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How Soft Skills Can Make a Hard Hitting Difference

See also: Transferable Skills

‘Soft skills’ are often misunderstood by candidates applying for roles as it can be easy to consider them to be somewhat less important than the so-called hard skills.

This, however, is a very big mistake. Soft skills are actually very hard hitting when it comes to securing a new position and giving yourself the edge in the eyes of a recruiter.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills can be defined as the character traits or learnt interpersonal skills that define how you relate to other people and manage your own behaviour.

Soft skills are an essential complement to hard skills, which represent the specialist skills required for your given sector or role.

See our page Soft Skills for more information.

Do Soft Skills Matter?

The tool that the majority of recruiters use at interview stage is known as the competency framework. If you have ever been invited to a competency-based interview then it will be a competency framework that has been used to assess you.

This selection method is common across all sectors, and is considered by recruiters as an essential way to optimise organisational performance through the selection of individuals who demonstrate the capability and potential to develop the skills that are required.

Now consider this: the vast majority of competency frameworks will be used to assess your soft skills. In fact many of them are used entirely to assess just your soft skills and nothing else.

That’s just one clear indication of how important they are to recruiters.

On top of this, a growing number of job advertisements are actively targeting individuals with certain soft skills.

In a recent review of an online recruitment website, more than half of all listings were found to contain the term ‘team work’ and over a fifth actively targeted ‘communication skills’. Other key soft skills such as dedication, relationship building, time management and problem solving also figured prominently. This seems to suggest that recruiters are increasingly targeting candidates who can demonstrate soft skills in addition to job-specific abilities.

They may be less tangible but soft skills can make a very real difference.

Soft skills are also referred to as ‘EQ’ (or ‘emotional intelligence quotient’). These personality traits may be less tangible than vocational qualifications and achievements yet that does not make them less desirable.

Mark Bull, CEO of Randstad UK, explained why soft skills are an increasingly important part of the recruitment mix:

Job hunters are used to scanning job advertisements to check they have the relevant qualifications and experience for a role, but potential employers are now just as interested in the soft skills that supplement this core expertise.

He stressed that it has often been the case that it is mainly at interview stage where soft skills come to the fore, but that trend data suggest they are explicitly identified in job descriptions and adverts too.

An application form or CV lets employers filter applicants down to those who have the relevant qualifications and experience. But the interview process is where candidates can let their soft skills shine.

He went on to state that soft skills are exactly what can give candidates that essential differentiator over other applicants.

For the very top roles, qualifications and experience are still a must-have, but having these alone won’t be enough to differentiate you from the pack and secure you the most coveted positions. Having a confident and personable demeanour, the ability to use one’s initiative to be decisive, good communication and listening skills and an optimistic and enthusiastic outlook are just as likely to endear you to employers as a first-class university degree and an impressive roster of previous experience.

Placing a Value on Soft Skills

The intangible nature of soft skills can make them hard to assess, but they are both quantifiable and measurable.

One recruiter has recently gone one step further and placed monetary values on the usefulness of soft skills.

The Economic Value of Soft Skills

In economic research that was recently commissioned by McDonald’s it was revealed that soft skills can be seen as contributing £88 billion to the current UK economy.

What’s more, the fast food retailer suggested that this figure would rise to £109 billion over the next five years.

The McDonald’s report also revealed that 97% of employers regard soft skills as a crucial component of their business success. In fact more than half of those surveyed considered them to be of greater importance than factors such as academic qualifications.

Are your soft skills making your job search more difficult?

A study by development economics specialists suggested that there are many job seekers who remain unaware of the importance of soft skills. The study identified an estimated half a million UK workers that it felt would be at a disadvantage caused by a lack of soft skills.

Employment specialists such as Barclays, LearnDirect, the National Youth Agency and the Confederation of British Industry have all pinned their belief in soft skills firmly to the recruitment mast.

Mark Bull of Randstad commented that the number of initiatives that are becoming visible demonstrate “just how importantly employers regard soft skills and the significant contribution they make not just to how individual businesses perform, but to the overall prosperity of the economy.”

He went on to highlight that “it doesn’t appear that all employees are dialled in to the same frequency. It may even be the case that employees already have many of the attributes necessary, but don’t realise the importance of displaying them in the workplace.”

Transferable Skills

As well as helping you succeed in your current position and climb the career ladder, soft skills can also be particularly useful if you are thinking of moving into a different sector or a completely new role.

Soft skills are a highly transferable asset that will help you to thrive in any environment.

Mark added “Soft skills can improve a job seeker’s general employability should they wish to embark on a completely different career. In such instances, qualifications and experience may not look immediately relevant to an employer, so any assets that can be transferable will enhance the likelihood of a smooth transition.

About the Author

This article is supplied by Randstad, one of the leading recruitment & HR services providers in the world with a top three position in the UK and the United States.