Shifting the Focus: Hiring for Soft Skills

Identifying soft skills has always been a struggle for recruiters. Is the candidate detail-oriented? Do they think critically and adapt amidst change? Are they ambitious and confident? Will they be a leader on the team? Most hiring managers admit to having a hard time with identifying soft skills as well. Hard skills like technical competencies, certifications, software proficiencies are much easier to identify.

However, as more light has been shed on the significance of hiring for soft skills, research is being done regarding how to identify those skills. From tailoring interview questions to observing social cues, and even pre-hire assessments, there are a variety of tools available to assess candidates’ soft skills so that your organization develops the clearest picture possible of each applicant.

The shift toward hiring for soft skills should have happened a long time ago. We know that soft skills are better indicators of success in a given role than hard skills. We know that a focus on soft skills could lead to a diminishing gender gap in the workplace. We also know that success defining soft skills can vary significantly across roles that require similar hard skills. Even simply shifting a role from in-office to remote will shift the soft skills it takes to be successful in a given role.

Even so, a significant portion of organizations still insist on making hard skills the primary focus in the hiring process. There are a number of reasons for this—it’s the way it’s always been done, hard skills are easier to define, hard skills seem more practical, etc. We’ve outlined some significant reasons for why you should adjust your recruitment process to identify and assess candidates primarily on their soft skills.

Soft skills are a better predictor of job success

It seems counterintuitive initially, but any hiring manager’s goal should not be to hire the highest level of talent they can in a given role. The goal should be to hire the highest level of “job fit.” A candidate with high job fit will:

  • Be successful in the role (however you define success as an organization)
  • Feel satisfied in their role
  • Stay with your organization for a significant amount of time

Of course, there is more that goes into job fit than just the talent of the hire. Whether or not the candidate feels that they are in the right position, as well as how they align with your company values both play significant roles in the sense of belonging that a new hire will have.

Even if on-the-job success was the only factor to consider, soft skills are still a better predictor than hard skills. Research conducted by Stanford Research Institute International and Carnegie Mellon Foundation of Fortune 500 CEOs reported that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills while only 25% depends on technical knowledge. Part of this is because soft skills indicate how a candidate will work—not just what they will do.

Soft skills are harder to teach

The reason hard skills are so much easier to learn is because they are simply that, a skill. To learn a skill takes a certain amount of knowledge and repetition. Individuals pick up various hard skills at different rates based on a number of factors, but the process remains the same. The knowledge is transferred and then the candidate must practice that skill until it becomes more natural.

With soft skills there are layers. Soft skills are less of a skill and more of a trait, and so to teach that trait, you must first address the underlying personality qualities that make up that trait. This becomes a much more complex process than simply learning a new skill.

Why does this matter for your candidates? Once hired, a candidate must be nurtured and taught in order for them to reach their full potential in a role. If you are having to go through the complex process of developing a candidate’s soft skill (trait) versus a hard skill, it will end up costing your organization a lot more time and resources and is more likely to result in turnover. It is much easier to identify a candidate with the proper soft skills earlier on in the hiring process than it is to develop them once that candidate has been hired.

It is possible to identify soft skills

The development of technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), has made it even easier to identify candidates’ soft skills. At Cangrade, we have developed a free tool called the Job Description Decoder to help you identify what soft skills you should look for in your recruiting efforts. All you need is an idea of what the role entails. Your results share soft skills to look for, language to use in your job description, and interview questions to help identify the soft skills your candidates need.

If you choose, your Job Description Decoder results can power Cangrade’s Pre-Hire Assessment to help you find the best candidate. Then with Cangrade’s Jobvite integration, you can import your candidate’s results directly into your ATS to manage screening in one simple location.

Additionally, Job Description Grader by Jobvite analyzes your job description and provides a custom report to help you overcome recruitment obstacles and more inclusively attract the best applicants. Using AI, data analytics, and industry benchmarks to analyze job descriptions for potential biases, Job Description Grader by Jobvite allows you to identify language that may include gender, racial, and ability biases and craft a more inclusive description.

These tools will help your employment brand stand out from the start and attract top talent with the right mix of soft and hard skills for your team. The idea of recognizing and prioritizing soft skills has begun to gain momentum over the past few years, and as organizations shift their recruitment processes to focus on soft skills, others will follow suit.