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Soft and hard skills: How companies hire the best applicants

Understanding how a candidate's hard and soft skills relate to a role has always been a key predictor of success. However, there has been a shift in emphasis. Today, employers place a greater emphasis on soft skills. They are trying to understand how soft skills contribute to overall company performance.

But, what are soft and hard skills and how do companies hire the best applicants based on them?

What is the difference between hard and soft skills?

Hard skills

During the hiring process, hard skills are the more visible of the two kinds of skills. Hard skills are technical abilities. We gain them through education in formal training, self-learning, or on-the-job training.

Traditionally, employers relied on certificates, degrees, and work experience to tick the box. This made hard skills more impactful and easier to validate. Employers now recognize that we learn technical skills through many routes. They include non-traditional fields such as self-teaching, so hard skills need the same level of attention as soft skills. 

Hard skills include the following:

  • Specific degrees, certifications, licenses, or awards recognized by the industry.
  • Language proficiency.
  • Knowledge of computer programs or IT support skills.
  • Data examination.
  • The ability to certify and operate a machine or system that requires common operator training.
  • The ability to write and edit documents.

Soft skills

Soft skills are attributes and interpersonal skills that influence how a person completes a task. They show how the someone works in a team, deals with customers or clients, and manages conflict resolution.

The main difference between hard and soft skills is that hard skills are relevant to the tasks you perform in the role, while soft skills refer to how you perform those tasks in a team context. 

It is easier to quantify and assess your hard skills. However, soft kills connect with our personality and experience. And this makes them more difficult to determine using traditional hiring methods.

Soft skills include the following: 

  • Effective communication skills.
  • A solid and consistent work ethic.
  • Expression of empathy for colleagues’ troubles and stress points.
  • The ability to work well in teams.
  • Self-awareness and the ability to “read the room.”
  • Leadership qualities.
  • Flexibility to pick up tasks and embrace changes in plans.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Ability to manage time efficiently; for example, to meet deadlines and project targets on time.

How are hard and soft skills combined to shape teams?

According to research, 54% of organizations believe they are managing significant skill gaps. They believe these gaps impact the overall organizational performance. Actively managing your team to achieve a healthy balance of hard and soft skills is critical to your company's success.

It is important to ensure that your teams have the necessary technical expertise. However, having the right leaders, project managers, and facilitators on your teams is essential.

How to conduct interviews and evaluate hard and soft skills

In addition to what you look for on a resume, the interview questions are crucial in determining who is the best fit for your business.

It is also important to make the interviewing process easier and enrich your company. The best way to do so is to include contractors from all over the world. Working with the best professional employer organizations (PEOs) will help you choose only the best talent to join your company. Moreover, working with global PEOs makes the hard and soft skill evaluation much easier.

How to interview and evaluate for hard skills

A widely used skill assessment test that addresses industry or job-specific tasks is the most reliable way to assess hard skills. A simple online search will yield a number of providers specializing in these types of tests. Here are some examples of common hard skill assessment tests:

  • Computer skills evaluation.
  • Work sample examination.
  • Test of cognitive ability.
  • Basic maths or writing evaluation.

How to interview and evaluate for soft skills

The best time to assess skill sets is during the interview process. Pose questions that will allow you to elicit the information you need. Follow the pattern of situation, task, action, and result.

Allow them to share a workplace situation where they faced challenges, then allow them to outline what action solved the issue. Finally, have them describe the outcome of their actions.

Final thoughts

For employers to find the best candidates, the discussion shouldn’t be about which of these skills is more important. It should be about how they can assess candidates on these skills while understanding the importance of both.

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