Alex Staff Agency

Soft Skills 2.0: A Game-Changer For Companies

Career: tips and trends

Hiring new crew members is inevitable. It renews staff, internal and external processes, and improves businesses’ well-being. Sometimes, however, a seemingly good candidate with excellent technical skills fails to fit into the team. Misunderstanding, lower productivity, and other negative consequences disrupt a natural workflow and affect productivity. Why does it happen? A report by LinkedIn shows that the lack of soft skills is an important factor: 89% of unsuccessful hires occur because candidates are not tested for employability competencies.

How should one screen for soft skills during the hiring process and encourage their development in a team? Let’s figure it out.

Benefits For Businesses

While tech-driven skills are called hard (programming languages, the stack, experience, etc.), the ability to fit in is related to soft ones. Namely, it’s about personality: getting along with colleagues, self-organizing, and teaming up for the better good of the company.

The term embraces a lot of qualities, the list can get quite lengthy. We’ve taken 3 big reports (by business magazine McKinsey Quarterly, employment company Indeed, and hiring platform Monster) and analyzed the top traits valued everywhere. These are communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and adaptability.

Looking for and fostering such competencies has a direct influence on the company’s financial well-being. A recent study by Deloitte perfectly proves this idea. A group of workers received 80h training to improve their soft skills. When the course was over, their productivity grew by 20%. This activity provided the business with 258% of net return only 8 months after the program was completed.

The same report shows that encouraging soft skills makes employees more committed, increases job satisfaction, individual wages, and overall business revenue.

Despite all the benefits, some choose to ignore such competencies: they don’t focus on them when searching for candidates and don’t foster their development in the crew. When the company is small, and an HR specialist or the owner can control all interactions, investing money and efforts into building a new approach doesn't seem logical to some key managers. Especially when a project needs programmers with a rare stack. The primary goal is to find them: their individual traits are usually sidelined for being not as important in that case.

But this is not the most responsible approach. Rare or not, such specialists won’t get tied to your company. They won’t feel loyal and will leave once they’re offered a better salary. They might have problems fitting in, assigning tasks to their colleagues, or even communicating effectively. In short, soft skills play a bigger role than many people imagine.

What To Focus On?

The IT world differs from other business spheres. People working in it need a special set of soft skills to drive their companies forward.

Researchers from different universities conducted an interesting joint study by analyzing 500 IT-related job vacancies in 4 regions (North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe). Their goal was to check what competencies employers want to see in their candidates. If we take the most in-demand soft skills, 3 of them will dominate:
  • Communication. The ability to give and receive information to discuss working issues. People don’t have problems understanding each other.

  • Problem-solving. The ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations. People are not afraid of challenges.

  • Self-organization. The ability to structure one’s working day and set up priorities. People can manage their time effectively.

Head of Accounting of Alex Staff Agency Anna Mihaylichenko shares her experience and names similar key traits that are expected from IT professionals:
"I talk a lot with IT companies’ representatives, it’s my job. I know what soft skills can help candidates not only get the position but also successfully fit in at a new workplace. The most important ones are related to communication, time management, and adaptability.

  • No matter how tech-savvy a specialist is, there are always tasks that can only be solved in cooperation with someone. It’s simply impossible to know everything. Interacting with others helps better tackle difficulties and simplifies the experience exchange between crew members. It’s a never-ending cycle that brings lots of benefits to the project, team, and individual employees.

  • Developers often juggle several projects at a time, so it’s important to be rational about splitting up your efforts. Deadlines and time pressure can drive one crazy, so it’s vital to deal with them successfully.

  • The IT world is a very unstable environment. Specialists have to make adjustments to already established processes, change tasks according to new technologies and requirements. Flexibility is in high demand: one should be ready to soak up new things and be open to changes."

Head of Accounting
Alex Staff Agency
Anna Mikhaylichenko

A Hiring Campaign Is On: How To Test Candidates?

Soft skills are harder to assess than tech ones. The most reliable way is by conducting special screening interviews and asking the right questions.
"A vital part of personal meetings is to evaluate the presence of soft skills and their level. But not all of them are so easy to detect.

For example, I can be almost 100% sure whether a person has good communication skills or not by just talking to them. As for other qualities, I can, for example, analyze the way they build their sentences and follow the pre-built logic of their speech: it tells a lot about their organizational skills. One should know what to look for and what questions to ask."

Head of Accounting
Alex Staff Agency
Anna Mikhaylichenko
You can use 2 approaches to screen your potential employees for the required competencies:

1.Ask questions that focus on a particular skill. For example, if collaboration is the key requirement in your company, test it from different angles:

  • What is your best experience working with colleagues?
  • Have you ever worked with a partner who was hard to get along with?

2.Invent thought-provoking situations and analyze how candidates will act:

  • What would you do if your deadlines were getting closer, and there was no way you could complete your tasks in time?
  • Imagine you can’t explain something to a new employee. Whatever you do, that person doesn't get it. What are your actions?

If you want to learn more about it, check out the guidelines prepared by Indeed or LinkedIn teams.

Additionally, one can apply automated tools when looking for candidates. They structure the hiring process, unburden recruiters, set up definite requirements for specialists, allow you to analyze results, suggest optimization strategies, etc.

One of such instruments is PXT Select, a complex and algorithm-driven assessment with adaptive testing created by an American Wiley brand. Its results are psychometric: they show if someone is prone to have soft skills and presents visually understandable graphics backed by percent-driven data.

Employees Are Already There: How to Foster the Required Abilities?

It’s never late to start working on your crew’s soft skills. Integrating them into your company’s cultural practices will help you build smoother workflows, increase productivity, improve job satisfaction, decrease staff turnover, and lead to other positive changes.

It’s a complex process, but there are several things to begin with in the first place:

  • Make training and peer coaching part of your corporate culture
  • Meet regularly with a whole team and organize face-to-face conversations
  • Introduce metrics to evaluate your progress (based on feedback, short surveys, etc.)
  • Set up live workshops
  • Allow employees to share their opinion and give feedback
  • Encourage horizontal and vertical relationships within the company

Read an article by Forbes Human Resources Council to learn more about vital steps to follow.

We ourselves recognize the importance of soft skills development. Alex Staff Agency invests in its crew to make it a stronger and better-prepared team. Our HR specialist Evgeniya Mironova tells us about in-house practices that have already been tested in practice:
"First of all, we set up a goal (what skills need to be improved), then come up with a plan and follow it. It usually includes talking to other employees, adopting successful experiences, etc. We focus on feedback, update our tactics, and monitor the results.

Feedback is the core of our approach. Whatever the results – good or bad – we always ask how employees feel or what they think and analyze how to make the progress better.

We have corporate training, regular briefings, face-to-face meetings with the company’s leaders and other crew members. We like cross-team brainstorming, as well as entertaining and team-building events. It’s a complex approach, where each element plays a role."

HR Specialist
Alex Staff Agency
Evgeniya Mironova
We understand that all crew members need an individual strategy to stick to. Each has its own tasks and responsibilities. Some universal competencies like self-management or teamwork are necessary for everyone and should be improved throughout any career. But rare skills like self-presentation, the ability to distribute tasks or mobilize crew members are harder to acquire and are useful in employees occupying leading positions. One of our co-founders Maria Sukhorukova has helped build an effective system within the company and does everything to make it even better.
"We focus on 2 methods to boost one’s development:

  • Help from a seasoned mentor (the head of the company, HR specialists or simply more experienced colleagues share their knowledge and give advice)
  • Self-improvement (homework and practical tasks with the mentor’s guidance)

There are several tools to power up our approach. Trainees get feedback from their mentors, who set up points for further development and encourage further success. Besides, no one ever feels isolated: we organize corporate workshops regularly, with everyone participating and sharing their experience. Additionally, we actively push up key soft skills that are necessary for department leaders: task setting and delegating, crew motivation, etc."

Alex Staff Agency
Maria Sukhorukova

Summing Up

Soft skills are powerful boosters for businesses. But they are not like magic pills, and they certainly won’t replace technical knowledge. Recently, however, the tendencies have started to shift towards giving such competencies more importance.
"At first, very few businesses paid attention to such skills. Now you’ll rarely meet a company that does not test its candidates for communication, time-management, adaptability, and other qualities. When hard and soft powers are properly balanced in employees, they can grow into truly talented professionals."

Head of Accounting
Alex Staff Agency
Anna Mikhaylichenko
We hope that now you know what steps will make your team stronger than before. Hire smarter and push your crew towards developing the right set of skills. If you don’t have an HR department or want to delegate the task of recruiting to specialized agencies, don’t forget to give them a list of required competencies. This way, you’ll get the most appropriate candidates for internal interviews and more chances to hire the best talents.