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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speaks to the need for, and the shortage of, soft skills in the workplace.  Finally, an article that addresses the stunningly important need for soft skills in the workplace goes front and center.

Hard skills, (the ability to create beautiful user interfaces with JavaScript for example) will get you the job, but soft skills will help you keep the job. The term soft skills refers to qualities like critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication. They can be difficult to assess from traditional job application materials, but can be essential to your organization’s success.

More people fail in the workplace due to a lack of soft skills than hard skills. This is because hard skills, in so many cases, can be taught, whereas it’s much harder to teach soft skills. As a result, talent acquisition professionals should pay close attention to the candidates’ soft skills, and consider them just as seriously as hard skills. The Wall Street Journal reports:

As the labor market tightens, competition has heated up for workers with the right mix of soft skills, which vary by industry and across the pay spectrum—from making small talk with a customer at the checkout counter, to coordinating a project across several departments on a tight deadline.

Let’s be honest with each other. Hard skills matter. Medicinal chemists, software architects, and directors of infrastructure security require certain hard skills in order to be successful. The bottom line is they will not be effective in their role if they do not possess some very definitive hard skills. However, as The Wall Street Journal reports, many tasks that previously required hard skills have been automated:

While such skills have always appealed to employers, decades-long shifts in the economy have made them especially crucial now. Companies have automated or outsourced many routine tasks, and the jobs that remain often require workers to take on broader responsibilities that demand critical thinking, empathy or other abilities that computers can’t easily simulate.

So even in roles that require specialized expertise, soft skills are an absolute necessity. Without effective communication in the workplace, for instance, the organization loses its ability to be at its best and most productive. Without effective problem-solving among leadership, employee engagement suffers and productivity begins to slip.

I can easily write about soft skills and give you 10,000 words but my editor will not allow it. Suffice to say, the time to look at a potential employee’s ability to work well with others, communicate clearly, be a strong team member, and think critically is now. Organizations must understand that their success relies not on the bloated egos of leadership but on the backs of those employees who are able to accept responsibility in the face of an unhappy client. Furthermore, they must have the ability to motivate those around them, meet a deadline, and rise to the occasion under impossible odds while carrying the entire team on their back when heroics of that nature are required. Those soft skills are rare and incredibly valuable.

My advice to talent acquisition professionals is as follows:

  • Get the hard skill assessment out of the way first. This is a binary decision. You either mover forward or you do not.
  • Look at soft skills very closely. Beware of being charmed by the brilliance of a technical specificity. It is nice to have but that quality can cut both ways. Gone are the days of the genius who can’t get along with others, hates clients, and refuses to attend meetings.
  • Get to know the candidate under consideration. Ask yourself if you would want to work with them 50 hours a week. Do you trust that person to have your back, or do you think they will climb on it to get ahead?
  • Find out where they have been in terms of employment. Ask them about how they operate with others and discuss their previous organizations’ values. Look for cracks in the façade. Gently put them under pressure, as they will surely be under pressure if they are the next hire.
  • Worry less about leadership abilities. Look for people who will follow the leader and execute leaderships’ vision, because if everyone is a leader, who is actually going to do the job?
  • Lastly, never hire for the team without their approval. Let the team get in on the process, and listen their feedback. If they are against a candidate, there is a reason. Find out why.

There is an old saying, “hire for attitude, train for skills.” This aphorism is a little reductionist, but it’s an interesting jumping off point in the hard skills vs. soft skills conversation. Those organizations who fail to see the need for soft skills in the workplace are missing a vital quality of success.

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