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The Soft Skills to Look for in Candidates

iCIMS Staff
September 7, 2017

Technical and hard skills are undeniably important attributes to look for in job candidates. But what about soft skills, such as communication, collaboration and time management? Your employees will need both hard and soft skills to succeed at your company, and it’s important to understand what to look for and how.

iCIMS latest research report on soft skills uncovers the specific types of soft skills employers are looking for and how they evaluate these kinds of skills in potential employees.

To compile the report, iCIMS conducted a survey among 400 HR and recruiting professionals and provided additional commentary from enterprise employer, DISH Network, and iCIMS’ chief economist, on the value of soft skills in a changing U.S. labor market.

The Soft Skills That Are Most Important in the Workplace

While each company and position type may require unique sets of hard skills from job candidates, overall the top three soft skills recruiting professionals value most in a job candidate included problem-solving (62 percent), adaptability (49 percent) and time management (48 percent).

Depending on the size of the company you work for, the soft skills that are most valued may vary. For smaller companies with less than 500 employees, employees typically need to wear more than one hat so recruiters and hiring managers should look for candidates who have strong time management and organization skills.

While a role at larger organization will likely be specialized in a specific job function, many employers should seek people who can be adaptable to changing work conditions and work collaboratively toward solving problems.

Additionally, based on iCIMS system data, here are the top 10 soft skills and personality traits recruiters are using to describe their candidates as:

1. Ambitious

2. Confident

3. Friendly

4. Charismatic

5. Articulate

6. Enthusiastic

7. Determined

8. Easygoing

9. Efficient

10. Focused

Hiring professionals should also look for people who can use their transferrable skills and will fit into the company culture. The top three personality traits recruiting professionals value most in a job candidate included professionalism (71 percent), drive (50 percent) and enthusiasm (49 percent).

Depending on which area of the business you are hiring for, soft skills might be even more vital. The business areas where soft skills are more important than hard skills include customer service (67 percent), human resources (67 percent) and sales/marketing (53 percent).

“The U.S. labor market has been growing polarized between high-skill and low-skill jobs, but common to both ends of the spectrum is the need for soft skills,” said Josh Wright, iCIMS chief economist. “Whether home health aides or white-collar data scientists, the human element is the key to many of today’s fastest growing jobs.”

Consider Soft Skills Training for Entry-level Employees

As more than one in three recruiting professionals believe job candidates’ soft skills have gotten worse in the past five years, employers should consider implementing soft skills training programs during employee onboarding to emphasize the most important soft skills for their role at the company.

For entry level positions, recruiting professionals rank adaptability (36 percent) as the most important soft skill, followed by oral communication (24 percent), and problem-solving (19 percent).

Daniel Pecharich, the senior manager of recruiting at DISH Network, an iCIMS customer, defined the soft skills he looks for in candidates, “We hire for three things at DISH – energy, intelligence, and the need to achieve. We believe these characteristics are innate to our employees and essential for the company’s success. DISH employees are inquisitive, not afraid to challenge assumptions and are hungry for knowledge.”

When Hiring for Leadership Positions Look for These Soft Skills

When hiring for someone in a people leadership role, don’t overlook the soft skills they’ll need to not only grow their own career but also support those they manage. For senior leadership level positions, recruiting professionals rank problem-solving (38 percent) as the most important soft skill, followed by oral communications (26 percent) and adaptability (17 percent).

Ninety-four percent of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.

How to Identify Soft Skills During the Hiring Process

Employers have learned that hiring the wrong person comes with a high cost so they are putting the right technology in place to help them make smarter decisions.

On average, job candidates participate in three interviews before an offer is extended, according to recruiting professionals – with the majority of companies conducting three to four interviews during the hiring process. But often, interviews are only one step out of many in order to screen and identify best-fit talent.

According to our survey, before in-person interviews, recruiting professional use the following tactics to evaluate soft skills: phone interviews, reference checks, video interviewing, personality assessments, work samples and reviewing candidate’s social media pages.

To ensure a job candidate is a good match for a job, many companies have incorporated new technologies such as video screening and talent assessments, also called pre-employment screening tests to assess job candidates’ personality, work style, knowledge and skills. Additionally, some employers may require job simulations as part of the interview process that are designed to see how well candidates would perform on the job. For example, a writing test, role play scenarios or physical tests.

During the hiring process, companies need to take advantage of the latest talent acquisition tools to find people with the soft skills they need.

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