We know we need to be looking for people with the right skills when we add new members to our teams. But companies who focus too much on technical skills and candidates who “look great on paper” are selling themselves short. They’re missing out on the human aspect that separates thriving organizations from struggling ones. And that human aspect is measured in soft skills.
But the term itself — “soft skills” — implies that they’re skills that are optional. Extras. Not essential.
What we’ve found in 40 years of helping organizations hire, train, and retain high performing teams is that hiring for soft skills can make or break a company’s success.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills (also known as competencies or personal skills) are the attitudes, character traits, and interpersonal skills that shape a person’s relationship with themselves and others. Unlike hard skills (or technical skills) which can be learned and perfected over time, soft skills are more difficult to acquire and change.
Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know.
Here are some examples of soft skills:
- Self-Management – The ability to prioritize and complete tasks in order to deliver desired outcomes within allotted time frames
- Results Orientation – The ability to identify actions necessary to complete tasks and obtain results
- Conceptual Thinking – The ability to analyze hypothetical situations or abstract concepts to compile insight
- Self-Starting – The ability to initiate and sustain momentum without external stimulation
- Customer Focus – Commitment to customer satisfaction
- Resiliency – The ability to quickly recover from adversity
Why are soft skills important for high performance?
For many jobs, soft skills are just as important—or more—as technical skills in producing superior performance. Research from TTI Insights over the past 30 years shows that superior performers possess more highly developed soft skills than other professionals.
When a person’s attitudes, beliefs, and communication style are matched to the work they do every day, they’re naturally more motivated to excel.
Let’s take for example, one of the most common scenarios we see play out. A company hires one of their competitor’s top performing sales reps. The newly hired rep clearly has the sales skills to be successful, and plenty of industry knowledge as an added bonus. But so often in this situation, the rep doesn’t perform well in their new position.
Why is that?
While every circumstance is unique, this typically happens because the new hire’s soft skills don’t match the company culture and/or job requirements.
Even if a person has all the necessary vocational skills, they won’t be effective if they don’t work well with the team and if they’re not naturally motivated by the environment and what the job rewards. (A person without well-developed self-starting and resiliency skills will quickly burn out in a Hunter sales role, for example.)
By identifying the soft skills that will allow a person to excel in a specific position within your company, you’ll help ensure proper job fit. And that translates to increased engagement, performance levels, and retention.
Hire for Fit, Train for Skills
Technical skills can be learned, but a person’s motivators and behavior style are typically less malleable. If you hire solely based on resume credentials and previous experience, you not only risk a cultural misalignment by ignoring soft skills, you also miss out on high-potential candidates with the kind of “raw talent” that can be developed over time.
Top-performing companies realize the importance of identifying the technical skills and soft skills a specific position requires for success. This information can be used to develop a benchmark, or ideal job profile. Once the ideal job profile is created, behavioral interviewing and comprehensive hiring assessments reveal whether a candidate is a good fit.
A quality, validated assessment like Brooks Talent Index® reveals a person’s strength and developmental areas, as well as their behavioral style and communication preferences—allowing for targeted coaching to quickly bring the new hire up to maximum performance levels.
Remember, hard skills can be developed with on-the-job training and quality coaching from managers. But before you bring someone onto your team, be sure they have the soft skills that will allow them to excel in their position and contribute to the collective purpose of your organization.