Beyond Technical Skills: Why Soft Skills Matter in the Workplace

Most people know the importance of hard skills in the workplace–typing proficiency, computer programming and machine operation–but oftentimes the importance of soft skills is overlooked. Let’s start by identifying the difference between hard and soft skills. Hard skills are typically skills that can be taught, are easily quantifiable and are easy for an employer to recognize on a resume. Hard skills can be learned in school or from books, and there are usually designated levels of competency and a direct path as to how to progress with each hard skill. For example, you can take basic physics and then move on to advanced physics courses.

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Examples of hard skills include:

  • Facility with Spreadsheets
  • Typing
  • Calculus
  • Proficiency with Software Applications
  • Software Development

 

In contrast, there’s no simple or clear path to learning soft skills, which are not typically explicitly taught in schools. Instead, soft skills must be mastered on the job through trial and error, although there are many books and guides on soft skills. Soft skills, more commonly referred to as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills”, are all about how you relate to and interact with other people and your co workers, according to About.com.

 

Examples of soft skills include:

  • Teamwork
  • Personal Accountability
  • Degree of Collaboration
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Adaptability and Flexibility
  • Inclusion
  • Creativity

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Why Soft Skills are Critical

As an employer, you have to ask yourself about the types of employees you really want working for your organization. An ideal employee would be strong in terms of both hard and soft skills, but unfortunately, these jack-of-all-trades type employees are fairly rare. As an example comparison, would you rather hire the employee that has a solid work ethic, encourages fellow colleagues and is constructive with their criticism, or the employee who is irritable, inflexible and won’t usually admit to mistakes? Let’s say, hypothetically, that both employees are at an equal level in terms of hard skills. The clear and superior choice is the more flexible, energetic and positive employee. In situations like these, it’s not the hard skills that matter. Instead, the soft skills really become the dividing factor.

Technical and hard skills may be enough to get candidates in for the interview, but soft skills are what really end up opening the doors to actual employment. Oftentimes, they work to separate average workers from A-players. The challenge is that, too often is the importance of soft skills overlooked. Organizations oftentimes make the mistake of thinking everyone knows how to behave on the job–that everyone understands the importance of teamwork, punctuality, being cordial and consistently producing work at the highest quality possible. Some employees may produce A-level work sometimes, but the best employees strive to ensure all their work is top-caliber. The bottom line? Soft skills are not universal, which is why along with teaching technical skills, introducing soft skill training and development is extremely beneficial.

 

Filling the Soft Skills Gap

People typically don’t receive adequate soft skills training, both on-the-job and during vocational instruction. With so many soft skills to learn, and the general difficulty with defining them, it can be a challenge to identify which soft skills are the most important to look for. Below, we go over what many employers consider to be essential soft skills to have.

 

Strong Communication Skills

Arguably the most important skill is communication, which is actually a fairly broad category. Getting along well with colleagues, listening to and understanding instructions, getting points across without being too aggressive and adapting the communication style to address the task at hand are all different facets that fall under the umbrella of strong communication. When you’re trying to handle a conflict or persuade a customer about why they should buy your product, the better your communication skills are, the better your chance at achieving success is.

 

Flexibility

Along with communication skills, the ability to adapt to different situations is another important soft skills that most employers look for. Workplace scenarios can change instantly and when that happens, it’s best to have an employee that welcomes change with open arms. The alternative is an employee that becomes flustered, stressed and negative when changes occur. Employers should look for employees that have an upbeat and can-do attitude, according to National Career Service.

 

Time Management

Part of being flexible is knowing how to manage your time and adjusting your schedule accordingly. Good time management means scheduling things so that you’re not overwhelmed or rushed throughout your day. Avoiding procrastination and staying productive throughout the workday is an essential part of this soft skill. When deadlines are critical and time is crunched, you need to have employees that understand how to prioritize initiatives, work on multiple projects at once and produce maximum output with minimum effort.

 

Leadership Skills

Even if you’re not hiring someone for a management position, strong leadership skills are also important. Even employees in entry-level positions should lead by example and constantly look for ways to improve, motivate themselves, be positive, know when follow instructions or take initiative and lead. The best employee is the employee who knows when to lead and when to follow and isn’t too aggressive or reluctant in that sense. On the one hand, you don’t want the employee that doesn’t feel comfortable if they don’t have control or aren’t leading the pack. On the other hand, you don’t want the employee who is afraid to lead, speak up or take initiative when it’s appropriate.

 

Creativity and the Ability to Solve Problems

An ongoing theme in this post is that employees should be able to strike a healthy balance between the main aspects of each soft skill and the same is true when it comes to creativity and problem solving skills. Employees should be able to effectively apply both logic and creativity to solve problems. Some employees come to management with a problem, but no solution. Other employees are great at coming up with solutions, but have trouble identifying problems. The ideal employee will easily recognize a problem and will also provide a plan of action for solving it.

 

Striking a Balance

In this blog, we’ve barely scratched the surface. While the soft skills we’ve highlighted are among the most important, there are countless others that are of equal importance, such as the ability to work in teams, working well under pressure and taking responsibility for your mistakes. If you’re interested in learning more about soft skills, consider reading the National Career Service article we referenced above. As an employer, it’s best avoid focusing too much on hard skills, as soft skills should be regarded as equally (if not more) important. Go in depth during the interview process and ask the types of questions that will bring to the surface the  people skills your candidates have. The first step towards hiring candidates with strong soft skills is knowing how to identify them and knowing which are the most important for employees of your business to have.

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Image Credits: talentegg.ca

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