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At times of economic uncertainty, employees need to make themselves indispensable to their employers. Similarly, candidates seeking new opportunities must demonstrate that they possess the most valuable characteristics and technical capabilities.
Hard skills have a part to play in this, but soft skills really come into their own during tough times. Michael Page’s recent survey of 1,000 UK hiring managers provides detailed insights into the importance of soft skills - read on to learn which soft skills hiring managers are looking for and how soft skills inform their hiring decisions.
Soft skills are relevant to a wide range of professions. They can be defined as character traits and interpersonal skills that determine our relationships with others, and as such, they are often referred to as “people skills”. Soft skills examples include communication, teamwork, and the ability to handle pressure.
Soft skills are developed on an ongoing basis, with existing skills enhanced — and new ones acquired — through focused training, coaching, and hands-on experience.
While every candidate has some “natural” soft skills, hard skills are entirely learned. None of us is born with the ability to write a line of code, dismantle and rebuild a car engine, or speak multiple languages. Hard skills are typically taught through formal education or planned training programmes, although they can also be acquired “on the job”.
It's in your best interests to understand the most desirable soft skills among employers. It will allow you to develop those that are most sought after by hiring managers, and ensure that your organisation considers you a valuable team member.
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We have already looked at some typical soft skills examples. But which soft skills are most likely to help you stand out against other professionals in your field? To find out, we asked hiring managers to review a list of 16 common soft skills and select up to five that they look for when interviewing candidates.
“Communication” came out on top, having been chosen by more than one-third (35%) of respondents. The importance of strong communication skills cut across demographic lines, with hiring managers in all age ranges including it in their top two soft skills.
“Willingness to learn” was rated as the second-most in-demand soft skill, cited by 34% of hiring managers, followed by “teamwork”, with 33%. Interestingly, teamwork was especially valued by hiring managers in the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age ranges, with both choosing it as their number one soft skill. In contrast, it was only chosen by one-quarter (24%) of 18 to 24-year-olds and one-fifth (21%) of 25 to 34-year-olds.
Here is our full list of the top 10 soft skills in demand for 2023:
All soft skills are important to some extent, but our respondents made it clear that some are more valuable than others.
Two skills were largely overlooked by hiring managers: “chattiness” and “selflessness”. Each was cited by just 10% of those we surveyed, although selflessness was named as a valuable skill by 17% of the youngest respondents (aged 18 to 24).
Somewhat surprisingly, “empathy” was rated as one of the least in-demand soft skills, cited by just 17% of all hiring managers. However, there was a noticeable age-based divide here, with 19% of respondents aged 35+ naming empathy in their top five, compared to just 11% of those aged 34 or younger. This may suggest that older managers are more likely to have seen the benefits of empathy over the course of longer careers and are therefore more likely to value it as a soft skill.
Here is the full list of the least in-demand soft skills, according to the hiring managers we surveyed:
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Simply put, soft skills can make all the difference when it comes to the interview stage.
Hard skills typically determine whether or not a hiring manager wants to find out more about you. Candidates who lack the requisite hard skills will rarely make it to the interview stage. But once you have been invited for interview, soft skills become far more important, according to the hiring managers we surveyed.
More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents agreed with the statement: “I am on the lookout for much more than just technical attributes when someone sits down for an interview.” What’s more, almost two-thirds (62%) said they have previously hired someone who demonstrated superior soft skills over a candidate who was better qualified, with one-fifth (20%) revealing they had done so “many times”.
Yet it appears some candidates are unaware of the value hiring managers place in soft skills. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of our respondents said candidates often forget to demonstrate the important soft skills for the role they are interviewing for, while the same proportion agreed that they dislike when candidates are too granular about their technical skills and qualifications.
Finally, we gave hiring managers the opportunity to predict the most valuable skills for the future. Specifically, we asked them to pick the most valuable options from a list of 11 “future skills”.
Our respondents were near-unanimous in choosing “resourcefulness” as the most important future skill, with 48% citing it as important. “Critical thinking” and “open-mindedness” also received widespread support. On the other hand, two traits — “individuality” (26%) and “social/political activism” (14%) — were broadly overlooked. However, they were far more likely to be cited by two demographic groups: 35 to 44-year-olds, and hiring managers based in London.
Here is our full list of future skills, in descending order of popularity:
Want to future-proof your skill set? Enter your industry and desired role into our skills checker, take our career quiz, or use our career development toolkit to maximise your professional value.
Alternatively, if you want our help in looking for new opportunities, submit your CV to Michael Page today.
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