Employers are increasingly targeting candidates who display ‘soft skills’ in addition to definable attributes such as job-specific abilities, according to global specialist employment recruiter Randstad.

Soft skills – sometimes referred to as ‘EQ’ or someone’s ‘emotional intelligence quotient’ – are personality traits such as communication and language skills, optimism, confidence and decision-making ability that are useful to employers and employees alike, but less tangible than vocational qualifications and achievements.

"For the very top roles, qualifications and experience are still a must-have, but having these alone won’t be enough to differentiate you from the pack" 

A growing number of job advertisements are targeting individuals with such capabilities. More than half (51%) of all listings on Randstad’s website* include the term ‘team work’, just over a fifth (21%) mention ‘communication’ and other key words such as passion, dedicated, effective, relationships and time management also figure prominently.

Mark Bull, CEOof Randstad UK, said: “Job hunters are used to scanning job advertisements to check they have the relevant qualifications and experience for a role, but potential employers are now just as interested in the soft skills that supplement this core expertise. An application form or CV lets employers filter applicants down to those who have the relevant qualifications and experience. But the interview process is where candidates can let their soft skills shine.

“For the very top roles, qualifications and experience are still a must-have, but having these alone won’t be enough to differentiate you from the pack and secure you the most coveted positions. Having a confident and personable demeanour, the ability to use one’s initiative to be decisive, good communication and listening skills and an optimistic and enthusiastic outlook is just as likely to endear you to employers as a first-class university degree and an impressive roster of previous experience.”

EQ v IQ

Given the intangible nature of soft skills, it can sometimes be difficult to attribute a monetary value to their usefulness, but economic research recently commissioned by McDonald’s attempted to do just that. It discovered that soft skills contribute £88bn to the UK economy at present, with this figure expected to rise to £109bn within the next five years. The report also found that 97% of employers regarded soft skills as important to their current business success, with more than half ranking them as more important than academic qualifications.

"It may even be the case that employees already have many of the attributes necessary, but don’t realise the importance of displaying them in the workplace" 

However, it would appear that not all employees are up to speed with the importance of such attributes, with an estimated half a million UK workers expected to be held back by a lack of soft skills by 2020, according to the Development Economics report. The campaign is also being supported by the likes of Barclays, LearnDirect, the National Youth Agency and the Confederation of British Industry.

Mark Bull added: “This new initiative displays just how importantly employers regard soft skills and the significant contribution they make not just to how individual businesses perform, but to the overall prosperity of the economy. But while organisations are in tune with how vital soft skills are, it doesn’t appear that all employees are dialled in to the same frequency. It may even be the case that employees already have many of the attributes necessary, but don’t realise the importance of displaying them in the workplace.

“For example, individuals may play team sports at the weekend or volunteer to work with children and not realise that team work and leadership are some of the most desirable attributes that employers now look for. Companies themselves can help develop positive attributes in their workers too through mentoring and on-the-job training. Certain soft skills – like leadership – don’t come naturally too all individuals, but can be easier and quicker to nurture than qualifications.”

Changing careers

As well as helping individuals thrive in the workplace and progress up the career ladder, soft skills are a particularly useful asset when looking to move into a different sector. Soft skills represent a transferable asset that can help workers thrive in a new environment.

Mark Bull concluded: “Soft skills not only help individuals thrive at work and be an asset to their current employer, but they can also improve their general employability should they wish to embark on a completely different career. In such instances, qualifications and experience may not look immediately relevant to an employer, so any assets that can be transferable will enhance the likelihood of an employee making a smooth transition to a new field.”