A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insights finds that 94% of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.
“When we’re talking about a promotion, we’re talking about managing others,” says Susan Vitale, workplace expert and chief marketing officer at iCIMS. Soft skills such as oral communications, adaptability and problem solving become more important as you manage others, make more decisions and lead cross-functional teams, she says.
The report is based on an online survey of 400 HR/recruiting professionals conducted by Wakefield Research between June 22 and July 3, 2017. The report finds that 58% of recruiting professionals believe soft skills are more important for leadership and management positions than for entry-level positions. For senior leadership, recruiting professionals rank problem solving (38 percent) as the most important soft skill, followed by oral communication (26 percent) and adaptability (17 percent).
There is an important distinction to be made between hard skills (the technical know-how to do your job) and soft skills (the way in which you do your job). “Hard skills might get your resume looked at,” she says. “Soft skills will help you stand out and get you hired by that recruiter or promoted by your manager but soft skills alone won’t get you the job.”
However, soft skills will become increasingly important as jobs become more automated. “When it comes to managing an entry-level employee or leading a project across many departments, a robot can’t do that,” Vitale says.
For instance, recruiters and managers are looking for people who can clearly articulate their point, are able to define what they want to get out of a conversation or a meeting and be honest when something goes wrong with a project, she says. Recruiters and managers are also looking for people who can lead, who believe in the message they are delivering, can see the bigger picture and can roll with be punches. For instance, Vitale says, can you demonstrate that you’re willing to help train new people or learn a new software program?
If you’re asking for a promotion, Vitale suggests highlighting your ability to collaborate, problem solve and communicate. If you’re applying for a job at a startup, highlight your adaptability and problem-solving skills. “Be honest about the soft skills you aren’t strong in,” she says.
Failing to show soft skills at a job interview can cost you the job. According to the report, 75% of recruiting professionals have cut an interview short because a candidate didn’t demonstrate the soft skills needed for the position they had applied for.
It is possible to learn to improve your soft skills, Vitale says. Find a mentor who excels in an area you find challenging such as leading people or problem solving and ask them for help. Tell them you’d like to learn how they get up in front of the room and lead people or how they are able to let everything roll off their backs. “The fact that you are seeking out help gives you marks in the soft skills even if you don’t have them all today,” she says.
There are also free online resources for learning soft skills such as MaxKnowlege, Udemy and Coursera. Many organizations offer internal training programs that teach soft skills as well, Vitale says. “Employees often turn up their noses at HR training but it could be very valuable,” she says.