Research: Soft Skills that Differentiate the Best Candidates

Research: Soft Skills that Differentiate the Best Candidates

Mike Roberts

When looking for a new employee, both recruiters and hiring managers tend to focus on hard skills. These are the skills we could gather someone has just by looking on their resume or LinkedIn profile—types of coding languages an engineer knows, whether or not a marketer understands inbound marketing, a salesperson’s knowledge of social selling, and so on.

Soft skills on the other hand relate to attributes like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. These skills are often harder to ascertain from a resume, although it may be possible to learn about them from a cover letter, phone screening or in-person interview. The question, which skills are more important?

Of course, answering that is difficult—perhaps even a futile exercise. The best employees have the right mix of soft and hard skills. In many instances, hard skills are simply the entry ticket to be considered for a job, while soft skills are what separate one candidate over another.

If you’re interested in the most in-demand hard skills, you can view them in a recent study conducted by LinkedIn here. In this post, we’ll be focusing on research that shows which soft skills are most common among top candidates.

The Growing Demand for Soft Skills

Earlier this year, LinkedIn ran a study to determine if there was any growing demand for soft skills. They surveyed almost 300 hiring managers, asking a number of questions. Here’s a few takeaways from the study:

  • 59% of hiring managers’ responses were that soft skills are “difficult” to find
  • 53% of responses were that hard skills are “difficult” to find
  • 58% said the lack of soft skills among candidates is “limiting their company’s productivity”
  • Over 60% of hiring managers say screening candidates for soft skills is difficult

It’s interesting that more than half of hiring managers said both hard and soft skills were “difficult” to find.

As mentioned, hard skills tend to be more straight forward (you either have them or you don’t, and when you do have them it’s a matter of how much experience). Soft skills are more difficult to find, and perhaps more importantly, to identify. You’ve got to know what to look for. We will discuss identifying soft skills later.

The Most In-Demand Soft Skills Today

To determine the most in-demand soft skills today, LinkedIn looked at which soft skills were prevalent among job-hoppers’ profiles for a certain period. Since these people got new jobs, it is not far off to say that their skills were in-demand by employers.

The study explored many areas, but we will discuss two.

First: the most in-demand soft skills for all members studied. As you can see, communication, organization, and teamwork ranked above all. Punctuality was not far behind.

most in demand soft skills
Far more interesting is the breakdown of in-demand skills by seniority level. While entry-level employees had a similar set of top skills as the aggregate group, the story changes when we look at managers and director level or above.

soft skills by seniority level
Managers were more likely to have soft skills including a friendly personality, creativity, and communication. For directors, punctuality was the only soft skill demanded by employers from the original top ten. Management, coaching, and leadership were more in demand for senior employees.

How to Identify the Right Soft Skills

The first step to finding employees with the right soft skills is knowing what to look for. Thought leaders tend to suggest using behavioral interviewing questions to learn about candidates’ soft skills.

Behavioral interviewing can reveal a candidates’ likelihood to be a good leader, collaborator, teammate, listener, communicator…or any other soft skill. It’s really a matter of knowing how to ask the right questions.

According to The Muse, here are some of the most common behavioral interview questions:

  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Describe a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Describe a time when you were the resident technical expert. What did you do to make sure everyone was able to understand you?
  • Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.

What are your thoughts on soft skills versus hard skills (feel free to tweet to us @RecruitDDR)? Which are more important? We see benefits in inspecting both while searching for the perfect candidate.

If you’re a recruiter, it’s suggested that you share with your team as well as hiring managers the right behavioral interview questions to ask. Doing so could be a matter of emailing an article or having a more formal workshop. It really depends on your resources.

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