What are Soft Skills?

In the business world, there is an axiom that says hard skills will get you an interview, but soft skills will get you a job. This means that while an applicant with years of education and experience in the field may possess the hard skills required for the job, they may lack soft skills such as leadership ability or self-motivation. Many job openings require a combination of soft and hard skills, with a number of human resource directors preferring to see soft skills like time management and a willingness to learn.

Soft skills are characteristics, personality traits, and social skills that everyone has to some degree. Some people, for example, have an easy time making friends, which is a valuable skill in the sales world. Others are incredibly organized or capable of making rational decisions under duress. A person may also be born with the ability to work with coworkers from different cultures or quickly learn a new language. All of these abilities would be considered valuable.

Discovering a job applicant’s soft skills, unlike specific hard skills such as mathematical ability or mechanical aptitude, can be notoriously difficult. Some companies use psychological screening tests to see if an applicant has the right temperament or personality for a specific job, but these tests can’t always predict how an applicant will perform in real-world situations. A new employee may have the technical skills and experience to work on a customer support team, but lacks the soft skills needed to be effective in the position, such as patience or the ability to work under pressure.

In order to determine desirable soft skills, some employers use open-ended interview questions about an applicant’s work or life experiences. An applicant for a managerial position, for example, might be asked about a previous incident in which he or she had to take command. Another candidate may be asked to recall a time when he or she had to resolve a disagreement or deal with a difficult coworker or customer. How an applicant responds to such probing questions during an interview can reveal a variety of other soft skills, such as the ability to form quick responses or the ability to see the bright side of a bad situation.

Many job experts advise job seekers to improve their soft skills in addition to their hard skills, such as through continuing education or specialized training. Many employers are hesitant to hire technically skilled candidates who show little emotional investment in their careers or the ability to collaborate effectively with others under pressure. When competing against hundreds of other applicants in a competitive job market, having a proper balance of soft and hard skills is one way to level the playing field.