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What are Soft Skills and Why the New Focus on Them?

June 12, 2014

By: Christine Butler

It’s becoming quite common for employers to look beyond the specific job qualifications or the technical expertise of an individual applying for work. These hard skills are critical as to whether or not a person can do the job…but there’s more.

The second kind of skill set that companies are seeking is what is referred to as soft skills. These are the people skills, personal attributes, also known as interpersonal skills. Most positions require some interaction with fellow employees, vendors, or clients, and employees need to be able to interface and…well…basically get along with people.

Here are some results from a recent poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management. Two-thirds of the companies trying to hire full-time employees find it difficult to find the right skills in both categories. The hard skills required are more obvious. I want to discuss the soft skills. What are they, and why are they so important?

“The hard truth about soft skills - they can make or break your career.

- Peggy Klaus, Business Coach and Author

Regarding these skills, this same report goes on to say, “HR professionals continue to report gaps in basic knowledge and skills in job applicants.” Following are the percentages of respondents that found these skills lacking in their candidates:

Critical thinking/problem solving 53%   Professionalism/work ethic 46%
Written communication 41%   Leadership 36%
Basic knowledge of writing in English 55%   Mathematics 38%
Reading comprehension 31%      

In another informal poll conducted by Amdur Coaching and Advisory Group LLC, they found that 90% of those recruiting new hires said their greatest gaps came from communication skills and teamwork.

Why are these soft skills so important? Why should organizations put so much emphasis on them? If you think about the various jobs in the world today, their importance becomes quite clear. Almost all jobs have some interaction with other people. There may be a few jobs with no connection with the outside world, but those are rare.

Doctors learn a highly technical discipline or set of hard skills so they can practice medicine. But their patients are people, so their soft skills are still important. How many times have you heard of people changing doctors because of poor bedside manner? If you’re treated like a number and rushed through the office like cattle in a cattle car with no opportunity to ask questions or learn more about your ailment, you will not be a happy camper and may decide to change doctors. Another example of soft skill importance is calling a service center. How many times are you tempted to scream at the phone and hang up because the person on the other end of the phone is not listening to you, nor can they appropriately communicate with you about your issue? The person on the other end may be highly skilled in his field, but if he cannot work with people and get them to understand, then it’s wasted time and effort on both sides, and the customer is unhappy.

For the next example, let’s move inside the company. There are always interactions between departments or coworkers.  If the communications are stifled because the players cannot agree, then work is stopped, and the bottom line can suffer. Case in point…even though I didn’t have a high level of technical expertise in one of my jobs, I was literally hired into it because of my negotiation skills and ability to get the different segments to work together. This was my strength, and my boss recognized it and took advantage of it.

Many soft skills can impact an employee's performance and their ability to succeed in the workplace. I’ve already mentioned a few of the most important ones.

Here are some other significant soft skills that you may not think of: 

  • Planning and organization
  • Presentation skills
  • Self-discipline
  • Attitude
  • Networking capability
  • Priority setting
  • Ability to accept and learn from criticism
  • Listening
  • Punctuality
  • Creativity
  • Integrity
  • Personal habits
  • Body language
  • Empathy
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Dependability
  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiation
  • Time management
  • Self-confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Motivation
  • Decision making
  • Awareness of surroundings
  • Ability to accept change
  • Politeness

…And the list goes on, but you get the idea. Some of these are more obvious than others, but they all impact the employee’s ability to survive in the workplace and its success.

If you are uncertain about analyzing an employee’s or your own soft skills or want to understand it better, try using Omnia® Behavioral Assessments and specifically the Omnia® Selection Profile. These products will give you the right questions to ask and help you analyze the results.  Having employees with strong, soft skills is a must in the business world today.

Christine Butler

Christine Butler is a freelance writer who specializes in web content, copywriting, blogs, video scripts, and other online forms of communication. Prior to following her dream of living the writer's life, she worked for 27 years in the telecommunications industry and experienced all aspects of the corporate world. She enjoys working with people, is an avid RVer and loves to travel.

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