Soft Skills Gain Value in Employer Recruiting Efforts

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By Genevieve Douglas

Employers with hiring strategies that effectively evaluate job candidates’ soft skills may be in a better position to win top talent in the increasingly competitive hiring environment.

Employers are returning to a growth hiring mode, and that means they have to hire with “some thought for the future,” Paul Rubenstein, a partner in Aon Hewitt’s Talent, Rewards & Performance practice in New York, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6. By focusing on “soft skills,” employers can ensure a new hire has the appropriate personality, cultural fit, learning agility and predisposition to engage with the organization, he said.

The change in focus comes as employers predict the most optimistic hiring outlook in the past decade, according to survey results released Jan. 6 by online jobs site CareerBuilder. Two in five employers are planning to hire full-time, permanent employees over the next 12 months; three in 10 expect to hire part-time, permanent staff; and about half anticipate adding temporary or contract workers, the survey found. It featured responses from 2,391 hiring managers and human resources professionals.

“It’s a good time for those looking for a job. The economy has improved, and companies are hiring,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail Jan. 4.

Employers are looking for strong candidates in the coming year but are having difficulty finding applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, solve problems and get along with co-workers, Haefner said.

“Those traits, soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by. This year we may see more companies invest time and capital in teasing out job applicants’ personality traits or use screening methods to beef up a strong pipeline of candidates with strong soft skills,” she said.

Even Technical Fields Need Soft Skills

Soft skills are valued even in highly technical fields such as health care, Carol McDaniel, director of talent acquisition at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6.

For many years, health-care organizations didn’t include soft skills in the hiring conversation because technical skills were so important to the jobs, McDaniel said. While technical skills still hold high importance, health-care providers have come to realize that tactical, hard skills can be taught but good presentation skills, management skills or even leadership skills can’t, she said. “You can’t teach good patient care to a nurse. It’s either innate in you or it’s not,” McDaniel said.

All Children’s Hospital’s delivery model has also evolved, McDaniel said. The hospital aims to treat patients throughout their life cycle, and personnel strive to treat patients in their communities and homes as opposed to bringing them in for care. This is where soft skills are “very important,” McDaniel said. “We need people who can be compassionate and able to engage with all types of demographics,” she said.

To find these compassionate, personable employees, All Children’s has implemented assessments in the hiring process to determine how, for example, a nurse will behave and make decisions in often stressful situations. “That makes for a better quality hire,” McDaniel said.

Recruitment From Mobile Devices

CareerBuilder also found that hiring managers are increasingly meeting candidates where they are and creating processes to better the candidate experience, which means staying in touch via text, Haefner said.

While 41 percent of employers said they will reach out to candidates via text messages to schedule interviews, they also stated that workers in general will need to become more savvy on social media. Sixty-three percent of employers said they expect workers across job functions to have some experience with social media.

To improve recruitment, HR has to have “a longer cycle of engagement” with candidates, and HR professionals have moved to a mobile platform to continue these conversations over a longer period of time, Rubenstein said. Mobile recruiting and being able to showcase your employment brand on a mobile device is easier than ever before because technology has enabled both parties “to be one click away from each other,” he said.

Combining the assessment of soft skills and mobile platforms ultimately means that people are no longer relying solely on the interview, Rubenstein said. Going forward, managers will be able to better understand a candidate through these interactions than through more traditional hiring practices, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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