While education, degrees, and certification are important for scoring an interview, a new study by the HR software provider iCIMS finds that recruiters place a higher value on soft skills. From an ability to communicate well to being organized, these intangible qualities can be tough to measure, but they affect everything from productivity to collaboration.
“Hard skills are what you do, and soft skills are how you do it,” says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for iCIMS. “Unfortunately, one in three recruiting professionals believe job candidates’ soft skills have gotten worse in the past five years.”
The good news for both candidates and employers is everyone possesses some soft skills, says Jodi Chavez, president of the staffing firm Randstad Professionals. “The challenge is determining which are strongest, and which are most in-demand for certain roles,” she says. “Companies can train employees in technical skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are far harder to teach, which is why, in a low unemployment market, companies should be looking to hire for soft skills and train for technical skills.”
If you’re looking for a new job, these are the top-five soft skills recruiters are looking for:
1. Problem Solving
The most important soft skill was the ability to solve problems, with 62% of recruiters seeking people who can find solutions, according to iCIMS. This soft skill was also the most important for the employee who wants to work in management.
“Problem solving isn’t practiced as much today as it once was,” says Vitale. “You can go to Google for answers, and we’re not challenged the way we used to be.”
The second most important soft skill is adaptability, with 49% of recruiters looking for this trait. This skill was ranked as very important for entry-level positions.
“Larger organizations value problem solving and adaptability the most,” says Vitale.
3. Time Management
The third soft skill in demand is an ability to successfully manage time, with 48% of recruiters placing importance on this characteristic.
“Entry-level workers often come out of the gate being poor at time management, but they can learn strategies on how to run their day,” says Vitale. “It’s most important in smaller organizations, because you have to pivot and wear many hats.”
Being organized is the fourth most sought-after soft skill, with 39% of recruiters ranking it as desirable. It’s often demonstrated in your behavior during the interview process. The most common mistakes, according to the study, include showing up late, forgetting to thank the interviewer, and forgetting the interviewer’s name.
5. Oral Communication
Finally, the ability to speak in public and communicate with others is the fifth most valued soft skill, with 38% of recruiters looking for this skill.
“Good communication skills are, of course, essential,” says Chavez. “Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and even slow down the workflow, preventing a company from moving forward.”
Role And Industry
While soft skills are important in nearly every job, they can be role specific, says Chavez. “In a management position where the role requires one to lead a team, deliver on a project, or drive results, soft skills like emotional intelligence and teamwork are most important,” she says. “However, in roles where someone might work remotely from home, the key soft skills would be adaptability, communication and multitasking.”
The iCIMS study found that certain fields look for soft skills more than others, such as people who work in customer service, human resources, and sales/marketing. For technical jobs, they aren’t as vital. Nearly 1 in 5 of recruiters for IT jobs think soft skills are more important than hard skills, and 24% of recruiters weigh soft skills over hard skills for R&D jobs.
“I want my doctor to have hard skills first and soft skills next,” says Vitale. “But if they’re lacking in soft skills, I might not return.”
How To Convey Your Soft Skills
While we all have soft skills, demonstrating them during the job application process can be a challenge. “They don’t come across on a resume because there’s no certification,” says Vitale.
Be sure to highlight your strengths by using searchable keywords in your job description. “Whether a candidate lists their soft skills all together or breaks them out under the individual positions in which they honed them, it’s essential to include them somewhere,” says Chavez.
Recruiters will also use the screening processes to look for soft skills, so be prepared. Prior to an interview, come up with a short list of your strongest soft skills and be ready to share a few specific examples of when you showcased them in the workplace, Chavez suggests.
“For instance, talk about a time when your communication skills clarified a misunderstanding, or discuss how your leadership style came into play when they took charge of a negative situation and turned it into a positive one,” she says. “Candidates must also emphasize their ability to work well with others and should refrain from speaking poorly of a previous or current employer or company, as it will never reflect positively on them.”
Don’t be afraid to ask a recruiter which soft skills the organizations values most, adds Vitale. “Most employers fall down when it comes to transparency, and they aren’t saying out of the gate what they want,” she says. “Not all call them soft skills; sometimes they describe core competencies or workplace culture.”
In the end, candidates need to be cheerleaders for themselves, says Chavez. “Shift the conversation to highlight your soft skills even if an interviewer does not specifically ask,” she says.