In an age of big data, having tech skills is important, but the pendulum might be starting to swing the other way. More companies are requiring a mix of technology and people skills, and 2016 is being called the year of the hybrid job.
In an analysis commissioned by Bentley University, researchers examined 24 million job listings, looking for key skills across nine industries. They found that employers want multifaceted employees who possess hard skills such as database technology, coupled with traditional soft skills like communication and collaboration.
"We may refer to these skills as hard versus soft, IQ versus EQ, or left brain versus right brain," says Susan Brennan, associate vice president of university career services at Bentley University. "Whatever the terminology, employees must demonstrate deeper and broader competencies to be marketable."
The 21st-century workplace demands versatility. Big data, for example, is becoming increasingly important to the success of businesses, and every industry is making considerable investments. "Not surprisingly, occupations pertaining to data analysis are the fastest growing today across multiple industries," says Brennan. "The ability to compile, analyze, and apply big data to everyday business decisions is driving major change. In the IT space, big data roles have seen a nearly 4,000% jump in demand. But with the availability of data comes the requirement to analyze and visualize data."
Employers need staff that can compile, interpret, and apply data to their role and the company more broadly. "Regardless of function, employees need to be able to effectively communicate what the data means and apply it to big-picture objectives," she says. "But this can’t be done in a silo; collaboration and teamwork are essential."
Another reason hybrid skills are in demand is the generational shift in the workplace, where large numbers of baby boomers are retiring and taking years of institutional knowledge and skills with them, says Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University. "This makes the change in job requirements even more notable," she says. "And it underscores not only the importance of effective knowledge transfer from retiring workers to new employees in the critical onboarding process, but also the need for versatile employees."
Employers should look for candidates that demonstrate a balance between professional education and the arts and sciences, suggests Cordes Larson.
Interview questions are also important, says Laura Kerekes, chief knowledge officer of the human resources firm ThinkHR. "We find that using the behavioral interviewing format elicits the best information to make selection decisions," she says. "Screening for the technical skills needed in the hybrid job is the easy part. Screening for how the applicant puts it all together when a variety of hard and soft skills are required is more difficult. The behavioral questions asked should be tied to situations that are real in your company that this person would face in the job."
For example, Kerekes suggests asking candidates how they handled working on a team with another person who challenged his ideas; how they handled a difficult problem with an upset customer; and how they worked with a difficult team member.
"Ask him to describe a time when he coached or mentored another team member successfully, or how he delegates work, or how he took the lead on a difficult project," she adds. "And ask him to tell you about a mistake he made in his job, what he learned, and how he overcame it."
As more hybrid jobs are created, graduates and job seekers must commit to continuous learning to ensure their skill sets remain relevant, building new competencies based on market needs so you can position yourself for long-term career success, says Cordes Larson.
"The best preparation for the changing job market begins in higher education and calls for a combination of professional courses with arts and sciences," she says. "This gives graduates a distinctive edge as employers today want candidates with practical, analytical skills embedded in a liberal arts education."
Technical skills are a minimum criteria in the recruitment process, says Brennan: "It’s the personal qualities that make the difference," she says. "But it is not either/or, it is and."
Take advantage of online tutorials or "bootcamp" courses, says Brennan. "Talk with mentors, influencers, and HR reps at your current organization for guidance," she says. "Find out which skill sets they value most, and if there are resources provided in-house."
The best advice for job seekers is to stay nimble and keep learning, says Cordes Larson. "Take courses that interest you, even if they don’t pertain to your major or your current job," she says. "Continuing to developing new skills will make it easier to adapt to changes later on in your career. The future learning curve won’t be as steep if you continually immerse yourself in the learning process."