Too often, graduates from higher education and business schools are not taught to acquire soft skills before going into the workplace. Their focus is typically on training and education, alongside job preparation and technical skills. However, without the appropriate soft skills, their work is an uphill challenge that comes with a steep learning curve. In this post, we take a look at the soft skills graduates need to begin learning, and why.
Writing for Salesforce, Stuart Leung explains the problem: “Despite the supposed ‘disconnect’ of the digital age, humanity is still a very social species, and unless we as individuals understand how to communicate, cooperate, and coordinate with others, we are at a significant disadvantage – especially in the workplace. In fact, according to Mark Murphy (author of Hire for Attitude), 46% of new hires fail in the first 18 months, and of those new hires, 89% fail for reasons associated with attitude.”
Clearly, employers are going to be looking for candidates with soft skills like communication, especially if it curbs an alarming 46% fail rate. Attitude problems are perhaps harder to predict in a new graduate, but a good communicator is likely not going to suffer from these as severely. Conversely, companies that have a glut of effective communicators are far less likely to lose key employees.
Learning the intangible
Rosemary Haefner of CareerBuilder (@haefner_r) says: “Saying that you’re a team player is not enough; you have to show it. Provide an example of how you worked on a team to accomplish a particular goal. Provide an example of a high-pressure situation that you handled with ease.”
Teamwork is just one of several soft skills that employers are looking for. They’re also after responsibility, leadership, problem-solving skills, decisiveness and adaptability. The truth is that many of the desired qualities in candidates are intangibles, unknown before introducing an employee to the working environment. And the problem with these intangible skills is that they are notoriously difficult to teach. Attributes like decisiveness, cultural awareness and emotional intelligence are hard to acquire; they are often innate talents, rather than learned ones.
In most instances, it is a challenge to develop soft skills through study alone – it is something that progresses over time, with experiences of both success and failure. The Director of HR at the Lawn Tennis Association, Vicky Williams, argues: “Most things can be taught, other than passion – people are either born being passionate or they’re not. That’s an innate skill. But if you take teamwork as a leadership competency, while somebody cannot go from completely unskilled to being A-starred, their leadership journey equips them to be better than when they started out.”
There is no question that employers value soft skills. In surveys, qualities like “team player” and “good communicator” are always high on the list. However, soft skills are terribly difficult to teach directly. The best thing employers can do is create an environment that facilitates the learning of soft skills, and giving their employees a firm grounding in what competency in these skills should look like.