Chamber News

Nothing Soft About “Soft Skills” | November 2023 Workforce Report

November 16th, 2023

In the course of the last 3 years, and over 1200 workface consultations with members, I have been part of countless conversations with HR and Talent professionals where the topic is the importance of “soft skills” in the workplace.

“Just help me find people who are adaptable and hard working. I can teach them the technical part of the job.”

“Our team could really use a great communicator who manages their time well We can always train them on how to use the equipment.”

“Problem solving is the number 1 attribute our company needs! And, if the person can be an empathetic listener, that would be an amazing asset to our workplace.”

Here are the most in-demand soft skills according to a survey conducted by LinkedIn:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Time Management

A common theme across industry sectors is the difficulty in finding employees who can demonstrate proficiency in what we refer to as “soft skills”.  In fact, we could argue that hard skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly going obsolete, and are relatively easy to learn), and soft skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort and time to obtain).

At a recent US Chamber Foundation conference on the Future of Talent, Chike Aguh, former Chief Innovation Officer at the US Department of Labor, coined the phrase: “just in time skills” (hard) vs. “timeless skills” (soft).

He reminded those of us in attendance that today’s workforce needs to develop both and that we often focus too much on the “just in time” part of the equation when recruiting, hiring and planning for our workplace.  Soft skills matter to employers, yet we don’t always have good practices in identifying critical thinking, creativity and team adaptability in our hiring processes.

In reality, soft skills are hard to measure. Worse still, the conventional process for recruiting people is often better at picking up on other qualities. The early phases of recruitment focus on filtering candidates based on their experiences and hard skills, since these are the criteria that are easier to assess.

During the interview process, it can be a challenge to identify a candidate’s soft skills.

Consider adding these questions to candidate interviews:

  • Can you tell me about a time when you successfully led a team through a difficult situation? (leadership/persuasion)
  • How do you cope when you have too much work on your plate? (time management/organizational skills)
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you weren’t compatible with? (teamwork/collaboration)
  • Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge? (critical thinking/problem solving/creativity)
  • Can you walk me through your process of how you’d explain a complex topic to someone who was unfamiliar? (communication/empathy)
  • Can you tell me about a time when things didn’t go according to plan? How did you cope? (adaptability)

Kelly Fuller 
Vice President of Talent & Workforce Development