Both hard and soft skills are important when evaluating internal and external job candidates. In a perfect world, we’d always find that perfect person who has both. But that ideal person is often hard to find. So which do you place more emphasis on? The person with all the technical skills, but maybe lacking in team work? Or the person with glowing references about how great they are to work with and how easily they learn, but who lacks the exact hard skills you are seeking?
Hard skills are described as technical skills such as typing speed, machine operation, computer programming, software knowledge, etc. These skills are easy to identify and quantify in employees or candidates. Soft skills are much harder to identify and are sometimes called “people skills” or “interpersonal skills.” They relate to the way one interacts and deals with people. Soft skills dictate how a person problem solves, communicates with others, and how they learn and organize.
Many recruiters are reporting a soft skills gap in the current talent pool. With so many young workers entering the market, the gap continues to grow. This group of workers grew up texting more than talking and often lack interpersonal skills. While hard skills can be taught, soft skills are much more difficult to cultivate. “The gap is there,” said Kyle Lagunas, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, a talent management firm in Austin. “Most colleges aren’t building out the skills students need to become value-added employees.”
According to an Adecco Staffing survey 44% of executives said a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the US workforce. In addition a report from HR.com, OfficeTeam, and the International Association of Administrative Professionals showed that 67% of HR managers said they would hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if their technical skills were lacking. But only 9% would do the opposite and hire someone with strong technical skills but lacking soft skills.
Soft skills are what organizations need to succeed in today’s competitive environment. So how can HR determine the right balance between both hard and soft skills? Testing can be very helpful. There are many testing systems out there that can effectively measure emotional intelligence, humility, compassion, problem solving skills, etc. It’s important to meet with the hiring manager and find out which hard and soft skills the ideal candidate should possess. If the position if for a computer programmer, the hard skills obviously cannot be completely overlooked. But if that person is providing internal support to employees, they must also possess the proper soft skills to deal with frustrated colleagues. Beyond testing, it’s important to ask the right questions during the interview process. These may include:
· Give me an example of a time when you worked on a project with more than one person.
· How did the team allocate the work?
· What was the project’s goal?
· Who decided what needed to be accomplished and who would do it?
· What was the outcome?
· How well did you work with the team?
· How would you describe a successful team?
Most importantly, you need to know what you are looking for. Before going into the interview, know what skills you are seeking and are necessary for the position to be successful. Ask a series of questions that can help point to these skills. There are likely certain hard skills that the final candidates must possess. Once you’ve screened your candidate pool for those skills, you should evaluate the finalists on fit, value, and soft skills.
Often times, the person with the better soft skills might be a more successful hire. If you are in a situation where you must place emphasis on the hard skills, be sure to evaluate the candidate for development potential. Be sure to include a developmental plan to be implemented on day one in order to increase your chances of a successful hire.
Sources: SHRM.org, thebalance.com
ASE offers a full spectrum of soft skill development classes. Visit our upcoming events page for a full listing.