Hiring Soft Skills for Future Success: Introduction

By MBO Partners | February 9, 2023

Soft Skills

Key Points

Many leaders realize that a view of the workforce as a rigid structure of job descriptions and defined career paths is going the way of the dodo.

When working in concert with work-specific skills, soft skills will help your talent navigate the evolving landscape and enrich their lives beyond the workplace.

Hiring for proficiency in so-called “soft skills” will help future-proof the enterprise.

This is the first of a five-part series of articles discussing skills critical for future success.  Succeeding articles will cover specific soft skill areas.

The workplace landscape has been in flux for some time as technologies and societal shifts have influenced how companies think of work and the people who get it done. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) has been maturing over the past decade, slowly moving into all enterprise functions. We’ve been watching this and other technology advance upon us as we try to figure out how it will impact the workplace.

The pandemic interrupted and greatly accelerated this slow evolution in how work gets done. New working models—including remote, hybrid, and digital nomad—along with optimized workforce strategies quickly emerged and now have a firm foothold in talent management programs. Experts observe that we are now living in a “worker’s market” where talent has a greater influence on how jobs are structured than in the past. At the same time, the steady advance of new technologies continues uninterrupted.

Going from Role-based to Skill-based

Enterprises are reassessing their HR models. Many leaders realize that a view of the workforce as a rigid structure of job descriptions and defined career paths is going the way of the dodo. A recent Deloitte survey reported that many organizations are increasingly placing “skills” instead of “jobs” at the core of how work gets done today. The survey found that 63% of current work falls outside people’s core job descriptions, 81% is performed across functional boundaries, and 36% is performed by workers outside an organization.

While open employee positions and independent talent searches may still use job or role descriptions as a foundation, enterprises are focusing more and more on skills as the basis for talent management. Skills-based organizations, in fact, are future-proofing the business.

Skills to Hire with AI in Mind

Technologies, including AI, are transforming the world of work, and today’s workforce will need to continuously learn new skills as different occupations and ways of working emerge. Experts cannot yet clearly define which specific roles will be lost and what new roles will materialize in the automated workplace. Many of the skills that will be needed, on the other hand, can be characterized.

Certain skills are uniquely human and cannot be replaced by automation (at least for now). In addition to high-level skills in a particular organization domain, hiring for proficiency in so-called “soft skills” will help future-proof the enterprise. These intangible skills are independent of the type of work or organizational function. Examples include:

  • Critical thinking, including problem-solving and continuous learning
  • Creativity, including agile thinking and innovation
  • Communication, including empathy and conflict resolution
  • Entrepreneurship, including self-management and the ability to work in an uncertain environment

Whether you are hiring an employee or engaging an independent professional, here are some ways to screen for soft skills:

  • In the interview. Whether interviewing in person or online, stay alert for nonverbal cues. Were they on time for the appointment? If not, did they let you know ahead of time that they would be late? Do they generally maintain eye contact with you? Are they asking questions based on your conversation? Even their ability to deal with technology glitches during a virtual interview can give you some insight into how they will operate in your organization.
  • Talking to references. Request references from former colleagues as well as former managers. Managers can provide insight into areas like problem-solving, conflict resolution, and coachability. Former colleagues may be able to give you a picture of the candidate’s collaboration style, how they handled stress, uncertainty, or unexpected challenges, and how well they interacted with other team members.
  • Social media. Work-focused platforms like LinkedIn can add to your insight about a candidate. Go past the list of experience in the profile and look at posts, comments, and any articles they have published.

Thinking Outside the Job

Our idea of work is changing almost daily. How employees and independent professionals achieve success is also changing.  The skills-based organization is positioned for future success in the business and in its talent pool. When working in concert with work-specific skills, soft skills will help your talent navigate the evolving landscape, lay a solid foundation for professional growth, and enrich their lives beyond the workplace.


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