Spoiler: It’s all about the soft skills
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the way we work, and with this came a landslide of challenges businesses had to face head-on. In meeting those challenges, one in particular presented the greatest hurdle for employers: hiring and retaining talent. This means that hiring practices have had to shift along with these emerging needs, and along with it, the priorities of the recruiters.
This modern recruitment landscape might be new and maybe a little scary, but with some proper guidance, you’ll be navigating it like a pro in no time!
Let’s start off by understanding how the jobscape has evolved.
What Has Changed in 2022?
To keep it simple, a lot.
Up to 67% of businesses reported that there were many more changes to long-term management practices than in a normal year (not including temporary pandemic-era adaptations).
Over 50% of businesses said that remote work increased their willingness to use freelancers. What’s most noteworthy is the shift in how employers approached recruitment as well as how jobseekers sought employment.
The Randstad workmonitor report for 2022 stated that the top priorities of present-day jobseekers are:
- Attitude: A fulfilling work experience is a major priority to Gen-Zs and Millennials around the world.
- Values: Jobseekers want organisational values to align with their personal ones.
- Empowerment: Due to fierce competition for skilled talent, employers now must reassess whether they’re offering both monetary and non-financial incentives.
- Flexibility: Job flexibility is here to stay, thanks to the pandemic — be it remote work, hybrid models, hourly models, or even work arrangements, jobseekers care about the flexibility of their jobs.
- Self-improvement: 88% of respondents said they would engage in learning and development programs, if given the opportunity.
The report also states that “56% of the youngest generation said they would quit a job if it was preventing them from enjoying life.” Additionally, recent studies show that companies with a higher level of cultural diversity see boosted sales and profits. This pairs with the fact that 49% of recruiters say candidates ask them about their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
What Are Employers Looking For in Candidates?
So, now we know what the overall workforce wants in this ‘new norm’, but what do employers want?
The pandemic has also significantly contributed to the ever-widening skill gap in the talent pool. In this context, the term “skill gap” means a “fundamental mismatch” between the skills that employers are looking for in their employees versus the skills that job seekers possess.
Due to this skill gap, employers have been struggling to find “appropriately trained” workers who possess the abilities and knowledge they seek. In fact, according to a recent National Center for the Middle Market study, 44% of respondents stated that candidates not having the necessary skills is one of the biggest recruiting challenges they face.
So, skills are a top priority — but which skill sets are more important in a candidate, and how do you improve these?
Let’s examine that.
Skills sets are broken into two main categories: hard skills and soft skills.
- Hard skills are measurable and teachable skills. They are very job-specific and contain most of the highly technical aspects of the role. Hard skills are mostly obtained through formal education, as well as training. Some examples of hard skills include fluency in a language, SEO marketing, and programming.
- Soft skills are a lot broader and harder to quantify. These are known as “transferable” skills, and include your personal traits, as well as your interpersonal skills. Soft skills centre mostly on the way you interact with other people, so this includes your social skills, emotional skills, how you communicate, and how well you work with others, among many others. They’re also tough to teach and difficult to measure, which is probably why over 60% of respondents consider soft skills far more important than hard skills.
Of course, this doesn’t mean hard skills are not important — just that recruiters are looking for a very specific concoction of both in their ideal candidates, and soft skills play a heavier role than you’d anticipate.
So, what soft skills are recruiters looking for, and how can you adapt?
Top Soft Skills You Should Master
According to a Zety study, recruiters and hiring managers listed the following soft skills as the most important ones.
- Time management
- Emotional intelligence
- Stress management
So, let’s dive right in.
As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work, and this is very true. A company’s biggest asset is its team, which is why recruiters are keen on hiring candidates who would work well within a team — regardless of what position they’re put in. If you can prove that you’re an amazing team player, your path is good as set!
To improve your teamwork, you need to keep a few vital points in mind.
- Goals: It’s very important to set common goals as a team as this helps prevent conflicts down the line. Decide on this prior to starting any project. Ideally, personal goals must be set aside. If this is not possible, you must make sure the goals you set for yourself align with the team’s.
- Responsibilities: In a team, you can’t be a lone wolf. Every person within the team must work together in order to succeed. When you are assigned a task, you must take into consideration your own capabilities, the deadline for the task, and the importance of it in the overall project.
Set your parameters beforehand. If this is something you are certain you can do, then carry on. If you need help (be it before starting the task or even during), always ask for it. It’s better than getting stuck with it and hindering the process for everybody else.
If you are not clear on your responsibilities, clarify! This is not the time to be shy. If you think other team members can do it better, talk to them and make suggestions. This brings us to the next important step in improving teamwork.
- Be Helpful: Did you notice a fellow teammate struggling with a task? Don’t hesitate to lend a hand. It’s not only polite but is a positively kind thing to do — and kindness goes a long way.
Remember, you’re part of a team. There’s no need to be guarded when it comes to sharing tasks and helping each other out. The only thing that could come out of it is better output — and that’s a win for everyone.
- Respect: No team is comprised of individuals with the exact same skillsets, experiences or backgrounds. Never assume that you alone know everything, as that would be a grave mistake.
Make sure to consider and actively incorporate diverse opinions in the work your team carries out. If you feel like a fellow teammate is being disrespected, open lines of communication to sort it out diplomatically. Everyone should feel welcome and included!
There’s a reason they say communication is key! Good communication can boost teamwork by helping everyone get on the same page, improve project collaboration, and prevent major problems from cropping up. This is why effective communicators are recruitment gold!
It all boils down to this: if a company’s employees communicate with each other well, they are likely to consider diverse views from within the team, be more interested in cooperation, and therefore, better at finding the best solutions to any problem.
Here’s how you can improve your communication.
- Don’t wait to start talking: Do you feel like there’s something that needs to be discussed? Don’t wait for somebody else to bring it up. Take the initiative to do so yourself.
- Avoid rambling: Before speaking on a topic, try and organise your thoughts. Cut straight to the point and keep it concise. Articulate what you have to say boldly, and avoid incomplete thoughts and sentences when doing so.
- Prepare for pushback: Are you worried a pitch might turn sour? Or that an idea might get shot down before it ever takes off? Take some time and consider the negatives from a different point of view. Prepare some well-backed responses that focus on facts (and if possible, numbers!) that you can present in such an event.
- Simpler words, clearer message: Avoid complicated, high vocabulary words and technical words whenever you can. A clear-cut, simple message goes a long way in avoiding misunderstandings.
- Listen, listen, listen!: It’s not enough that you speak, it’s also important that you listen to what others have to say. Poor listening skills is a major cause of miscommunication. Pay attention to your teammates and ask follow-up questions if you have any doubts. Take notes if you have to. It shows you care.
Time is money, and that’s why employers place high value on employees who can handle their time well. If you feel like you’re constantly running low on time, poor time management might be the issue.
Learning how to manage your time effectively puts you in control of all aspects of your life — be it social or personal, your career or education — and that’s why this is a valuable skill to have.
- Step one in improving your time management is to sort out your goals. List out and understand your priorities. What comes first? Is it your personal life or your career? What goals fall under which category, and how important are they across the board?
This helps you paint a bigger picture. You align your long-term goals first, and then you work on your more immediately achievable short- and mid-term goals.
- Lists are your friends. Make a list whenever you have multiple tasks or priorities to consider. To-do lists are an excellent way to organise your tasks and make sure there are no overlaps that could hinder progress. They also help you organise timings and prioritise tasks. There are plenty of free tools online that you could customise according to your needs. They even send you reminders and help you colour-code your tasks!
- Quality over quantity, so don’t try to fit in too much within a tight window. This eventually leads to burnout, which then leads to you wasting time and energy on menial tasks that consume much of your day. Focus on achieving results and improving the quality of your work. Push for extensions if you need to. Just remember not to overload your day!
- Take a break. Are you used to working hours on end and then feeling too exhausted to do anything relaxing for yourself when you’re done? This is a terrible practice. You actually DON’T end up saving time or working faster if you work non-stop. You just drain yourself and end up slowing down. Don’t be afraid to take a break every now and then.
- Remember the 4 D’s. According to Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Emma Donaldson-Feilder, the 4 D’s can help you manage your time significantly better:
1) Delete: Delete unnecessary information. Don’t bother wasting time on things that are absolutely not required of you.
2) Do: The most urgent task comes first. If urgency is not the issue, then always complete the EASIEST task (i.e., the one you can complete fastest) first. Get the simple stuff out of the way and dedicate more time to more complicated, heavier tasks.
3) Delegate: If somebody else can do the task better than you, then don’t hesitate to suggest it.
4) Defer: Postpone what you can, when you can. Set aside a particular time to deal with a task that can be handled later. This helps you focus on what’s most important at the moment while ensuring you don’t overload yourself.
You can’t always avoid problems. Sooner or later, something’s going to pop up. What’s important is whether or not you are skilled enough to deal with it appropriately.
There’s a simple method to help you hone your problem-solving skills.
Remember: I.D.E.A.L., or Identify, Define, Examine, Act, and Look.
- Identify the problem: Ask yourself questions like what is the problem?; where is it coming from?; and what is its nature?
- Define its main elements: Break the problem down into small components. This makes it easier to address and manage every aspect of the problem as a whole, and come up with solutions.
- Examine solutions: Once you have solutions for each of the elements, step back and examine them. Which of these solutions is viable? What resources would they require? Is there a blanket solution available?
- Act on the resolution: Once you’ve decided on the solution/s, plan out an execution plan to resolve the problem. This step-by-step plan includes a timeline for each action, who will carry out which tasks, and what results you expect to see after each action is completed.
- Look for lessons: Once you’ve resolved a problem, it isn’t the end. There is always a chance of history repeating itself if you don’t learn from it. This is why it’s important to acknowledge where you went wrong and absorb the lessons it produced.
Creativity is one of the most important things in the world. Creativity is what gives us poetry, art, movies, ad campaigns, fashion, music … the list is endless. Any company hoping the survive for long wants creative talent on their side.
Unfortunately, creativity is one of the hardest soft skills to master. It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication — and, dare we say it, a touch of talent. But, it’s not impossible to improve your creativity!
- Embrace brainstorms: Group discussions are a great way to uncover novel ideas and approaches to problem-solving. For an effective brainstorming session, use tools like whiteboards to jot down key points that were discussed. Share material during the session. You can watch a benchmark video together and share your thoughts with the group. Let your teammates know you value their thoughts and their individuality. By encouraging them to contribute, you expose yourself to vibrant new ideas that you might not have learnt of otherwise.
- Stimulation is good: Stimulating the brain is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Some key stimulants are sound, colour, temperature, and lighting. Take for example, sound stimulation. Some people need rock music to focus, while others prefer alpha brain waves. Some even think better with classical music, but others need complete silence.
- Keep learning: Read, listen, watch, do! You can’t tap into an empty tank and expect a waterfall. Fill your mind with all sorts of information — even info that is not relevant to your immediate scope of work. You never know where inspiration will spring from!
- Remember the 5W1H: Before working on ideas or a solution to a problem, you need to set down parameters. This is a crucial model in journalism. Ask the questions: who, why, what, when, where and how? The answers to this form a framework for you to work with and keep you focused on the goal.
If you want to build your confidence, boost your career growth or be more productive, or if, on a grander scale, you want to see tangible results or help your teammates achieve common goals, leadership skills are vital.
- Discipline matters: Without discipline, you’ll lack the clarity needed to achieve your goals — especially in the long term. Set out your goals and the actions you need to take to achieve them, and follow through. Build a routine and stick to it. Through discipline, you build good habits, which in turn, lead to fulfilling careers.
- More responsibilities: Stepping out of your comfort zone might sound scary at first (and it cna be a little uncomfortable), but it’s a great way to show initiative and also test your skills on a larger scale. You stand to learn new things and any mistakes you make lead to a learning experience that can only make you wiser.
- Be a follower: A good leader knows how to follow. If you find yourself feeling threatened whenever somebody doesn’t like your idea, or if they have a better solution to a problem, or simply disagrees with you, you’ll need to reevaluate your thinking. Keep an open mind and show respect to all your teammates. And more importantly, learn to take constructive criticism like a champ!
- Anticipate problems: The ability to anticipate problems before they occur is a great advantage. To do so, you need to actively focus on finding patterns. Learn from past mistakes and cross-analyse patterns to foresee any problems that might crop up.
- Learn to inspire: Leaders are often looked to for inspiration and motivation. Don’t be afraid to offer words of encouragement when a teammate is feeling down. Offer guidance when you can. It also helps to lend an ear and listen to the problems your teammates may have. Don’t just look for words, but pick up on non-verbal cues which could signify underlying problems your teammates refuse to talk about.
- Conflict resolution: Never ignore a conflict. It stands to breed resentment and lead to bigger obstacles down the line. Facilitate open lines of communication, promote understanding between people, and speak diplomatically. Validate the feelings of those around you and avoid harsh words when you can.
Not all of us are capable of being perfectly organised, but that doesn’t mean we can’t teach ourselves how to become more organised. It’s actually quite simple!
- A clean workspace: A cluttered desk is a reflection of a cluttered mind. You’d be amazed at how effective a clean desk is for focus and productivity. If you have a lot of items on your desk, organise them in such a way that they each have their own designated space but are easily accessible. This way, you can simply put things back exactly where they were and avoid trashing your desk a couple of days later.
- Organise your tasks: Use whatever you need to organise your tasks — be it sticky notes, to-do lists, online tools, alarms, or anything you find helpful! List them out in order of urgency or difficulty, and allocate time periods to complete them.
- Maintain your calendar: Digital calendars are fabulous things. Always maintain your online calendars, and make sure to add your work and personal tasks to it in order to prevent any overlaps.
- Balance is everything: No amount of spring cleaning sessions will help if your mental health is in the gutter. Always make sure to take time for yourself to heal and relax. Workout, eat well, and treat yourself now and then! You’ll find it’s so much easier to declutter and organise your life afterwards.
Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to identify and regulate one’s emotions and understand the emotions the others.” A high EQ helps you to “build relationships, reduce team stress, defuse conflict and improve job satisfaction”.
Emotional intelligence is deeply personal. While it’s not possible to perfect your emotional intelligence, you can improve it. Start by asking yourself a few questions and performing a self-evaluation:
- Observe your reactions: How do you react to people? Do you feel angry when they disagree with you? How do you approach somebody who is visibly upset? Do you define yourself as a social person? The answers to these questions could help you define your boundaries and highlight areas you need to work on.
- The workplace: What kind of environment is your workplace? Do they encourage open communication? How close are you to your coworkers? How are your interpersonal relationships across the board?
- Stressful situations: How do you respond to stress? Do you have any noticeable triggers? What actions do you take to relieve stress?
- Take responsibility: If you find yourself reacting poorly towards somebody, or if you’ve upset somebody, the first thing you should do is take a step back and evaluate your actions. Proceed to take responsibility for them (and apologise if you have to). It’ll go a long way in you earning the other person’s respect.
- Learn from interactions: Examine how your actions have affected others and apply what you’ve learnt before you take similar actions. You can also examine how your positive interactions went and use them accordingly.
Decision-making can be hectic, and let’s face it, it’s not always easy being the one having to make them. Not every decision you makes is going to be a zinger, but you can definitely ease the burden of the process by following a few tips:
- Learn continuously: There are countless case studies online for every possible situation. Take some time to analyse them.
- Be proactive: Don’t wait for the time to come to make a decision. Learn to anticipate them. For example, if you see that a certain project management software being used by the company is not very effective, don’t wait till the complaints pile up. You can even use the time to come up with alternatives to test.
- Get help: If you think a decision is too complex for you to handle, get help! Invite input from various reliable sources and cross-examine these options. You’ll be picking up on vital information you can use in the future if a similar situation occurs again.
- Put processes in place: The key to quick decision-making is to have a tried-and-tested process in place to handle decisions. Put together resources and go through trial and error until you perfect the process. You’ll thank yourself down the line!
- Use tools and techniques: Unlike in the past, it’s easy to access great guides and tools on decision-making in the modern day. You have everything from strategy maps to SWOT, and data processing software. Don’t be afraid to test them out — especially for complex decisions.
They say stress is bad for the soul, and truer words have never been spoken. Many companies keep an eye out for individuals who seem like they cave easily under stress when recruiting — and that’s usually an indicator that the job can get very stressful (but hey, it’s only human).
You can usually manage your stress with a few easy steps:
- Exercise: Yes, you’ve heard this a million times before but it’s true. It helps reduce your body’s levels of stress hormones and stimulates endorphin production, which elevates your mood. So, go for a jog or swim, or even break out into dance once in a while! It’ll help.
- It’s okay to relax: Take that bubble bath! Read a book while you have your lunch. Listen to a broadway soundtrack while you walk to work! Whatever it takes to put you in the zone and get you floating on air.
- Deep breathing: This increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn promotes a state of calmness. Deep breaths help your mind reconnect with your body and puts you back in control!
- Eat well: It’s exactly like that Snickers ad: you’re not you when you’re hungry. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, take a break and grab something nice to eat. You’ll feel better, we promise.
- Hobbies: All work and no play is no way to live. Take some time during the day (or at least the week) to do something you genuinely enjoy just for fun! Go to a dog shelter, or to the beach! Attend a book club or play some chess. Whatever it takes to balance out the time you spend on work versus your personal life.
If none of this helps, consider seeking professional help. There’s no shame in therapy! Mental health matters, and if you’re constantly in a state of stress, reach out and seek therapy. It helps to talk about your problems and receive solid advice on how to deal with them.
We hope this helped you better understand how to develop your soft skills! And remember, soft skills aren’t something you can simply learn by watching a video or going to class. It takes deliberation, time, and dedication, so work on it and you’ll see yourself improving in no time!