard skills such as literacy or accounting, soft skills tests are a great way to evaluate traits such as communication, problem-solving, or time management.
Situational judgement tests (SJTs) are a great way to gain an insight into how a candidate will exhibit their soft skills in a particular work-related situation by giving them hypothetical scenarios and asking them how they would react. These questionnaires do not necessarily have a correct or incorrect answer; instead, they provide an insight into soft skills such as time management or teamwork.
Another test that can indicate a candidate’s soft skills is a verbal reasoning or numerical reasoning assessment, which can help you understand their problem solving skills. Delivered under time pressure, these tests also help recruiters understand applicants’ time management skills and ability to work under pressure.
Interested in implementing skills testing in your hiring process to better evaluate your candidates’ all-important soft skills? Skillsarena can help. As one of the UK’s leading providers of skills assessment software, Skillsarena’s off-the-shelf and bespoke skills tests can help your team find the perfect person for the job.