Why You Need to Hire for Soft Skills, Not Experience

The Importance of Soft Skills Over Experience

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It’s no secret that business owners are struggling to find good employees these days. According to Patrick Valtin, a talent acquisition and retention consultant and author of No-Fail Hiring 2.0, the problem is not that there aren’t enough qualified candidates—it’s that employers are defining “qualified” all wrong.

The Importance of Soft Skills

“Many small business owners are focusing too much on selecting applicants primarily based on their hard skills,” explains Valtin. If you’re looking for job candidates with specific skills and experience, you could be making a big mistake. According to a Leadership IQ study, almost half of new hires fail within 18 months. Just 11 percent of those failures are due to a lack of hard skills; the rest stem from a lack of soft skills.

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Focusing solely on hard skills not only increases the risk of a failed hire, but can also lead you to overspend to land that hire. “Technically qualified applicants know their value,” says Valtin, “and in today’s applicant-driven marketplace, they often inflate their salary expectations.” That means you could end up paying more than you can really afford for a candidate who may not work out.

Soft Skills in Demand

What soft skills should you be looking for? No matter what industry you are in or what position you’re hiring for, skills such as listening and getting along with others are vital to success. According to a 2016 LinkedIn study, the top 10 soft skills employers look for most are:

  1. Communication (specifically, active listening)
  2. Organization (planning and implementing projects)
  3. Teamwork
  4. Punctuality
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Sociability
  7. Creativity
  8. Adaptability
  9. Interpersonal skills (in one’s relationship to others)
  10. Friendly personality

Assessing Soft Skills

When you’re advertising for an open position, how can you convey the importance of soft skills? “Your job posting should clearly indicate the needed hard skills, while also clearly communicating that you attribute as much importance to vital soft skills,” Valtin says. “Specifically, invite applicants who might not [have] the required hard skills to convince you why they should still be considered for employment.”

Once you receive some applications, Valtin cautions, don’t make the common mistake of eliminating applicants just because their resumes don’t show the necessary hard skills. “Some applicants may lie [about] their skills or [have different] standards than you,” he explains, noting that it’s easier to remedy a lack of hard skills than a lack of soft ones.

Small Business Deals

As you sort through job applicants and conduct the interview process, Valtin says, follow these steps to assess a candidate’s soft skills.

  • Make a list of important soft skills for the specific job you are posting and keep it in mind during the process.
  • No matter what the job is, always evaluate honesty as the prime soft skill.
  • Always explain why a specific soft skill is important on the job. For example, if you need someone who has a friendly attitude on the phone, explain how it affects customer service and retention.
  • During the interview, challenge the candidate on each specific soft skill by asking them when they were able to demonstrate the skill, and who could verify what they just told you.
  • Use pre-hire assessment tests to identify potential problem areas in a candidate’s soft skills. (Valtin suggests this one.)
  • When conducting reference checks, ask about a candidate’s specific soft skills or personality-related strengths and weaknesses.

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

5 Reactions
  1. You can train technical skills much more easily than you can train soft skills. That alone is a reason to shoot for the soft skills.

  2. For organizations seeking diversity of thought and approach, one needs to be careful not to screen out candidates who might not bring the expected type of soft skills (ie: candidates who have neurodiverse profiles, such as autism/asperger syndrome), but can bring tremendous value and innovation to their employers. Most soft skills (or personality-based) tests are biased against these types of candidates, causing employers to eliminate potentially valuable employees.

  3. Great points! Also some pre-employment tests, like those offered by HR Avatar, measure soft skills and cognitive abilities (analytical thinking and attention to detail) so you can help predict whether the applicant can solve problems and learn quickly too.

  4. Good Article,
    Ask any hiring manager why most sales people fail and they will invariably chalk it up to weak “soft skills” rather than a lack of the technical qualifications. This is not because the technical abilities are not important. It is simply due to the fact that soft skills are primarily natural to the person whereas the technical abilities can be learned. For decades many companies have used tests to identify the underlying personality traits of sales people. I have noticed more and more over the last couple of years that hiring managers are using our tests to evaluate candidates for many non-sales roles. I believe this is a very healthy development as it will reduce job turnover and increase the likelihood that the new employee will succeed. This is a win-win situation since it does mean that more employees will be satisfied in their roles. https://www.salestestonline.com/

  5. Yes great points. I loved its lucid writing. For me soft skills always wins over technical skills.