Soft skills can’t be taught in a classroom, but they are critical to the 21st-century workforce.
Your technical knowledge can only take you so far in a job. Soft skills are a key factor in determining hiring, promotion and termination decisions in today’s workforce.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are the skills you use to deal with people and problems. They include interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, leadership, creative thinking and common sense. This is the complete opposite of hard skills, which include technical skills and job-specific knowledge.
Soft skills cannot be taught in a classroom—they must be learned from social interactions and experience. Speaking with others, solving complex problems, thinking “outside of the box” and taking the lead on projects all provide avenues to receive soft skills.
Improving Soft Skills in the Workforce
How do employers ensure their employees have the soft skills they need? Focus on hiring employees with highly developed soft skills, and work to increase the skills of current employees. During the recruiting process, employers can test an applicant’s soft skills through behavioral interviewing, pre-employment assessments, case studies and other interview techniques. These techniques can be chosen based on what the company is specifically looking to achieve. Spending additional time in the interview process to ensure the applicant has the needed soft skills will save time and money in the long run.
Improving the soft skills of current employees is a little more complicated. These employees are more set in their ways and commonly make excuses such as having no time or reason to change their skillset. The primary way to grow soft skills is to challenge employees. Employers can provide difficult problems where employees must think outside of the box or reward employees who increase their soft skills.
Competition for College Graduates
Employers compete over recent college graduates, who have high technical knowledge, good ideas and energy, but often lack the people skills needed to work at their job. Surprisingly, “one in five employers feels colleges do not adequately prepare students with crucial workplace competencies, including soft skills and real-world experience that might be gained through things like internships,” states Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder. “Job seekers with a good mix of both technical and soft skills will have the best prospects right out of college.”
There are a few steps employers can take to guarantee they are hiring the right college graduates. Beyond the behavioral interviewing and pre-assessments, employers need to look for past experiences that would increase their soft skills. Internships, campus involvement and leadership positions all give applicants more experience in dealing with people and complex situations. These experiences tend to be a good predictor of how developed the graduate’s soft skills are.
When a recent college graduate is hired, providing them the right management and leadership opportunities is key. This could include assigning a mentor to ensure the employee stays on the right path and is taking the necessary steps to improve themselves and their current skills.
Because soft skills are so critical, employers should start making small changes now—with both applicants and current employees—to get them where they need to be. The money and time investment now will pay off in the future as the company’s bottom line is increased. iBi