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September 15, 2022

Soft Skills? Hard Yes. Here's What to Look for in Your Next Candidate

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Picture this. You're granted one day of work from home per week, only to have your manager demand that you send them an email every time you leave to take the dog out. 

Or, let’s say you crack a harmless joke in a client meeting and your manager pulls an exaggerated cringe face. What about that team member that messes up your name in every Zoom call — even though it’s literally right below your face. Pretty tactless, right? 

Soft skills are everything.

And in today’s workplace, that’s truer than ever. If you’re confused about why soft skills are important and which ones matter most — we’re here to help.

Today, we’re sharing a list of the top soft skills to look out for when hiring, plus how to evaluate a candidate to make sure they have the right soft skills for the role.

List of soft skills

  • Time management
  • Communication 
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy 
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Critical thinking 
  • Team spirit
  • Stress management
  • Organization
  • Conflict resolution
  • Creative thinking
  • Receptiveness to feedback
  • Motivation

Breezy is the easy-to-use recruitment software that helps employers keep their hiring processes candidate-friendly. No more clunky UX. No more complex user permissions. No more mess. See for yourself with a free 14-day trial.

What are soft skills? And why do they matter

Soft skills are non-technical abilities that help individuals not just succeed, but thrive in the workplace. From collaborating with coworkers to solving problems, soft skills help team members stay productive by enabling them to navigate the workplace with ease.

To sum it up, soft skills relate to how you work rather than what you do. 

But why are soft skills so important? 

Often referred to as interpersonal skills, soft skills make the difference between an A-player and a get-’er-done-and-get-out hire. From communication skills to creativity, soft skills are the foundation of not just a good attitude — but a strong values fit

But soft skills aren’t a ‘now’ thing. In fact, they’ve always been important.

From the origins of “soft skills” via late-1960s military training to upholding office etiquette in today’s trendiest coworking spaces, the ability to communicate openly with others has always mattered. In many cases, it matters more than the so-called “hard” technical skills required. 

Because whether you’re in-person, remote, or a franken-combo of both 🧟, collaboration is the cornerstone of every healthy business.

Embracing softs skills also opens the door to a more holistic approach to hiring. Recognizing soft skills helps you hire for potential, rather than pure knowledge, so you can nurture your new hires into Smash Mouth-level all stars.

As a major bonus, keeping an eye out for soft skills in the recruitment process can also make tough hiring choices easier. 

If you’re stuck between two stellar candidates with similar backgrounds and experience, opt for the one with a knack for collaboration and a willingness to learn. Even if the role isn’t a client-facing one, soft skills like empathy and optimism will make for a happier (and emotionally healthier) workplace.

Need help mapping out your WFH plan? We dove extensively through the real pros and cons of remote. vs. hybrid work to make it easy to reach an informed decision your employees can get behind.

Not sure which soft skills you need? This list is a great place to start 👇🏻

The soft skills of the 2010s look a whole lot different than the soft skills required in the roaring 2020s. So which soft skills should you look out for if you want to future-proof your workforce? 

For a candidate that’s so simpatico, keep this list of soft skills top of mind:

🕑 Time management 

💬 Communication 

💪🏽 Always-on-your-toes adaptability

💖 Empathy and emotional intelligence

🧠 Critical thinking 

📣 Team spirit

🧘 Stress management

📅 Organization

🤝🏼 Conflict resolution

🎨 Creative thinking

👂🏻 Receptiveness to feedback

🤜🏾 Motivation

The top 3 soft skills to keep on your hiring radar

Hiring for soft skills has been trending in HR circles for a while now — but what’s really driving this shift? How has the list of necessary soft skills changed in recent years?

There’s no better place to start than with the early 2020s, a period that changed pretty much everything about the workplace as we knew it. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the need for collaboration. Strong soft skills like empathy, time-management skills, problem-solving skills and adaptability have become even more important in the era of work-from-anywhere

But we’ll be the first to admit it — cultivating people skills amid a global pandemic is hard...like, really hard. When you can’t meet face-to-face, it puts more pressure on remote communication. Plus, from behind a screen, it’s almost impossible to tell whether someone is actually paying attention or secretly watching Netflix.

Still, remote work isn’t going anywhere. 

In fact, 74% of US CEOs surveyed by KPMG say the pandemic accelerated the digitization of their operations, prompting them to create operating models fit for the remote-work era. The increased shift toward digital has meant more automation. And with automation on the rise, you guessed it — soft skills are becoming more important still. 

As the demand for manual and physical labor reduces, the need for developing soft skills will increase, creating more space for social, cognitive and emotional skills to shine in the workplace. ✨

No matter the industry or role, one thing’s for sure: soft skills are more crucial than ever. We’ve already shared a list of some of the top soft skills you might want to look out for, but which ones will employers rely on most as we move further into the future of work?

#1. Communication

Most of us are well-experienced in using our soft skills face-to-face. But today, knowing not to ping your overseas coworkers at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning (in other words, adapting to your work environment) is just as crucial.

If you’re looking to fill a remote role, seek out candidates with digital know-how and async communication skills. Hiring someone who knows how to communicate effectively through a screen can go a long way in smoothing out any remote/hybrid communication speedbumps. 

Take it from the 84.5% of remote employers who say that communication is the most critical soft skill, boosting both productivity and morale. 💪🏽

#2. Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand others’ feelings, is oh-so-important for client-facing roles, especially in-person ones. 

If you need to fill a customer service or retail position, look for empathetic candidates who understand clients’ needs and have the types of skills necessary to know how to fulfill them. Not only does empathy enhance customer service, increase sales, and generate investment opportunities — it also strengthens relationships both in and out of the workplace. 

Hallam Sargeant, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer at Avanade, offers expert advice on empathy and workplace relationships.

“Take the time to seek out and understand the varied perspectives of your employees…Exercise empathy — you may not know exactly what your colleagues are going through, but you may be able to identify with the emotions they are feeling. Let that be a starting point for your journey of empathy and dialogue with your fellow human beings regardless of background, differences or similarities.”

Take it from the experts — empathy is the key to the kind of thoughtful communication that leads to a genuinely inclusive workplace environment. Definitely one to keep in mind when looking for your next star team member! 🌟

#3. Adaptability

Adaptable candidates adjust quickly to changing conditions, making them extremely valuable hires in uncertain times. 

Being adaptable means having an open and flexible mindset. With HR professionals facing a world where restrictions, regulations, and workplace arrangements can change on a dime, you’ll want an employee with a strong work ethic who can handle unforeseen circumstances.

In fact, 38.8% of remote employers believe adaptability is the most critical pandemic-era soft skill

Adaptable employees aren’t afraid to switch up the way they do things, and those are the kinds of folks you want on your team. To futureproof your workforce, seek out candidates who can roll with the punches. 🥊💥

How to evaluate soft skills during the hiring process

By now, you know soft skills are key to all the right workplace vibes. Now you’re ready to evaluate these skills where it really matters — during the hiring process

Don’t worry, with the right approach (and a smart applicant tracking system to back you up 😉) it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3. 

First, identify which soft skills matter for the role 🕵️

Sit down with your recruiters and hiring managers and take a long hard look at the role you need to fill. 

What qualities would a new hire need to take success in this position from just-okay to exceptional?

  • Do they need to be adaptable and self-starting for a work-from-anywhere position? 
  • Or do you need a customer service superstar with listening skills, empathy and conflict resolution skills?

Whatever combo of skills fits the bill, narrowing down your hiring scope before you begin can save you loads of time. From there, you’re ready to post your open role to all the top free job sites and job boards for diversity hiring.

💡Pro Tip: Don’t forget to optimize your job postings to make them as attractive as possible to top candidates from all backgrounds. 

Screen for candidates with the right soft skills ✅

Now that you’ve determined which #skillz you’d like to see in your new hire, it’s time to start screening candidates. While this may seem like the most time-consuming part of the process, the right cloud-based recruiting solution can make it a whole lot faster. 

Here are some of the best ways to screen candidates for soft skills.

Test their camera presence with video responses

When it comes to judging soft skills — like communication, personability, or critical thinking — Breezy's Video Responses are a seamless way to get the job done. 

By asking candidates to submit a video response to your screening questions, you and the rest of the hiring team can instantly get a feel for their personality, work style, and camera presence.

Tag candidates based on top soft skills

With a rockin’ job description, you’re bound to get a lot of candidates and cover letters coming in.

Recruitment software like Breezy makes it easy to stay organized (even when facing an avalanche of incoming candidates) with features like Candidate Tagging.

Just tag candidates with an identifying word or phrase. Anytime you want to zero in on candidates with with soft skills on their resume – like “people skills,” “adaptability” or “async communication” – Breezy makes it easy to instantly find the applicants you’re looking for.

Get to know your candidates with pre-hiring assessments

If you’re a fan of personality tests, take your soft skills hunt to the next level with a Bryq Assessment.

Bryq’s pre-hiring assessments are the happy medium between a personality profile and a cognitive assessment, giving you a full picture of each candidate. 

This makes it so much easier to assess potential, values fit and compatibility for the role, while also giving you cold-hard cognitive data (like verbal reasoning, attention to detail, and more) to draw from.

Get personal (in a good way) with candidate personality assessments

Personality assessment tools like Traitify can also help you screen for candidates with the right soft skills via their patented visual-based assessment. Neat, huh? 

Traitify correlates candidates’ personality data with their performance scores, designing tailored benchmarks that push your best-fit applicants forward. 

Traitify helps you identify compatible applicants fast with little to no oversight, so you can spend less time sifting through applications and more time getting to know your best candidates.

Ask interview questions that zero in on a candidate's soft skills 🔎

The perfect candidate is out there — you just have to find them! There’s no better place to start than with the right job interview questions.

For example, to get a read on an applicant’s adaptability, you could ask questions like “How would you deal with a huge change in a project?” or “How would you adjust your work and ensure your team stays motivated?” 

Targeted interview questions can help you get a read on your candidate, zeroing in on their soft skills to determine values fit. To start, look no further than our free list of top soft skills interview questions

In Breezy, you can easily create custom Interview Guides that keep every member of your hiring team on the same page about which interview questions should be asked. You can even attach interview guides straight to the interview’s calendar entry to make sure it’s right in front of everyone when the moment arrives!

Evaluate candidates’ ability to work in a real work or team scenario  

When it comes to evaluating candidate soft skills, it’s important to pay attention not only to the way they work, but how they interact

One of the easiest ways to gauge this is to evaluate candidates in a real work or team scenario

If you’re hiring for a remote role, for example, you could engage candidates in a trial project to see how they handle the work and if they play well with others. If it’s an in-person role, you could invite your top candidates to a team lunch or office meet and greet to see if they vibe with the rest of the team. 

Not only is this a great way to determine culture and values fit, it also gives you valuable insight into a candidate’s social skills and interaction style.

Soft skills aren’t the place for employers to cut corners

While technical skills will always be important, the shift towards remote and hybrid work models means soft skills are more important than ever. In many cases, skills like communication and adaptability are absolute essentials.

We won’t lie. Building an emotionally intelligent team is hard work. But no matter how much you have on your plate, surrounding yourself with the right people is always worth the effort. 

You already know which hard skills to look for in your candidates, and now you know why soft skills are equally important. No matter how hard the hiring pressure gets, remember that human-first hiring isn’t just filling an empty seat — it's taking the time to find the best person for the job. 

Start optimizing your recruiting process today with Breezy. Try it totally free for 14 days and find out just how easy it can be.