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Soft skills can be hard to find

Businesswomen working with laptop

For hiring managers and other HR specialists that are hiring administrative staff, the need for soft skills has become increasingly important.

A survey conducted by and the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) of hiring managers and HR specialists showed that 67 percent of those polled would hire an applicant with strong soft skills whose technical skills were a little short. Only nine percent said they would hire someone who had strong technical expertise but weak interpersonal skills.

What exactly are these all-important soft skills?

Although some companies differ on their respective definitions, most agree that the soft skill set includes organizational, communication, teamwork, tact, and problem solving skills. Most also agree that soft skills have become increasingly important to job applicants.

Soft skills is also a sociological term relating to a person's Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ). That is a cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement technical skills, which are usually the occupational requirements for the job.

An employee's EQ is an important part of their individual contribution to the success of the organization. Those organizations dealing with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they train their staff to use these skills.

Screening or training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.

In today's tough job market, communication skills have become critical. Today, it is a global workplace. Employees have to share information with multiple parties in multiple locations. If they have trouble communicating in the global environment, it causes problems for those who are lacking the information.

Hiring managers polled stated that the interview process is used as much to gauge soft skills as it is to assess the technical skills needed for the job.

Companies ask behavioral questions during the interviews. They will ask applicants how they would handle specific situations. The answers that the job candidates give the company insight into how the applicant thinks and reacts.

Hiring managers polled stated that they look for values that align with the values of the organization. Soft skills are a major indicator of values. For example, employees will wear many different hats in administrating to many facilities. That makes teamwork and collaboration one of the most important soft skills needed.

Many hiring managers screen for soft skills during the interviewing process by using a behavioral interview screen guide to determine if the job candidate has the skills needed for the particular position.

Soft skills can be taught and enhanced by organizations. A new employee can find a mentor, someone they look up to. Some organizations assign mentors to new employees. A mentor can help them with how to deal with specific situations until it becomes a learned trait.

Since not every employee comes in with the same skill set, continued training, with emphasis on specific soft and technical skills, is part of an employee's development.

In the same way that a potential job applicant may take a class on Microsoft Office, they can also consider joining Toastmasters, an organization focused on teaching members to speak and conduct meetings effectively.