Cultivating a strong talent pool is crucial to a company's—and a recruiter's—success. But sometimes a recruiter will make a hire based on the technical skills and achievements of a candidate, only to discover less than 90 days later that the new hire isn't deemed a good fit by the existing team, and they are let go.
So what went wrong? Often the answer lies with a person's soft skills or (lack thereof).
What are soft skills, and why do they matter?
In 2019, LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends reported that 92% of talent acquisition professionals indicated that soft skills are as important to hire for as hard skills. And 89% said that when a new hire doesn't work out, it's because they lacked critical soft skills.
Focusing on a candidate's hard skills— the skills that are quantifiable and relate directly to the job they would be doing—may feel more natural. After all, managers and team members alike will expect that a new hire possesses the capacity to do the job they were hired to do. However, it is just as important to hone in on soft skills.
Soft skills affect how employees collaborate with their team, and can ultimately influence a hire's reputation at the company. They will eventually play a role in an employee's success because every employee has to work with other people in some capacity, whether it be a manager, a client, or a peer.
Just as you are diligent when ensuring a candidate has the appropriate hard skills and technical experience for a role, it’s important to apply that same diligence to evaluating a candidate’s set of soft skills. That way, when they come in they are set-up for success. You can find the most talented graphic designer in the city, but if they can't take feedback very well, they are almost useless to the company.
Mastering this talent acquisition component can save your company thousands of dollars and countless hours of training by reducing employee turnover.
According to Lattice, the estimation of money lost due to poor hires is astounding. "Consider a 150-person company with an 11% annual turnover rate. If you spend $25k per person on hiring, $10k per person on development, and lose $50k of productivity when refilling a role, your annual cost of turnover would be about $1.57 million. Reducing this by just 20% would immediately yield over $300k in value."
It is demanding and time-consuming to train a new employee. It interrupts a team's daily operations, productivity, and rhythm. So a bad hire ends up costing more than money, it amounts to lost time, depleted energy, and a resentful team forced to pick up the slack until a replacement comes along.
Additionally, a high turnover rate could begin to raise some eyebrows around the office, leading to a toxic work environment.
On the other hand, finding candidates with strong soft skills will result in a more brilliant team. Happier employees have been reported to be more productive, more loyal to their employer, and more inspired at work.
How do I test candidates' soft skills?
Once you come to see the importance of soft skills, you may wonder how to hire for them.
Common behavioral questions could include:
- Tell me a time you had creative differences with a client, and how you handled the situation.
- When was a time you went above and beyond to satisfy a client?
- When was a time you made a grave error in judgment? How did you communicate this to your team and/or manager?
- How do you organize your day? Take me through your morning before work.
- Tell me a time you noticed the quality was being compromised on a project, and how you handled the situation.
With open-ended questions, you're able to learn how they approached the problem, and if they found success. You're able to get insight into their critical thinking skills and interpersonal communication style, and see how self-aware they are as an employee.
Assessing soft skills with screening tests
Another way to assess a candidate’s soft skills is to provide the space for them to demonstrate their skills via screening tests. Many employers are turning to cognitive ability tests which measure how candidates think and situational judgment tests, which measure how well candidates respond in different situations.
As an added benefit, screening tests tend to be more objective than interviews, ensuring all candidates were tested across the same parameters and given equal opportunities to showcase their skill set.
- Personality test - A personality test measures an individual’s behavioral characteristics. As the name suggests, personality tests are meant to explore the candidate's personality traits and ensure fit within the team they would be working with and the clients they could potentially service.
- Situational judgment - These are meant to measure the candidate's situational judgment and how they would make decisions within specific contexts. Situational judgment tests are particularly effective when testing for managerial and leadership requirements.
- Cognitive ability tests are designed to measure mental skills like attention to detail, problem-solving, critical thinking, numerical reasoning, and reading comprehension — many of the same skills ranked as top soft skills across industries. Situational judgment tests measure skills like leadership, time management, and communication.
Assessing soft skills during interviews
The interview process allows recruiters another great opportunity to learn about a candidate's soft skills. A practical and popular option is behavioral interviews.
Contrary to traditional interview questions, behavioral interviews focus less on what a candidate did in a role. Instead, behavioral interview questions focus on concrete examples and past experiences showcasing the candidate’s communication and working style.
If you choose to use screening tests as a first step, you can then cross-reference the results and dig deeper with your candidate.
A great next step could include formulating questions to verify that a candidate does in fact have excellent communication skills as concluded per the screening test. Additionally, this step can allow you to understand the gaps in their time-management or any other soft skills noted from the test.
List of top soft skills for each industry
Now that you know what soft skills are, why they are important, and how to spot them — all that is left is knowing what to look for in a candidate.
There are some desirable traits and attributes that span every industry (such as 'communication' and ‘attention to detail’), but it is also imperative to understand the soft skills that are specific to success in different roles.
For example, you may be hiring for a graphic designer for the creative team and a human resources generalist on the HR team. You would want both team members to be communicative, though likely in different ways.
The creative hire should be collaborative, able to take client feedback, and apply it to a project, whereas the human resources generalist should be compassionate, able to identify the needs of an employee, and provide the appropriate tools.
Below is an outline of the most common industries with an accompanying list of the most desirable soft skills for the field. At a high-level, the list will outline how the soft skill plays an important role in the success of the employee, highlighting what recruiters should and will be looking for when interviewing.
Note that roles can be incredibly complex, especially at younger companies or companies with unique products or services. We recommend taking a deeper dive into our blog for more details and information related to hiring.
Business Development & Sales
Those within the business development and sales industry are garnering new client opportunities as well as maintaining an existing pipeline to grow business and generate sales.
List of top soft skills for Business Development & Sales roles:
- Communication - Important when speaking with clients
- Persuasion - Critical when procuring new business and speaking to a product/service
- Responsibility - Essential when hitting goals and ensure accountability
- Confidence - Important to procuring trust with clients and making business decisions
- Resilience - Essential when dealing with rejection
Creative & Digital Media
Those in the creative and digital media industry are working, either in-house or with clients, to produce promotional materials with the intent to generate traffic via online platforms (ie, websites, social media, advertisements).
List of top soft skills for creative & digital media roles:
- Collaboration - Ensuring the client's vision is being executed
- Feedback - Able to give and receive constructive criticism from client and team
- Time management - Can juggle several projects at once
- Lifelong learning - To keep up with new trends and software
Marketing teammates ensure the company is creating, communicating, and delivering cohesive messaging to a set of consumers.
List of top soft skills for marketing roles:
- Diligence - Pays attention to editing and is thoughtful with content
- Ideation - Can creatively pivot for last-minute requests
- Teamwork - Can accomplish tasks as a team member, not the sole contributor
- Analysis - Can understand consumer feedback and provide sound recommendations
Those in this field resolve customer issues, answer questions, capture feedback, and identify opportunities for operational improvement and excellence for the company.
List of top soft skills for customer service roles:
- Discipline - To abide by store/company rules and guidelines
- Clear communication - Important when speaking with customers
- Empathy - Being sensitive to customer concerns and issues
- Active listening - Essential when resolving issues with team members and customers
Those within the field of education are working with students to create curricula, educate students and inspire them.
List of top soft skills for education roles:
- Ability to influence - Critical for classroom management and getting children's attention at a moment's notice
- Diligence - Invested in the accuracy of messaging to children, parents, and the district
- Organization - Important for lesson planning and day-to-day classroom management
- Relationship Management - Crucial when working with parents and fellow teachers
Employees on the HR team are responsible for taking on challenges related to the experience and well-being of employees.
List of top soft skills for human resources roles:
- Compassion - Important when interacting with employees and learning about their issues at work and sometimes, at home
- Interpersonal Communication - Crucial when working with people and high-stress levels
- Conflict Resolution - Can mediate issues related to employee relations
- Equity - Needs to separate emotions from work to make sound business decisions
- Trustworthy - Critical to gain executives' and employees' buy-in to influence change
Working within the healthcare industry to treat and heal suffering patients.
List of top soft skills for medical roles:
- Adaptability - Can tailor their disposition to meet patient needs
- Flexibility - Can shift priorities as updates are made
- Patience - Important when handling patient questions or complaints
- Pragmatic approach - Can communicate clearly when talking about sensitive topics or delivering difficult news over the phone
- Persistence - Important to be unwavering in the pursuit of answers for patients
Those within the technology space are typically working with various teams to resolve a spectrum of technology-related problems.
List of top soft skills for technology roles:
- Humility - Critical when working with other team members who may be asking for help
- Teamwork - Able to work collaboratively and independently
- Lifelong learner - Continues to stay updated with industry trends to keep the business’ product and services competitive
- Leadership - It’s important an engineer is open to helping others with their personal development
- Self-Starter - Able to recognize problems within systems and take action to resolve
Softs skills will always matter in business
With the business world being an ever-changing landscape, it can be expected that some trends and industry norms will shift and change with time.
Dress codes have evolved; most employees bounce around jobs multiple times within their careers; the younger generations are finding more creative outlets for income. But no matter how progressive business becomes, having soft skills will always be crucial to a team's success.
In the end, recruiters and hiring managers are in the business of finding incredible talent to drive a company’s mission and add value to existing teams. Soft skills are an important component to ensure the greatest candidates are sourced and hired on, and contribute to a company’s ultimate success.