There is a growing interest in the IT area for recruiting for soft skills and companies are designing programs that will develop them internally, thanks to a massive body of scientific literature pointing to the connection between them and the company’s success.
It’s worth understanding the underlying mechanism that makes them so important and also dig deeper into how the recruitment process should be adapted for promoting and evaluating them more efficiently.
The term soft skills is generally used to define transversal competencies and trait characteristics that describe relationships between people. They are complementary to hard skills, less precise, and have an emotional component that impacts the behaviour of an individual. They have also been proven to contribute greatly to the level of employability - meaning the ability of a person to get a job, maintain that job and find a new one when needed.
Besides, soft skills are crucial in being promoted to higher positions, are taken into consideration in performance reviews that materialise in salary and other benefits and play the leading part in building interpersonal connections that facilitate wellbeing at the workplace.
The top 3 most requested categories of soft skills that a meta-analysis of job descriptions listed on Stackoverflow has investigated are:
As we can see the first two most important soft skills are related to the ability to be part of a team and interacting with other individuals. This is because companies have realised that strong, effective teams and a collaborative atmosphere are key to staying competitive on the market, come up with innovative ideas, create quality products, offer better services to their customers, and so being successful.
Problem-solving skills which are connected with creativity, critical thinking, adaptability and even empathy are instrumental in pushing forward the product or overcoming a gap between the company and their competitors. They are the engine of innovation and progress, especially in an environment that cultivates them as an intrinsic motivator.
It’s pretty clear by now why organisations desire to hire for soft skills but equally important why individuals should be interested in developing them.
So how do you find them?
Start with the job description that you are advertising for the role.
Move away from just copy-pasting the same words that have been there even before you joined the company. Yes, everybody wants a team player, a great communicator, extraordinary time management skills and the ability to offer support, but hardly anybody has all of them. Instead of just writing those words, take an hour of your time and talk with somebody who actually does the job for which you are recruiting. Allow them to explain the problems they face every day and what helps them overcome them. Or talk with somebody who is struggling in their job and see what they are missing. Both will give you insight into the day to day challenges that might not be the most important ones written in the JD but are a constant source of either success or failure.
Going into the selection process
Make sure the interviewer is looking for the soft skills mentioned in the job description and not their own version of how a person should be like. We all have biases and preferences which make it easy to feel more connected to someone who is similar to you or to dismiss somebody for adopting a different perspective.
Don’t overlook the context. Interviews are an emotional experience - they represent an evaluative situation where the person who wants the job is judged in a short timeframe. Have patience and try to take into account other factors that can stand behind a behaviour or action of the interviewee in this kind of setting.
During the interview
In-person interviews have higher chances of correctly identifying soft skills especially if there is a relaxed atmosphere and the candidate feels at ease.
Design the interview process having in mind the expectancy theory - we tend to behave in a way that will increase our chances of getting the desired outcome, and this may mean doing what we think others are expecting of us.
To counteract this, make use of open-ended questions that aim at similar situations the role will involve. By similar, I mean different areas where the same behaviour can be expressed. Think of real-life situations that have high chances of happening and not specific work-related contexts. Soft skills are not something we just connect to when we open the work laptop, but they are or become embedded within ourselves and go beyond the strict demands of the profession.
You can also use role-play, observation, encourage opinions on topics of interest for the role you are hiring for, look for narratives about personal experiences and previous jobs.
Recruiting in IT focuses more on technical skills and most of the time companies hire the person who has vast knowledge and checks all the hard skills. However, the lack of soft skills compatible with the role is why people leave their jobs or have poor performance. Companies should prioritise internal training programs for recruiters and interviewers that teach how to correctly identify the needed soft skills for particular positions in the organisation and how to design a selection process that will yield accurate results.
- R. Singh Dubey and V. Tiwari (2019) - Operationalisation of soft skill attributes and determining the existing gap in novice ICT professionals, International Journal of Information Management, Volume 50
- João Eduardo Montandon, Cristiano Politowski, Luciana Lourdes Silva, Marco Tulio Valente, Fabio Petrillo, Yann-Gaël Guéhéneuc (2020) - What skills do IT companies look for in new developers? A study with Stack Overflow jobs, Information and Software Technology, Volume 129
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