Survey Says: Soft Skills Matter to Employers

By Kristen Harris

We’ve been hearing a lot about the “skills gap” lately, where employers have a tough time finding qualified candidates even as a sizeable number of unemployed people struggle to find jobs. Now the debate has moved on to look at “hard” and “soft” skills.

Hard skills are the specific manual or cognitive skills you need to do the job.

They’re a measurable ability to perform the task at hand in an excellent manner. This is what most of us learn in post-secondary education or a training program, and throughout our career as we continue to do our work. Sometimes these skills are learned on the job, through an apprenticeship or internship. If you’re a graphic designer it means you know how to use the right software, understand design principles, have a good sense of color and proportion, and so on. A writer knows how to find the right words to express the message, can edit their writing, knows punctuation and grammar guidelines, and other related skills.

Soft skills are less tangible. They are personality traits that you exhibit, no matter what job you’re doing.

Although some employers use personality tests to identify traits and tendencies, soft skills are often hard to measure. They’re really about how you approach your work and, just like hard skills, they can be learned. These are not innate abilities that some people are born with. All of these skills can be practiced and improved.

In a debate over whether which kind of skills matter more the answer is both.

It can be tough to get an opportunity without education, training or experience in your chosen field. But it’s also tough to get a position, and even harder to keep it, without well-developed social and personal abilities. Sometimes soft skills are what encourage an employer to give you a chance when your hard skills are less developed.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers and human resources professionals, they found that 77% of employers believe soft skills are just as important as hard skills.(1) In fact, sometimes having the right soft skills will convince an employer to take a chance on someone who needs to grow and improve. Coming out of college, that’s where we all are; we have some knowledge but little to no practical experience. Soft skills, or our “attitude,” are often what convince that first employer to give us a chance.

According to the CareerBuilder survey, here are the Top 10 soft skills companies say they’re looking for when hiring:

  1. Strong work ethic

  2. Dependability

  3. Positive attitude

  4. Self-motivated

  5. Team-oriented

  6. Organization (can manage multiple priorities)

  7. Works well under pressure

  8. Effective communicator

  9. Flexibility

  10. Confidence

Wow, that sounds like the kind of person I’d want to work with! How about you? Could you improve in any of these areas? We all have room for growth and improvement. Pick one and see how much better you can get just by giving it a little extra focus. These skills help us get the job, and succeed in it every day.

(1) Overwhelming Majority of Companies Say Soft Skills Are Just as Important as Hard Skills, According to a New CareerBuilder Survey, April 10, 2014