Applicant Evaluation: Hard Skills vs Soft Skills
I discuss this delicate subject with at least one client every week: should you hire people based on their technical (hard) skills or rather on their personality-related (soft) skills?
After over 25 years of experience in the personnel selection business, I, of course, have my educated opinion! And it does contradict, in many respects, what the E.E.O.C. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) will tell you or will defend – especially when a candidate refers to some discrimination practice on your part – based on the “subjective” evaluation of their soft skills.
Should you blindly follow the E.E.O.C. recommendations?
Put it simply, the E.E.O.C. does NOT like the idea of evaluating applicants based on their soft skills – or lack of. The authorities believe that personnel selection should be devoted to evaluating technical competencies that are needed to operate on a job – and they would like you to avoid – or even ignore personality-related attributes.
Here is the “problem” – statistics demonstrate that soft skills ALWAYS come first in defining the performance and actual contribution of an employee to his/her group.
The following facts illustrate well the point. Taken from the book “The Hard Truth about Soft Skills” by Peggy Klaus, these examples demonstrate that your best bet in selecting personnel is to focus on soft skills:
- A survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that MBA’s were strong in analytical aptitude, quantitative expertise, and information-gathering ability; however, they were sorely lacking in other critical areas that most employers find vital for any executive position: strategic thinking, written and oral communication, leadership, and adaptability.
- Research at DePaul University concluded that recruiters want business schools to focus more on people-oriented skills like leadership and communication. Students, however, frequently complain that those “soft skills” won’t get them jobs, and they’re pressuring their business schools to focus instead on functional or technical content.
- 358 randomly selected managers at Johnson & Johnson were evaluated; the study found out that the best performing ones possessed significantly higher levels of self-awareness, self-management capability, social skills, and were organizational savvy. All these differentiators are soft-skills related.
- Research on more than 200,000 managers and workers at multiple companies during a ten-year period linked employee recognition with financial performance. According to the study, companies that effectively recognized personal excellence had triple the profitability—as measured by return on equity (ROE)—in comparison with firms that didn’t.
- A poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in conjunction with WSJ.com/Careers—revealed that many workplace soft skills have become more important for experienced employees than for new workers. These skills include critical thinking/problem solving, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and adaptability/flexibility.
- Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) has found that, while credentialing in the form of degrees and certificates is important, development of soft skills—skills that are more social than technical—is a crucial part of fostering a dynamic workforce. Skills projected to be in the highest demand for all Indiana occupations included active listening, critical thinking, speaking, active learning, writing, time management, and social perceptiveness.
- The findings above included that soft skills can not only improve employee performance and satisfaction but can also prepare technical workers for promotion into supervisory roles. Using the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (IDWD) occupation projections, IBRC found that projected needs for social/soft skills are greater than the needs for technical, systems, and resource management skills.
What position should you take?
In a highly competitive, 100% applicant-driven employment market, job hunters want you to focus on their competencies and technical talent. They aggressively sell an impressive background and experience – sometimes in your exact field of activities.
Do NOT fall in the trap! Attracting the perfect candidate who has all the credentials and the experience that you are looking for is of course a dream. But here is the truth: those applicants do NOT exist – or they cost too much money for most small businesses.
Here is a good example: check any of your best current employees and I bet they were all lacking the needed hard skills when you hired them. But they made it go right and they developed those missing skills – because they had at least ONE vital soft skill: they were WILLING – willing to learn to change, t adapt, to work hard, etc. Bottom line is, willingness is a MAJOR soft skill that is 100 times more important than any required hard skill.
Here is additional evidence that you need to focus more on applicants’ soft skills when evaluating who deserves the job.
- According to “Are They Ready to Work?”, a report commissioned by leading organizations and associations representing the business sector, three-quarters of surveyed employers said that incoming high school graduates were deficient in soft skills. Additionally, 40% of employers said that the high school graduates they hire lack adequate soft skills competency for even entry-level jobs.
- The ECEP data indicates that young people not only lack the soft skills themselves but the opportunity to develop them. Most students say they are not being sufficiently challenged in high school, their work is not relevant to potential future careers, and they experience few significant career-building opportunities such as internships. Although soft skills deficits are even more prominent among young people of color, from low-income families, and whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, the deficits cross the lines of race, ethnicity, education level, and family income leaving almost all young Americans at risk of entering the workforce lacking the skills needed for success. Employees recognize that the incoming workforce will need expensive remedial training to learn critical soft skills.
- A study by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) confirms the importance of strong soft skills in the development of effective leadership. Although leaders who were most effective during organizational transitions were skilled communicators—able and willing to articulate the rationale for change and good listeners who demonstrated sensitivity when dealing with employees—more than half the survey respondents reported that the leaders in their own organizations were not able to clearly communicate rationale for change.
- Computerworld’s hiring and skills survey reported that IT executives are increasingly looking for staff who demonstrate a broad range of soft skills in addition to their technical abilities. Survey respondents said writing and public speaking are two of the most important soft skills they look for when hiring new employees. Additionally, they favor candidates who understand the business process, can work well with a team, know how to get their points across, are inquisitive, use initiative, and are willing to take risks.
- When hiring administrative staff—according to a survey conducted by OfficeTeam, HR.com, and the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)—67% of human resource (HR) managers would hire an applicant with strong soft skills whose technical abilities were lacking. However, only nine percent would hire someone who had strong technical expertise but weak interpersonal skills.
- The overwhelming majority (93 %) of the HR managers surveyed said technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills. The most in-demand soft skills cited by the managers are organizational skills (87%), verbal communication (81%), teamwork and collaboration (78%). Problem-solving (60%), tact and diplomacy (59%), business writing (48%), and analytical skills (45%). Also surveyed were IAAP members, who were asked to report the soft skills areas in which they would like to improve. The areas they mentioned the most were analytical, verbal communication, negotiation, and problem-solving.
- In a Job Outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE), the top characteristics looked for in new hires by 276 employer respondents (mostly from the service sector) were all soft skills: communication ability, a strong work ethic, initiative, interpersonal skills, and teamwork.
Our Recru-Tec™ Test perfectly fits with the suggested soft-skill approach to job fitting assessment. To evaluate job-related soft skills and measure how they fit (or not) your specific work environment, use the Recru-Tec Test. With a precision of over 90% it guarantees to detect what you did not see during an interview – no matter how structured it is.
The Recru-Tec test will tell you if a candidate
- Can fit in YOUR work environment,
- Will be able to persist and follow through on directives,
- Will be courteous and friendly,
- Will be honest with you, your peers and with your customers,
- Can work under pressure,
- Is customer and company-driven or mostly money-motivated,
And much more…
Use the Recru-Tec test to avoid trouble. It is your best insurance policy against costly, sometimes deadly hires which may take months or even years to fix.
Best Selling author of “No-Fail Hiring 2.0”
Original article found on nofailhiring.com
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