Employees with all the technical knowledge necessary for a job may still fail in a role because of their lack of soft skills. Often, employers look for them over other skills for this reason.
In this article, we’ll look at what the term soft skills means, plus how to recognise and develop them in your workforce. We’ll also briefly explore hard skills and their value compared to soft skills.
If you need immediate support with staff training or recruiting, get immediate advice from a Croner HR expert today on 01455 858 132.
What are soft skills?
Sometimes referred to as noncognitive, essential, or interpersonal skills, soft skills are essential to an employee’s success. The term soft skills, refer to any skill that isn’t tied to one specific job, but helps employees work well with one another and perform to the best of their ability.
Soft skills relate to people skills, as well as organisational ones. Soft skills include the ability to communicate, problem-solve, and manage workloads. Integral parts of almost every role in every industry.
Types of soft skill
The list of soft skills employees can have is long. So, to save you some reading time, we’ve provided a short list of the main examples of soft skills:
- Ability to follow instructions
- Communication skills
- Conflict resolution
- Critical thinking
- Openness to criticism
- Problem solving
- Time management
- Work ethic
Now that you know what soft skills are, you could probably add a few more to this list. When recruiting it’s a good idea to write down your own criteria. Note down the ability—or abilities—you look for most in job seekers. This will help you recognise when someone is a good fit for the new job.
Every company is different, so you’ll have your own priorities when it comes to skill hunting. For some, a positive attitude will be a crucial skill, but teamwork won’t be necessary. Here are the important soft skills employers look for most…
Key soft skills
Candidates with effective communication skills are in always in high demand. Of course, they’re especially important in client-facing roles, or jobs where employees must work as a team. If communication breaks down, so does morale and productivity. Knowing when, how, and where to deploy staff with good communication skills will boost the output of your team.
Pay attention to their tone and style of speaking. See if they can act efficiently on instruction and explain complex issues. It might be that they can communicate effectively, but their tone or use of jargon isn’t suitable for your company. These are the interpersonal skills that will give your employees the edge.
Being open to feedback
An employee who gets defensive when given feedback is less likely to improve their performance. The same can be said of those who take criticism too personally, and lose motivation.
Being able to take feedback and adapt their approach is a fantastic skill any employee can have. It’ll also help them with their problem solving skills, and come in useful when working on group projects.
This is an ability that is important for progression. If an employee is to take on new responsibilities, they’ll need to be able to adjust to new methods of working, and new ways of thinking. Flexible employees can adapt quickly when plans change and can think on their feet.
If you employ an adaptable candidate, you know that you can throw any challenge their way and they’ll face it head on. Adaptability is closely related to being open to feedback, as it means they won’t be stuck on one method of working. They’ll be able to pick up new skills and new tasks easier.
There is perhaps no soft skill greater than work ethic. An employee with all the right technical skills is useless if they don’t have the motivation and discipline to use them. It’s up to you as an employer to cultivate and reward enthusiasm towards work. Failure to do so will lead to a loss of morale, motivation, and could result in them leaving the company.
Organisation / Time management
Another soft skill that is useful in every job market is time management and organisation. If an employee consistently turns up late, misses deadlines, or misplaces equipment, they’re going to struggle with productivity. These are soft skills that can be developed. However, you need to assess whether it’s worth your time developing these skills from the outset of employment.
Why are soft skills important?
We’ve touched on this question a little already, but we’ve not asked why are soft skills so important to you as a business.
Company leaders look for candidates with strong soft skills for a number of reasons, including:
- Potential – employees with communication and problem solving skills will rise up the ranks quicker
- Culture fit – employees who excel in communication, people skills, and adaptability will fit into your company culture more easily
- Extra criteria – if you have two candidates with similar technical skills, you can assess their suitability based on their soft skills
Getting these hiring decisions right will lead to a stronger team, and longevity with the business. Particularly when hiring managers or team leaders. Picking the wrong candidate on the job search could lead to your team falling apart, and your company suffering as a result.
How do I assess soft skills?
Whether you’re interviewing a new candidate, or assessing an existing employee for leadership skills, it’s worthwhile checking in on their development. But, what’s the best way to assess them?
There are three key ways you can gauge employees current ability level.
1. Ask behavioural questions
This is a great way of testing areas such as organisation and problem solving ability. Ask interview questions such as:
“How do you prioritise your workload when there are multiple tasks with the same deadline?”
“How have you resolved a disagreement with co workers in the past?”
“How would you delegate tasks when working on a big project?”
Depending on their answers, you can discuss how to improve moving forward, and whether further support is needed.
2. Present problems
This is the most hands-on way to assess soft skills. Present the individual with a problem—practical or otherwise—and see how they solve it. Roleplaying activities are great for assessing communication skills and conflict resolution. Technical tasks are good for problem solving abilities. Team tasks are good for gauging teamwork and resourcefulness.
Depending on the job role and level of seniority, you can tailor these scenarios to assess the skill you want to focus on.
If you’re at the interview stage, the ability to have a chat is one of the most important soft skills to have in the initial meeting. Though presented as just a catch up, a positive interactions can help you assess their potential for leadership.
Pay attention to what they claim in their CV and/or cover letter, and see if it matches up when you speak with them. A candidate could claim to deal with criticism well, but flounder when you bring up an error in a written task.
Finally, check in to see if they are actively listening. You can do this by asking them to recall what you said earlier in the conversation. If they are active listening, they shouldn’t have a problem doing this.
How to develop soft skills in your staff
The first step is to identify which soft skills need improving. One employee may be a fantastic worker, but a terrible communicator. Another may have all the technical knowledge they need to succeed, but awful time management. Assess your employees using the methods above, and highlight where they can improve.
Next, have a follow up meeting with the individual(s) to discuss their areas of weakness. Ask their opinion on how they feel they can improve. Remember, unless their performance has been significantly affected by a soft skill, this shouldn’t be an accusatory meeting. We’re looking to encourage training and development, not punish them for a disciplinary matter.
Begin to develop a progression strategy, including any soft skills training programs that may help them develop. Often, soft skills involve stepping out of your comfort zone, so be sure to offer support as they go through their training.
Be careful when identifying soft skills to improve. Examples of soft skills include things such as emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Because soft skills are often so fundamental to a person’s character, it can be easy to confuse them for personality traits. While an employee’s personality can be developed, you shouldn’t force a personality change on them. If you’re unhappy with their behaviour, you should have an informal meeting with them about this, and consider a disciplinary route instead.
If you’re unsure where to start with employee development, speak to one of our HR experts today for guidance on 01455 858 132.
Soft skills vs hard skills
We’ve talked a lot about different soft skills, from leadership to critical thinking. However, we haven’t discussed hard skills, and how important they are in comparison to soft skills.
What is a hard skill?
Sometimes referred to as technical skills, a hard skill is something that is taught through formal education or training. They encompass specific knowledge, or ability, and are crucial to performing a job correctly. You wouldn’t expect an HR professional to do their job without skills in human resource management. You wouldn’t expect a data analyst to conduct data analysis without knowing how to do so. And so on.
Which is more important?
Hard and soft skills are both valuable in the workplace.
Hard skills are more important for skilled or professional jobs. Soft skills can be learned or developed on the job, after all. However, this doesn’t mean soft skills aren’t important at all. As previously stated, a person with superior technical knowledge but poor time management and communication could quickly become a liability to their team and your company.
Key takeaways – soft skills
Identify which soft skills are important to your workplace. Create a checklist and use it to assess each candidate that you meet moving forward. This will help you create the culture you are looking for, guarantee career success for your staff, and help you achieve business success too.
Which soft skills are important is down to you, your business, and the specific job the person will undertake.
Always factor in soft skills when considering and planning personal development. Most employers are willing to provide training for professional skills, but not social skills, such as emotional intelligence. Helping your staff grow and develop in this way will help employee retention and engagement.
Expert support with recruitment, training, and staff development
Good soft skills are critical to morale, productivity, communication, and success in your business. However, it can often be hard to gauge an employee’s skill level, and even harder to manage if they’re struggling.
Croner has spent the last 80 years working with employers across the UK, helping them develop employee relations and getting the best out of their workforce.
For expert HR advice that you can trust, speak to one of our consultants today on 01455 858 132.
- Business Advice
- Contracts & Documentation
- Culture & Performance
- Disciplinary & Grievances
- Dismissals & Conduct
- Employee Conduct
- Employment Law
- End of Contract
- Equality & Discrimination
- Health & Safety
- Hiring & Managing
- Leave & Absence
- Managing Health & Safety
- Occupational Health
- Pay & Benefits
- Risk & Welfare