Why are soft skills important?
The term ‘soft skills’ is everywhere. But do we really know what it means?
The best way to illustrate the definition is through comparison – hard skills are the ones associated with a specialised discipline. They include the technical knowledge gained from completing a university degree, and the jargon associated with the degree’s subject. A programmer’s hard skills would be the programming languages they know, and a criminal lawyer would have their understanding of the legal system and preceding court cases to show their expertise.
Soft skills are more difficult to accurately quantify. Largely, they consist of the interpersonal skills professionals are required to have in order to work and communicate effectively. That means the term ‘soft skills’ encompasses everything from leadership and teamwork, to critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. And those are the kinds of skills becoming increasingly important in hiring exceptional employees. As an added bonus, social skills are the antidote to automation. Computers may be good at calculative and repetitive tasks, but they can’t replicate the intricacy of effective social communication.
When it comes to the hiring process, businesses should be looking out for people who have the skills necessary to work in teams, take initiative, come up with innovative solutions, and can handle clients with grace and respect.
But the elephant in the room remains: how do employers find candidates with these kinds of skills? They’re not easy to assess in any sort of test or academic structure, the way hard skills can be.
A tenuous possibility is checking whether a prospective employee has listed soft skills in their CV – if they have, there’s a chance they recognise how important they are. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well-versed in communicating, and the soft skills section might’ve only been put there to fill up space, or to make the CV look good, rather than being a proper reflection of ability.
In that case, the best thing to do is ask the right questions at the interview. For example, behavioural questions concern the actions of the interviewee in the past, such as when they faced a difficult problem at work or had a situation where they needed to be innovative. Seeing how they managed a previous issue can help discern whether they’ll be able to deal with inevitable future problems, and assess how they’ll have a positive impact on the company.
Situational questions are also useful information-gatherers, as they propose a scenario to the interviewee to see how they’d react in a specific situation, such as what they would do if they were late to work, or if they needed to convince someone of the worth of an idea. Both types of questions can be answered using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) technique, which will reveal their response and plan of attack. The way interviewees answer these questions could reveal their ingenuity, innovativeness, and ability to work on a team. Even personality tests are a good resource in ensuring the right hire – the MBTI test offers a comprehensive look at an individual’s characteristics, including whether they have leadership capabilities, and whether they’re more or less willing to be spontaneous.
Regardless of the method of assessment, soft skills are steadily becoming the new norm for essential skills in the business world. Although they’re more difficult to assess, and there may be pitfalls along the way, the employees who have soft skills in abundance will ultimately prove to be the most valuable resource for your business.
Take the MBTI here.