25 May 2017

Accurately assessing soft skills: A huge opportunity for recruiters

Soft skills, behavioural competencies, transferable skills, personal attributes, employability skills, capabilities; no matter what you might know them as, these non-technical skills are important at work and becoming more so.

Deloitte Access Economics explores this topic in their recently released report, Soft skills* for business success (It's a very readable and interesting report and I recommend you read it).

Some key facts about soft skills, as detailed in the report:

  • Between 2000 and 2015 soft skill intensive occupation growth (2.7%) was three times the rate of non-soft skill intensive occupation growth (0.9%)
    The soft skill intensive occupation annual growth rate (1.6%) is predicted to grow 2.5 times faster than occupations where soft skills are less prevalent (0.6%) to 2035
  • Soft skills intensive occupations in 2000: 53% of all occupations
  • Soft skills intensive occupations in 2015: 59% of all occupations
  • Soft skills intensive occupations in 2030: 63% of all occupations (projected)
  • A LinkedIn survey revealed that 69% of HR decision makers in Australia and New Zealand find it difficult to fill leadership roles. The top reason cited for this difficulty was a lack of soft skills (45%) amongst applicants (LinkedIn, 2016).
  • A survey by the Department of Employment found that one quarter of employers recruiting for entry level positions have difficulty filling vacancies because applicants lack employability skills (Department of Employment 2016).
  • Analysing data from the US, Demming (2015) found that the employment share of occupations requiring relatively higher levels of social skills increased. These occupations were also valued more highly in the labour market.
  • A survey of over 1,000 managers and employees (Deloitte Access Economics 2014), found that employees who have and utilise teamwork skills (a proxy for soft skills) are 3% more productive, and worth almost $2,000 more per year to a business than those using less of these skills.
  • One study found that returns to investments in soft skills were equal to the return to hard skills. In a study of 1,500 employees, Balcar (2016) found that increasing soft skills and hard skills would increase the value of employees by 8.51% and 8.84% respectively.
What are the most important soft skills, specifically?

As the report identifies there is variation amongst educational institutions and governments about the number, and ranking, of the core soft skills.

The core soft skills that were most commonly mentioned were:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • problem solving
  • digital literacy
  • critical thinking
  • emotional judgement
All of this evidence demonstrates the importance of candidates having the necessary level of soft skills to be a in the running for a majority of jobs on offer (and almost all leadership roles).

How have recruiters responded to this trend? How have they improved their capability to identify soft skills from a standard resume (or LinkedIn profile) and to then accurately assess those soft skills, and most critically, be able to provide evidence to the client that said candidate(s) possess(es) the required soft skills?

They haven't, would be my assessment.

Most recruiters still overwhelmingly assess soft skills based on the ‘four As' (articulate, affable, ambitious, attractive) of the halo effect that come into play at the interview stage of the sourcing process.

The minority of recruiters who use effective behavioural interview questions and/or assessment technology and/or evidence-based reference checking of soft skill capability are those recruiters who currently hold a massive advantage over their industry colleagues who stubbornly stick to subjective measures of (if any attempt at all is made to measure) soft skills.

To truly differentiate yourself as a recruiter, what opportunity does the continued rise in the importance of soft skills at work create for you?

*Personally I dislike the term ‘soft skills' as the word ‘soft' could be, and is, interpreted as indicating something less significant or important compared to ‘hard' but as this is the term used in the report I have used it in this article.

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