Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2020. It has since been reviewed and updated by the Indeed Editorial team for relevancy and accuracy. 

As the skills-based hiring approach continues to gain traction among employers, it’s all the more important to look at soft skills as a complementary part of the hiring strategy.

Key Takeaways 

  • Soft skills — intangible qualities that focus on human behavior, personal traits and cognitive capabilities — can be used as a key indicator of candidate potential in a role.  
  • Choosing which soft skills to prioritize should ultimately be based on the needs of a specific role, though these five may be a good starting point for many employers.
  • A number of available tools can help screen for soft skills, from assessments to video-based resources. 

Soft skills in the workplace matter. Not only do candidates need training, knowledge and technical skills — they must also be able to problem-solve, communicate and get along with others to succeed in a modern workplace. Those intangible qualities that focus on human behavior, personality traits and cognitive capabilities may be more important now than ever, especially as technology like AI continues to advance. And screening for these soft skills can help improve workplace wellbeing, too.

According to the World Economic Forum, for example, analytical thinking and creative thinking are expected to be among the top in-demand skills by 2027, alongside AI and big data. Demand for skills such as leadership, social influence, curiosity and lifelong learning are also expected to grow. 

Leveraging these transferable, people-centered capabilities has long been a trend among so-called “unconventional hires” and job seekers looking to make a career transition, though employers should expect to see this practice more often among candidates in general as skills-based hiring continues to grow in popularity

Fundamental Soft Skills: Where to Begin  

While it’s best to tailor a candidate search for a specific role or an organization’s unique needs, employers may find it helpful to use some of these basic soft skills as a starting point.

Empathy 

While not usually associated with the workplace, empathy is one of the most important soft skills people need both in work and in life. Empathy helps a person read people and situations, adapt accordingly, build trust and connect more effectively. It’s also good for business: Company cultures that encourage empathy attract highly engaged individuals. 

When managers model empathy, companies also have better retention rates and higher employee morale. And empathy is a critical foundation for a diverse and inclusive work culture

Emotional intelligence

One of the most important leadership skills, emotional intelligence (also known as “emotional quotient,” or “EQ”) is the ability to gauge and manage emotions and build professional relationships. EQ influences how well employees interact with one another as well as how they manage stress and conflict. A high EQ often correlates to high job performance and increased job satisfaction. 

Emotional control 

A skill set connected to EQ is emotional control: the ability to regulate emotions and how they are (or aren’t) displayed. Those with emotional control can manage their stress and stay productive under pressure, and many managers value this skill at every level of the organization. If candidates describe themselves as easily angered, frustrated or dejected when a task goes south, they may not be the right fit for the team. 

Communication skills

Good communication involves listening and observing as well as talking. Candidates must be not only articulate; they must also be able to “see” beyond the spoken word and notice questionable behaviors and patterns. Employees with expert communication abilities can mitigate a problem before it becomes a crisis, fostering collaborative solutions when they’re needed most. 

Self-awareness

This is the mother of all soft skills: Without it, it’s pretty hard to develop other skills that may be lacking. Those with self-awareness pay attention to how they show up in different situations, know their shortcomings and are interested in and open to feedback. They want to grow, and they’re aware when they’re doing it and when they’re not. 

Screening for the Top 5 Soft Skills in the Workplace

Candidates may not always be aware of their own soft skills (or know how to articulate them). But savvy hiring teams can learn a lot during the application and interview process. For example, when a candidate completes a task on time and conveys it to the recruiter, that’s a sign of punctuality and great communication. Of course, the nerves that come with an interview can cloak some of a candidate’s better qualities — so collect data and impressions from multiple sources. 

A whole array of digital and situational tools is available to help teams assess soft skills. Conducting behavior-based interviews using the STAR method (situation, task, action and result), for example, allows candidates to tell stories about how they handled various scenarios. A candidate’s references can also provide insights on their soft skills in the workplace, such as how they handled stress, time pressure and collaborative opportunities. 

Among digital tools, video recording best captures candidates’ emotional nuances — and reviewing videos after the fact can reveal even more than the initial round. There are even virtual reality (VR) assessments that immerse candidates in a simulated world of the job they’re applying for. About one-third of employers are already providing day-in-the-life content to job seekers, whether it’s short videos of a typical workday or virtual company tours; offering these types of resources can help organizations keep up with talent competitors and crystallize a great candidate experience.1 

VR assessments and training also have tremendous recruiting advantages, increasing work efficiency in industrial plants by 60%. In fact, 30% of U.S. job seekers say day-in-the-life job overviews from employees are the most valuable way to gain a better understanding of a role throughout the application and interview process.2

Employers may also want to consider leveraging AI-powered tools to streamline manual processes like note-taking and summarizing group feedback from interviews. While it’s essential not to remove the human element from hiring, optimizing tedious tasks in the workflow can free up interviewers to focus more on the candidate during the interview.

Above all, remember that hiring for the right blend of skills takes a measured approach. By screening for these and other soft skills in the workplace, organizations can fill roles more effectively and set up candidates for success in any role.


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly podcast. Her career spans recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM and a variety of other outlets. You can also find her on X and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

Sources

1Indeed “International Employer Survey” with Qualtrics, December 2023 (n=4,774)

2Indeed “International Job Seeker Survey” with Qualtrics, July 2023, U.S. data (n=1,221)