The Return Of Soft Skills At Work

Are soft skills the new must have by potential employers?

Many Millennials and Generation Z’s are graduating college and university and not finding work – all the while many corporate executives are saying they are having a difficult time finding qualified employees. How could this be? Todays young adults are the most educated and most worldly 20 something’s… ever.

Could part of the answer be a soft skills at work deficiency?  Some employers are saying yes.

I’m not saying degrees are not valuable. People with degrees are still more highly employed and earn higher salaries than individuals without a degrees.  But employers are starting to look for something more than technical / scholastic knowledge. In a 2014 article written by Anita Bruzzese of USA Today, Bruzzese suggests many businesses are frustrated with younger workers because they, “lack the proper business skills and other professional abilities that will help make them good employees.” And if soft skills are in demand, then its no surprise that schools – from high schools to universities – are beginning to offer (supply), courses that teach soft-skills.

hard skills and soft skills at work

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In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Google (who are actively measuring soft skills and looking for ways to improve them), revealed that the number of their degree-less hires is increasing.  Many business leaders agree with Google’s Senior Vice President for People Operations Laszlo Bock when she suggests “After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.” 

When I interview potential employees I use a BEI interview framework. A BEI lets me measure a candidate’s core competency in the soft skills and hard skills I identify as important for success. I’m looking for candidates to demonstrate real (not hypothetical) examples of skills like:

  • Communication – Soft Skill
  • Economic (Supply/Demand) theories – Hard Skill
  • Creativity – Soft Skill
  • Strategy & project plans – Hard Skill
  • Ability to collaborate and work independently – Soft Skill
  • Accounting, finance & spreadsheets – Hard Skill

What Are Hard Skills and Soft Skills?

Hard skills are easy for an employer to recognize. Examples of hard skills include:

  1. Proficiency in a foreign language
  2. Proven skill like a doctor, engineer or architect
  3. Typing speed
  4. Machine operation
  5. Computer programming

Soft skills are also known as ‘People Skills’ or ‘Interpersonal Skills’. Examples of soft skills include:

  1. Teamwork / Motivation
  2. Customer service approach / Communication
  3. Flexibility
  4. Patience
  5. Time management

There are certainly some careers like doctors, engineers and architects where a formal education and technical knowledge is mandatory; but they also need to have respectful awareness of soft skills. Don’t you want the architect who designs your house to emphatically listen to your needs?

Employers are looking increasingly for job applicants who can confidently demonstrate soft skills.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


Bethany Perkins, HR Manager at Software Advice says, “We’ve found that being good at school and being good at your job aren’t mutually exclusive.” An example of the jobs they are hiring for are Inside Sales, Media Relations and Client Success Coordinators. Perkins continues, “Real work experience is typically much more valuable than a degree. A proven history of success in the workplace provides better benchmarks for us to evaluate the potential success of a candidate than a GPA can. Even more specialized roles, such as a UX Designer, Managing Editors don’t require a degree at Software Advice. I love seeing people who are self-taught in their field because it demonstrates a true passion for their work.”

Perkins brings up a good point; real work experience is desirable! So, this provides three additional options when hiring externally:

  • Look for candidates who have worked for a while getting real work experience and then gone back to school (which happens quite a bit when the market takes a down-turn… like it has over the last 6+ years).
  • Look for candidates who have participated in education intern programs. This gives them some experience along with their education.
  • Lastly, look for candidates who took a year or two off before finishing their degree. It doesn’t seem to matter if they traveled or worked in a restaurant; any real work experiences seem to help communicate and work with others.


More and more organizations are making client experience a promise, which means empathy, mutual respect, mindful communication and mindful listening are essential for your long-term professional AND personal success. It’s important to know what clients, co-workers and your associates want… and how they feel.

In a recent post in aol jobs written by Kate Lorenz, she identifies that human resources expert Lori Kocon, “Advises all job candidates — especially those who aspire to managerial positions — to get in touch with their soft sides.” Some of the soft skills employers are looking for include:

  1. Strong Work Ethic: Dedicated to getting the job done
  2. Good Communication Skills: One-on-one or in a team – are verbally articulate, a patient listener and can write professionally
  3. Time Management Abilities: Know how to prioritize responsibilities
  4. Problem-Solving Skills: Can creatively solve problems inline with corporate brand and values
  5. Uses Feedback As A Learning Opportunity: Able to handle criticism from a boss, coach or mentor 

So, as an employer – know you are not alone in your Trek for employees with both soft and hard skills and for potential employees, be sure you demonstrate your hard and soft skills on your resume and in your job interview.

Happy communicating and creating workplace harmony.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

4 Responses to The Return Of Soft Skills At Work

  1. david_h says:

    I’ve found that the best employees are the ones that have great soft skills including the ability to learn. A bright person that has a hunger for learning can add those hard skills, it’s the soft skill that’s hard to teach and add.

  2. clairegumus says:

    Reblogged this on Claire Gumus and commented:
    Good description of soft & hard skills. I still find many are confused; thinking soft skills are fluff. They don’t realize the importance of a healthy combination of soft & hard skills to be successful in their careers.

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

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