What’s Easier – Hire For or Train On Soft Skills

Technology can be intimidating, but it isn’t going anywhere. Before technology was a mainstay in corporate America, loyalty, knowing your job really well, and working hard were top values. Now working smart is how people get more done in less time. Loyalty isn’t something expected or given; companies spend billions of dollars in hopes of engaging and retaining their talent. And just when you get to know your job, new technology implementations and process improvements are sure to come along and change how your job gets done.

Change is a constant, and the qualities employers value most is reflective of the accelerating pace of change. Making the top qualities list are things like emotional intelligence, accountability, adaptability, resilience, and entrepreneurial skills, but what does all that mean and how do employers identify and evaluate talent for these?

It’s no secret that no one’s figured out how to do a perfect job of finding, recruiting, hiring and onboarding talent. It’s one of the many broken systems we keep looking for technology to fix. In fact, HR tech is already an $8B market. Much like every other space, it’s struggling to keep pace with evolving workforce demands and technology.

No algorithm has yet been developed to help companies pluck emotionally intelligent, resilient, entrepreneurial, adaptable talent from databases filled with résumés that barely have the right keywords let alone the right evidence of such qualities.

So, companies, for the most part, are stuck pre-screening for years of experience, minimum education requirements, and hard skills that may or may not be success indicators and probably will evolve and change over the next few years anyway. Then they evaluate a smaller pool of candidates for such qualities in the interview process, probably leaving some really great candidates completely out of the process.

Why are soft skills more valued than skills these days (according to 57% of leaders on LinkedIn)?

Emotional intelligence is a frequent topic of Epic Careering blogs. That’s because a more emotionally intelligent workforce means fewer brand-breaking headlines, less emotional toxicity in the workplace, and limited money and time spent on employee relation mitigation. It also means more client-focused solutions that are marketed and sold better, increased collaboration for faster innovation, and a better ability to foresee how decisions will impact people, planet, and profits in the long-term.

Resilience hasn’t made many of the lists I see published, but it is something that I have had many leaders articulate to me as a highly valued skill, especially in a high growth and/or start-up environment. Defined as meaning an ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Sometimes companies lose key clients, have to downsize, get acquired, and have new leadership take over. Resilience doesn’t mean having no emotional response to such change; it means quickly getting over the emotional reaction and restoring the mindset for performance and problem-solving.

Change management is a growing field, which reflects that there is a greater awareness that change can have adverse impacts on performance, morale, and even health. It reflects a recognition that human beings, by nature, are resistant to change. However, some people, the more adaptable ones, find change easier, even exciting. A more adaptable workforce means less time and money spent on mitigating the impact of change on an organization. Having influential change enthusiasts at various levels in the organization will make it easier for the organization as a whole to move forward. Regardless of the chaos that change can create, adaptable people will find opportunity.

Accountability is huge! I have seen interview coaches goad job seekers into believing that recruiters ask certain questions as traps to get candidates to disqualify themselves by asking about negative experiences and bad choices. Mistakenly, these candidates will try to avoid telling any negative story and evade the truth. This is an awful interview performance tactic. Not only does it shift a person’s non-verbal communication from confident to defensive, it also shifts the interviewee-interviewer relationship from potentially collegial to adversarial and precludes this candidate from demonstrating accountability – taking responsibility for mistakes, and even more importantly, learning and growing from them. Failure is necessary to innovate. Cy Wakeman has also accurately asserted that if employers try to be accountable for each employee’s happiness and engagement, you get an entitled workforce and no improvements in engagement. Not only will a company waste less time on emotional toxicity if everyone took accountability for their own mistakes as well as their own happiness, but it will also nurture a more self-managed culture. I know many great leaders who feel their efforts to enhance working conditions and engagement have been taken for granted and fear that their teams, especially younger team members with little “real world” experience, think that perks, good benefits, continued training, and flexibility are standard and the minute unfavorable conditions exist it’s time to find greener pastures. What the leaders know is that good leaders are definitely NOT a dime a dozen, but if they let their team members find out for themselves, right behind them will be more entitled workers, because accountability for one’s own happiness is so rare.

Speaking of self-managed, entrepreneurialism is a quality that many companies are still feeling out. Consensus among those not yet in management is that management could use improving. Across the board, managers can do better at managing. However, there is an implication that if you are entrepreneurial minded, you won’t need oversight or supervision. This can be mistaken for not needing mentorship and leadership or even communication. I believe when companies say they are looking for someone entrepreneurial they might mean they want someone who will deliver promptly without prompts, someone who will be resourceful in solving problems, and someone who can keep track of multiple functions or balls in the air.  An entrepreneurial person is someone who will offer no excuses. They’ll make it work, like Tim Gunn. Workarounds aren’t ideal for sustainable innovation, but they are often critical for helping emerging industries and technologies survive while new designs are tested. All companies have to be wary of making the temporary workaround the permanent procedure, as it leaves room for disruption and obsolescence.

Almost every leader will tell you that talent is one of their biggest challenges – finding, training, keeping and engaging it. On one side, there are leaders who will tell you that they can train on skill and would rather hire someone with the soft skills to succeed, while others have not figured out how to find talent if not for qualifying on hard skills and then further qualifying for soft skills.

Either way, the challenge will remain, talent pools will remain small, even in times of high unemployment, as long as people without the right combination of strong soft skills are excluded from consideration. For instance, Sally is a charming, persuasive storyteller, but she is unreliable.  She rarely shows up to meetings with clients on time and is often late in delivering what is promised. She is as much a liability as an asset. Can she be trained to be on time and better at time management? Yes! She and the company would be exponentially more successful if she were trained/coached.

Frustrated job seekers everywhere are scratching their heads… How could it be that so many companies struggle to find the right talent, but when you are talent, you get passed over and dismissed so frequently and seemingly trivially?

There are a lot of things that could be done better to connect talent with the companies who need it (much of which Epic Careering is taking on, as it’s our mission to bridge this gap.) Candidates can take it upon themselves to develop better soft skills, but it’s not as cut and dry as to where and how one should go about doing that. Would enough talented corporate rising stars do this to widen the talent pool? It could happen, but it would take quite the campaign. You can help by sharing our blogs related to soft skills, like this, or inviting us to speak.

The other thing that companies can do is to make soft skills development as much a part of their training and development budget as upgrading technical skills. Employees at every level would benefit from soft skills development, and the company would see a vast improvement in multiple metrics categories, though some short-term fall off of uncoachable employees would be expected.

Wouldn’t it be great if in the next 5 years employers could qualify potential talent based on whether or not they successfully completed and applied soft skills training? Then the pool can be further qualified by hard skills. Or, to keep the candidate pool wide when necessary, companies can hire for soft skills and train on hard skills. A workforce trained in soft skills by ways of certain mindfulness trainings also enhance the learning state and help develop neural pathways that make learning, retention and recall even better. This workforce will be even more willing and able to learn and apply new breakthroughs and technologies as they become available.

Until then, the workaround is to offer soft skills training to your workforce related to these primary qualities in conjunction with hard skills training.

If you are interested in evaluating this kind of soft skills training, book a consultation with us today.

We’d love to know how your company has worked around the soft skills shortage.

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.

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