While industry- or job-specific experience is always a plus, remember that staff can be trained in those skills. But it’s a lot harder to teach someone to be a good communicator or manage their time well. These are examples of soft skills and attributes that can make any job candidate a successful hire, no matter their previous experience.
Soft skills vs hard skills
An ideal candidate has the right balance of hard and soft skills and should be able to share examples that demonstrate each. Hard skills are the ability to perform specific tasks or meet challenges unique to the job and overcome them. This includes any knowledge or experience that comes with working in similar jobs or in the same industry. Soft skills, on the other hand, can apply to any job and are transferable between industries. They include things like people skills, personality traits, emotional intelligence or attitude. Practically every job requires a balance of both.
Why are soft skills important?
85% of HR departments thought soft skills were more important than hard skills for long-term success
While hard skills are often the focus for employers, a 2020 study with the HR Research Institute found that 85% of HR departments thought soft skills were more important than hard skills for long-term success. Soft skills dictate how good someone is at working with others, managing their time and delivering on promises. Someone might have all the right experience, but that doesn’t do you much good if they don’t have the work ethic to show up on time or to work well with others. Plus, it’s often a lot easier to teach knowledge than attitude, which makes hiring staff with good soft skills a crucial consideration.
Essential soft skills for good workers
Here are just a few soft skills that you should look for in potential employees:
1. Communication skills
Nearly every job in nearly every industry requires effective communication. Even those who work completely independently will need to report to a line manager or business owner about their progress and needs. On the other end of the spectrum, customer-facing positions rely heavily on the ability to communicate with others.
2. Work ethic
No matter how skilled a candidate is, a desire to do their best work is critical. Hiring staff with little experience but a strong work ethic is almost always a better choice than someone with lots of experience but no motivation to learn and grow. A motivated individual will be receptive to training and will work hard to perform for you and your business.
3. Computer skills
This could be seen as a hard skill, depending on the position and the job, but these days all jobs require some level of technological literacy. Whether it’s operating a POS system or filling out an Excel spreadsheet, it’s always good to hire candidates with some level of computer skills, or those that demonstrate a desire to learn them.
While the technical knowledge to solve problems is a hard skill, the creativity and drive behind problem-solving are essential soft skills. Problems come up in any job, it’s how an employee approaches them that’s important. Candidates with good problem-solving skills and less experience might even offer more creative solutions than more experienced candidates.
5. Performing under pressure
Demonstrating skills and knowledge is one thing, doing so under pressure is a skill of its own. The competitive nature of small businesses usually requires employees to work hard and fast to meet deadlines or serve customers. The ability to perform under pressure demonstrates a level of confidence in your own skills that indicates a highly competent worker.
As the job market remains historically tight, remember to broaden your criteria when reviewing applicants and consider how their soft skills, coupled with a willingness to train for the required hard skills, could make them an asset to your business.