Skills are the new currency in the workplace. When a recruiter has an open role to fill and the hiring manager gives them a list of skills to look for in candidates, it’s important that the list includes both soft and hard skills.
In fact, soft skills can sometimes be what makes one candidate stand out over another (when the two have similar qualifications). Strong soft skills can also indicate that a person is more likely to be a well-rounded employee who will contribute to an overall positive work environment.
There are many soft skills that are useful to have on your team, but there are a few that stand out above the rest as key skills to look for in job candidates.
If you ask a manager what qualities they’re looking for in their next new hire, there’s a good chance they will mention communication skills. This may sound like a given (because of course you want your team members to be good communicators), but not everyone is naturally good at communicating — it is a learned skill that takes time and practice for some people.
Also, just because someone is a good verbal communicator, doesn’t mean they are a good written communicator (and vice versa). Additionally, it’s important to look for candidates who are able to communicate in a variety of different settings and channels.
For example, many employers are hiring remote employees. In this case, the employee in this role won’t have many opportunities for face-to-face communication (outside of Zoom). So this new hire will be better off if they have excellent written communication skills.
One way to assess communication skills during the hiring process is to ask them to describe a situation where they had to share negative information with a client or coworker.
By asking a question like this, you can get a sense of how the candidate communicates in less than ideal circumstances. If they can communicate well in that scenario, they are likely to be a good communicator under ‘normal’ circumstances.
2. Active Listening
This skill goes hand in hand with communication. It’s important that a candidate can convey their thoughts, ideas and feelings to their team. But it’s just as important to be able to actively listen, and take action accordingly.
Good active listeners aren’t as common as you might think. And in a remote work environment, active listening can be even more difficult when conversations are taking place virtually, versus in person.
When a candidate or employee has the ability to actively listen to feedback, constructive criticism, or directions and then apply the information in a productive way, it helps them work much more efficiently than if they didn’t have those listening skills.
To gauge a candidate’s active listening skills, consider giving them a prompt that requires them to listen carefully, ask good questions if they need to, and then use what they were told to deliver some sort of result.
For example, describe a problem they could run into in this role, and then give them some time to prepare a solution to the problem and then they can present this back. This is a good way to gauge how well they were able to listen to instructions, ask questions, and deliver results under pressure.
3. Time Management
Time management is a critical skill to look for regardless if you’re hiring for an in-office, hybrid, or fully remote position. There are distractions in each of these environments — from small talk in the office, to social media apps and television at home. No matter where your candidates will be working, it’s important that they can manage their time efficiently.
With remote work in particular, many managers question whether or not employees will truly be productive at home. The research from our latest Talent Index report shows that 73% of employees feel they are more productive, or just as productive, when working from home versus working in an office.
With more and more employers embracing hybrid work arrangements (for the best of both worlds), time management is a soft skill that is valuable to have in virtually every department and team — particularly for roles that require adhering to strict deadlines and managing multiple stakeholders.
Consider asking the candidate how they typically structure their day and how they prioritize daily tasks. Even a simple question like this can be a window into how they handle deadlines, delegate tasks and manage their time.
4. Problem Solving
It’s no secret that the last few years have been full of all sorts of unpredictable problems in the workplace, and many of those require quick thinking. The ability to think critically to come up with creative solutions to problems on the fly is a highly desired skill.
The value of being able to assess the problem at hand, identify potential solutions, and choose the one that will be the most appropriate for each situation, should not be underestimated. In today’s world, circumstances can change so quickly and it’s important that your employees have the ability to adapt, and pivot when needed.
Problems will inevitably arise in the workplace, and it’s helpful to get a sense of how the candidate might handle them. One way to assess a candidate’s problem solving skills before hiring them is to give the candidate hypothetical problems they could encounter on the job, and have them provide potential solutions during the interview. This helps you gauge how well they think critically during a challenging situation.
This is a soft skill that can benefit employees and employers equally. Having the ability to get along with and work well with others is a candidate ‘green flag’ for recruiters who are looking to fill open roles.
We’ve all heard the saying “team work makes the dream work”, and it’s almost always true. When someone on the team struggles to work well alongside others (e.g. they don’t listen to others ideas or they have a tendency to steamroll their teammates, for example), it can not only affect the quality of the work the team produces, but it can also create a huge morale problem.
Retention is already an issue that business leaders are concerned about. The last thing companies need is a decrease in morale and employee satisfaction, because these problems can lead to losing top talent. When employees excel in teamwork and collaboration, it creates a more positive workplace altogether.
To assess this skill, consider asking the candidate how they’ve handled disagreements with coworkers in the past. Or perhaps ask them to share about a project they worked on with a team, and what the results of their collaboration were.
6. Emotional Intelligence
A study done by TalentSmartEQ found that 90% of top performers in the workplace have a high level EQ (Emotional Intelligence). And 80% of the lowest performers in the workplace have a low EQ.
A key difference between a person who is emotionally intelligent, and someone who is not, is that a person with a higher EQ generally has a good sense of self-control, which goes hand in hand with productivity — another highly sought after quality in the workplace.
Employees who are emotionally intelligent also tend to have more empathy towards others, which is a strength in the workplace. They are also solution-focused and know when to say “no” when they have too much on their plate. Of course, you want employees who are willing to pitch in and help when and where they are needed, but you don’t want your team members spreading themselves too thin for too long. Employees can only take so much before they begin to suffer from burnout which can easily lead to them leaving the company.
While EQ is often difficult to assess in a job interview setting, some red flags to watch out for include: giving canned answers to tough questions, accusing others of fault when talking about their previous experiences, or even contradictory body language symbols. Some ‘green flags’ to look for include empathy for others, taking responsibility for mistakes, and accepting constructive feedback.
Don’t underestimate the value of soft skills
Each of the soft skills we mentioned in this article play an important role in the workplace. When leaders, managers and employees are empathetic, critical thinkers who manage their time well, and listen to others, it helps build an overall positive and supportive company culture that top talent actually wants to be a part of.
Today’s talent market is tight, and according to our research, 53% of today’s workers plan to leave their job in the next twelve months. While this means there will likely be a lot of amazing talent on the market in the coming months, it also means that half of your current employees are looking for other opportunities.