Soft skills don’t matter. They’re too soft and unimportant when it comes to hiring people for important roles.
- No one can tell me that successfully negotiating a critical series of product requirements with a team comprised of accounting, marketing, manufacturing and engineering that meets all of their competing needs is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that consistently meeting time and budget goals is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that presenting a monthly business review to a team of managers and company executives is a soft skill. Especially when the results missed plan and the person doing the presenting did a masterful job of knowing the details behind each variance and had already implemented an action plan to get back on track within 30 days.
- No one can tell me that developing a personal development plan for each person on a manager’s team and then implementing it throughout the year is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that proactively coaching and helping peers become better without any responsibility to do so is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that volunteering to handle a difficult project that will require lots of overtime and where there’s a high probability of failure, is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that being fully responsibile for meeting goals and successfully completing them month in and month out without making excuses is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that influencing a person’s manager or some senior executive to change his/her mind on some important course of action is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that having the confidence and guts to stand up for some idea or complain about some shoddy process or wrongful action is a soft skill.
- No one can tell me that being flexible, changing direction and staying motivated under a new set of business conditions is a soft skill.
For these reasons and the dozens more you can think of yourself, I contend we should ban the term “soft skills” and stop trying to peddle their importance in some soft, diplomatic manner.
Hardball is a better game to play when it comes to measuring these “soft skills.” Soft is just too soft a term to describe skills that are often far more important than technical skills. Renaming them might help as a start. Leadership skills might work since collectively that’s what they are. It’s certainly a far better term than soft skills. So are the terms “management and organizational skills” and “non-technical skills.” Regardless, whatever you call them, don’t call them “soft skills” when they’re collectively essential for getting results, developing people and successfully growing and managing any business of any size.
Embed All Non-technical and Leadership Skills into Performance Objectives
Not only do I have a distaste for the term soft skills, I have a bigger distaste for job descriptions that emphasize a laundry list of these soft skills combined with a longer laundry list of technical skills, experiences and academic requirements.
I suggest both problems can be eliminated by creating a performance profile listing the top 6-8 performance objectives in priority order describing the actual job requirements. These profiles combine the technical and non-technical skills as a series of objectives and tasks. For example, for a product marketing person one major objective could be, “Lead the joint development of a product requirements document with the engineering, manufacturing and financial analysis groups.” Here’s another example of combining a technical challenge with project management skills: “Within 45 days evaluate the production challenges involved in meeting the planned launch date and present findings and solutions to the management team.”
Preparing these types of performance-based job descriptions allows all of the technical and non-technical skills to be described as outcomes rather than generic requirements. During the performance-based interview process I suggest, candidates are asked to provide detail-rich examples of comparable accomplishments describing how the technical and non-technical skills were used.
While I have a great distaste for the term “soft skills” I have great admiration for the skills themselves since they’re the collective drivers of individual and team success. Without them, failure is assured. However, by recognizing their importance and describing how they’re actually used in combination with the person’s technical skills in actual on-the-job fashion, something that’s normally soft and squishy becomes clear and measurable.
And that’s how you play hardball and, more important, it’s how you win when it comes to hiring.
About the author
Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007). Adler holds an MBA from the University of California in Los Angeles and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University in New York.