Applicant Evaluation: Hard Skills vs Soft Skills – Part 1

Jul 20, 2016

I discuss this delicate subject with at least one client every week: should you hire people based on their technical (hard) skills or rather on their personality-related (soft) skills?

After over 25 years of experience in the personnel selection business, I, of course, have my educated opinion! And it does contradict, in many respects, what the E.E.O.C. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) will tell you or will defend – especially when a candidate refers to some discrimination practice on your part – based on the “subjective” evaluation of their soft skills.

Should you blindly follow the E.E.O.C. recommendations?

Put it simply, the E.E.O.C. does NOT like the idea of evaluating applicants based on their soft skills – or lack of. The authorities believe that personnel selection should be devoted to evaluating technical competences that are needed to operate on a job – and they would like you to avoid – or even ignore personality-related attributes.

Here is the “problem” – statistics demonstrate that soft skills ALWAYS come first in defining the performance and actual contribution of an employee to his/her group.

The following facts illustrate well the point. Taken from the book “The Hard Truth about Soft Skills” by Peggy Klaus, these examples demonstrate that you best bet in selecting personnel is to focus on soft skills:

  • A survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that MBA’s were strong in analytical aptitude, quantitative expertise, and information-gathering ability; however, they were sorely lacking in other critical areas that most employers find vital for any executive position: strategic thinking, written and oral communication, leadership, and adaptability.


  • Research at DePaul University concluded that recruiters want business schools to focus more on people-oriented skills like leadership and communication. Students, however, frequently complain that those “soft skills” won’t get them jobs, and they’re pressuring their business schools to focus instead on functional or technical content.


  • 358 randomly selected managers at Johnson & Johnson were evaluated; the study found out that the best performing ones possessed significantly higher levels of self-awareness, self-management capability, social skills, and were organizational savvy. All these differentiators are soft-skills related.


  • Research on more than 200,000 managers and workers at multiple companies during a ten-year period linked employee recognition with financial performance. According to the study, companies that effectively recognized personal excellence had triple the profitability—as measured by return on equity (ROE)—in comparison with firms that didn’t.


  • A poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in conjunction with—revealed that many workplace soft skills have become more important for experienced employees than for new workers. These skills include critical thinking/problem solving, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and adaptability/flexibility.


  • Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) has found that, while credentialing in the form of degrees and certificates is important, development of soft skills—skills that are more social than technical—is a crucial part of fostering a dynamic workforce. Skills projected to be in the highest demand for all Indiana occupations included active listening, critical thinking, speaking, active learning, writing, time management, and social perceptiveness.


  • The findings above included that soft skills can not only improve employee performance and satisfaction but can also prepare technical workers for promotion into supervisory roles. Using the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (IDWD) occupation projections, IBRC found that projected needs for social/soft skills are greater than the needs for technical, systems, and resource management skills.

What position should you take?

In a highly competitive, 100% applicant-driven employment market, job hunters want you to focus on their competencies and technical talent. They aggressively sell an impressive background and experience – sometimes in your exact field of activities.

Do NOT fall in the trap! Attracting the perfect candidate who has all the credentials and the experience that you are looking for is of course a dream. But here is the truth: those applicants do NOT exist – or they cost too much money for most small businesses.

Here is a good example: check any of your best current employees and I bet they were all lacking the needed hard skills when you hired them. But they made it go right and they developed those missing skills – because they had at least ONE vital soft skill: they were WILLING – willing to learn to change, t adapt, to work hard, etc. Bottom line is, willingness is a MAJOR soft skill that is 100 times more important than any required hard skill.

In my next article I will provide more evidence of the importance of soft skills and I will also present you some tips on how to ensure that your process in evaluating soft skills is 100% legally defendable and fool-proof.

To your success,

Patrick Valtin
Best-Selling Author of “No-Fail Hiring 2.0”

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