It’s a term I hear a lot even if it isn’t always clear what it means, so don’t feel bad if you’re also a little fuzzy on the definition of “soft skills.”

Lots of hiring and talent management professionals seem to be looking for candidates with soft skills, so in case you’re confused, here’s a definition I like from SearchCIO:

Soft skills is a synonym for “people skills.” The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence.”

Here’s why soft skills really DO matter

In other words, according to Wikipedia, soft skills are “a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes[ and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others.”

This is important because The Wall Street Journal proclaimed that Employers Find “Soft Skills” Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply. Here’s their point:

Companies across the U.S. say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.

Those traits, often called soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by.”

GEM Recruiting AI

Is this really a growing problem?

As someone who has always had pretty good people skills yet was told numerous times how much more important “hard skills” — a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform specific tasks — were, this was a pretty big surprise.

The WSJ also says that,

A LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers found 58 percent say the lack of soft skills among job candidates is limiting their company’s productivity.

In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives last year, 92 percent said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89 percent said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes. Many say it’s a problem spanning age groups and experience levels.”

Something you must be hiring for

Here’s my take: Soft skills just don’t get very much respect in the workplace. As one article from a few years back observed,
A lot of managers turn up their noses at the mention of “soft skills.” But they ignore that part of the supervisor’s role at their peril.”
Yes, soft skills seem to be downplayed at just about every level, from recruiter to hiring manager to line manager to top-level executive. And this isn’t a new trend because it has been going on for as long as I’ve been working. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen high level managers, particularly executives, downplay and pooh-pooh the need for good people skills in the candidates that their company is hiring.
But the ability to better connect with employees and get the most out of them is growing in importance, especially when it comes to the Millennial generation given how they don’t respond very well to top-down edicts or command-and-control management systems.

If you manage Millennials, you better have collaborative skills

Millennials want to collaborate, and it takes managers with good “soft skills” to really be able to do that, as well as recruiters and TA professionals with a nose for finding candidates with it, that really matters.
Given the race to hire people with top-level technical skills — like engineers, who aren’t exactly known for their people skills — it’s no wonder that people with good soft skills are in short supply. They simply haven’t been valued all that much, and in many workplaces get treated like Rodney Dangerfield — “they don’t get no respect.”
Here’s something you can count on: The need to connect with people personally will never, ever go out of style. I can guarantee that.
If you aren’t focusing on soft skills in your recruiting and hiring, you better start because you’ll need people skills more and more as Millennials and Gen Z become the backbone of America’s workforce.

John Hollon

John Hollon is managing editor at Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. You can download the research reports in their Global Talent Mobility Best Practice Research series at Fuel50.