When making new hires, we typically have a good grasp on the skills we are looking for in candidates. However, we often focus heavily on the hard skills a candidate has and not as much on soft skills, even though well-rounded employees have both hard and soft skills. An employee with highly tuned technical skills will not necessarily be successful in a job unless they also possess people skills or the ability to work well within teams.
Hard skills are tangible abilities workers have that help them do their jobs while soft skills are qualities or characteristics that can enhance workplace performance, improve company culture and support team members. Both are important as hiring a candidate that has both the necessary hard skills to fulfill their role and the right soft skills to complement your team is key.
Think of hard skills as more quantifiable and binary. You can generally measure the work product that results from hard skills’ capabilities ― for instance, the candidate either knows a computer program or does not.
These are some examples of hard skills:
Soft skills are the interpersonal abilities or personality traits that employees bring to the table. They are those intangible qualities that employers search for as they bring on new team members. An employee who is a technical expert in their field but lacks the soft skills to work well with others likely won’t be as beneficial to your company as someone who has those added traits.
Soft skills are also more diverse than hard skills. Here are some examples:
Both hard and soft skills are essential to build a well-rounded organization. Hard skills are more tangible and quantifiable, while soft skills are more interpersonal and difficult to measure, although you certainly know when they are not present.
Research shows that 54 percent of organizations believe they are managing significant skills gaps that directly impact their overall organizational performance. Actively managing your team for a healthy balance of hard and soft skills is essential to your company reaching its goals. Many organizations, large and small, use various skill assessment tools to get an accurate read on individual abilities and skill sets as new team members are hired. Data from TalentLyft shows that 82 percent of businesses use some form of skill assessment.
Ensuring that you have the necessary technical expertise on your teams is important. However, so is having the right leaders, project managers and facilitators on your teams. The organization of the group should be an equal priority to the organization of the projects themselves and the tasks needed to complete them.
Hard skills are simply easier to track and measure because you can look at hard data, such as test scores, progress toward budgetary goals, success in meeting project deadlines or data entry error rates. Hard skills are tangible and binary ― a person has the skill or they don’t.
Most managers are always assessing or tracking many of the team’s hard skill sets without knowing it. When achievements are many and goals are met, then hard skills are typically well represented within the team at large.
Soft skills remain more challenging to measure and track within a team. A general assessment and performance review is necessary to determine if the most critical soft skills are present enough to meet the team’s needs. You can assess team leaders’ performance by tracking deadlines, seeing how punctual team members are and asking employees how engaged and happy they are within the team. Although these are more subjective methods of measurement, soft skills are still essential to success and do not always surface in tangible ways unless you probe like this.
Regardless of your need to build in additional support for hard or soft skills on your team, the process should look roughly like the image below. You need to identify a focus area, equip your employees with the skills training to succeed and then assess how your training and skill-building efforts are doing.
Building teams that incorporate a range of complementary hard and soft skill sets is a great way to ensure future balance and effectiveness of the team. Hard skills are easier and more tangible to measure and assess while soft skills are observable through more subjective analysis.
In addition to what you search for on a resume, the interview questions you use to tease out candidates’ skill sets and other attributes are critical to determining who is most qualified to work for your company.
Employers often use skills assessments ― for both hard and soft skills ― to gauge the cumulative abilities and skill sets of current employees. These tests can also help you measure whether a candidate has the attributes to perform the job successfully.
The most reliable way to assess hard skills is to employ a widely used skill assessment test that addresses industry- or job-specific tasks. These skill sets are easier to assess in a binary way. These are some common hard skill assessment tests:
The best assessment phase for skill sets is during the interview process. Develop questions that allow you to extract the information you need. You can find sample interview questions online to help you assess job candidates’ soft skills and attributes. Consider the STAR interview response technique. You can use it as a guide for effective questions to ask applicants:
A candidate’s responses to questions that analyze a situation using the STAR method will reveal key things about their ability to analyze a situation critically, come up with solutions, plan tasks, organize their time and take appropriate action. It also demonstrates how well they reflect on their decisions, whether they’ve succeeded or failed and how they grow from handling challenges in the workplace.
When recruiting candidates, it can be easy to determine whether they have the hard skills they require to do the job, but it’s also important to consider how their soft skills will complement your team. Recruiting and hiring people with the right combination of hard skills and soft skills can help level up your business in terms of both productivity and culture. When recruiting and hiring candidates, evaluating their hard skills and soft skills in context with your team’s can help you choose the best possible candidate.
Tejas Vemparala also contributed to this article.