In an April 2018 tweet, Elon Musk noted that ‘Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.’ This honest admission by the co-founder and CEO of Tesla surprised many people following him on social media. In an era where artificial intelligence and automation will continue to change the nature of work and increase efficiencies across virtually every industry, there is an emerging trend toward placing more value on the soft skills that only humans possess. In other words, as Mr. Musk reflected in his statement, we cannot underestimate the value that people themselves still bring to the workforce. So what are the human elements that are essential in today’s talent market and how can you emphasize them during the recruitment process?
What Exactly Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are considered those intangible qualities that people must have to effectively interact with, collaborate and engage in the workplace. Simply, they are the behaviors or traits demonstrated working in various settings and interacting with other people. According to Indeed, the broad categories of soft skills typically include communication, problem solving, creativity, adaptability and work ethic.
Similarly, a recent Forbes article categorized the 10 top soft skills for the future of work as conflict management, time management, stress management, communication skills, culture fit, customer service, emotional intelligence, personal productivity, storytelling and change management. These behaviors and skills go beyond technical or functional knowledge for a specific job role, and are considered transferrable across industries.
The Soft Skills Gap in the Talent Market
The top risk for organizations today, according to a new Gartner Survey, is the global talent shortage, which is no surprise to many talent acquisition leaders and professionals. However, compounding this challenge is the increasing skills gap that exists in recruiting candidates for soft skills. Last year, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO, discussed the soft skills gap based on LinkedIn research across 100 major cities and 10,000 skills marketplaces. The company found that there was a significant ‘imbalance with regard to interpersonal skills’ in companies looking to hire key talent, with communication skills considered the top skills gap across these major cities. This soft skills gap will continue to emerge as a threat to finding and attracting top talent for enterprise organizations.
Why Soft Skills Matter in the Age of AI and Automation
So why do candidates need to possess soft skills that complement the more standard ‘hard skills’ requirements of a typical role? The answer is that in a global workforce where AI and automation are only increasing to reduce mundane or monotonous tasks, those jobs that currently require human ability, like creative thinking, adaptability, or interpersonal communication, for example, will increase.
According to an article from Ray Bixler, CEO of SkillSurvey, ‘AI can never replace the job roles that require traits like empathy, communication and problem-solving. One trait in particular that employers are looking for is mental agility. With technology constantly updating, organizations need employees who can roll with the punches and adapt quickly to a changing environment. And all those attributes are soft skills.’ With this in mind, let’s examine how you can start to prioritize soft skills in the recruiting process.
How to Keep Focused on Soft Skills During Recruitment
In the Talemetry 2020 Vision Report released earlier this year, well-known industry analyst Daria Friedman commented on the rising influence of automation and AI on recruiting. She stated that 'automation will impact how the recruiting organization is structured. When manual tasks are fully automated, recruiters will be freed from these time-consuming activities, and can hone their skills of candidate relationship management to provide candidates exceptional experiences.' Think of the impact that this could have in recruiting for soft skills. When recruiters and hiring managers have more time to dedicate to the candidate experience and drill down on identifying whether a candidate possesses the right soft skills, then the skills gap that exists for these behaviors will likely decrease. In other words, the rise of automation and AI will decrease the repetitive tasks required of recruiters today and enable to them to focus on what really matters in finding the right talent with the right skills.
So how can recruiters be aware of how to assess for soft skills? In addition to pre-employment assessments and behavioral-based interviews that are essential parts of many enterprise recruiting organizations, there are other steps recruiters and hiring managers can take to ensure these skills exist. Here are three ways to stay focused on soft skills during the recruitment process:
#1: Ensure your job descriptions list exactly the types of soft skills needed for the role.
An increasing number of job descriptions are starting to emphasize the soft skills applicants should have when applying for the role. Rather than just the required functional knowledge, such as coding ability or technical proficiency, make sure you are specifically calling out and listing the behaviors and traits that successful candidates should possess. This should, of course, complement your overall company culture, but also drill down into the types of interactions expected when working and collaborating within the specific job family.
#2: Evaluate candidates for soft skills based on their interactions with you.
When candidates respond to recruitment emails or SMS/text messages in a timely manner, arrive on time for screening interviews or subsequent conversations, and provide examples of how they have used their creative problem solving or interpersonal skills in previous positions, you can see these skills in practice. If they are lacking the soft skills required for your company, this will likely become obvious in the talent journey.
#3: Take a deeper dive into the references for each candidate.
Many reference checks today are a series of standard questions that are almost given as an afterthought. Make sure that you have access to a wide range of past colleagues, managers and other professionals that will paint a holistic picture of the candidate. While managers will understand how the candidate performed across the team, peers or lower-level employees may offer insights into how the individual interacted, collaborated or treated others. Yes, this deeper dive will require additional time, but with the automation of other tasks, you will be freed up to complete these essential relationship-focused activities that only another human can do.
So What’s the Takeaway?
If you haven’t already drawn this connection, we’ll end by focusing on exactly what recruiting should be. Recruiting itself should emphasize soft skills. The best recruiters today are able to harness their own candidate-centric matchmaking ability to find the right talent at the right time. And as we move into the future of recruiting, the focus on providing a hyper-personalized candidate experience, nurturing candidates and building relationships—all soft skills—will continue to increase. Plus when armed with an award-winning enterprise recruitment marketing platform, recruiters can leverage their soft skills to find the best talent for their organizations even better. Remember, hiring for soft skills requires deliberate action and purposeful investment. Make sure you know how to recruit for soft skills and make it part of your recruiting strategy, and you'll see results for the long-term.