Career Coach

Having technical skills isn’t enough in today’s workplace


After all this time, some people still don’t get it. They still think that hiring is all about just bringing in applicants with strong technical skills.

Of course, these skills are important, but are they enough? In today’s highly competitive world, it is often the softer skills that differentiate applicants, and determine who will get hired, who will be successful and who will move up in the organization.

Think about it. You will want the most competent doctor, but if you have several of equal competence, then you would probably pick the one who listens to your concerns, who clearly shares information with you and offers suggestions, and the one who is most empathetic. Likewise, among office managers or accountants, you would want the one who is the most ethical, professional and easy to work with. Would you knowingly pick someone who is arrogant, egotistical or miserable to work with as a colleague? Or someone who has a poor work ethic or constantly interrupts or demeans others? Probably not. Yet we often dismiss soft skills as “fluff” and not needed in the workplace.

Leaders and project managers will quickly tell you that the majority of their time is spent trying to get colleagues to work more effectively together or treat each other with respect. They will note that the “people problems” in their company drain their energy. One study by American Express found that more than 60 percent of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

What are the soft skills employers should be looking for? Some of the most important:

Integrity. Ethical reputation and honesty.

Work ethic. Being dependable and hardworking, willing to go the extra mile.

Team player. Being collaborative and working well with others (i.e., having a pleasant personality and working for the team vs. being a bully, manipulator, backstabber or only caring for your own individual agenda).

Positive attitude and enthusiasm. Optimistic, upbeat, ability to generate good energy.

Adaptability and flexibility. Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change and are rigid or unable to adapt to new directions.

Effective communication and confidence. Being a good listener, being able to clearly and concisely articulate your point whether in writing or orally, using appropriate nonverbal and body language.

Openness and receptivity to feedback. Soliciting feedback and being willing to listen to it and make needed changes to improve; learning from criticism. It is especially important to get feedback on your emotional and social intelligence.

Creative thinking. Being open to innovation and able to think outside the box.

Critical thinking and problem solving. Being able to analyze information and put it together; being able to see the interrelationships among various functional areas to address problems.

Collaboration, conflict management and negotiation skills. Being able to work effectively with others and effectively address conflict as it arises; being able to persuade and influence others.

Jeffrey Kudisch, the managing director of Career Services and assistant dean of Corporate Relations at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, regularly meets with employers about what knowledge and skills they are looking for when hiring future employees.

“Many recruiters have told me that they would rather hire an applicant with a 3.6 GPA who has strong soft skills, than an applicant with a 4.0 who has no soft skills or no extracurricular or leadership activities,” he said. “In fact, an applicant with no leadership skills documented on their resume sends up red flags.”

He further notes, “It’s not either/or when it comes to technical skills and soft skills. Applicants with both types of skills are what employers are looking for if they are planning to fill positions that will quickly move up in the organization.”

Some organizations do understand the value of soft skills. The Labor Department developed a curriculum entitled “Skills to pay the bills: Mastering soft skills for workplace success,” which teaches soft skills such as communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism to young people ages 14 to 21. Other firms encourage employees to take public speaking classes, creativity workshops or negotiation seminars.

It’s time we stop undervaluing soft skills, and provide the necessary training for them — in our schools and our organizations. Only then will we truly have a workforce that can do the technical work that is needed, and will also demonstrate outstanding collaboration and performance.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the vice dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programs offered by the school. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations, and career management. She can be reached atjrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

How to Attract Hiring Managers to You

posted Mar 23, 2014, 6:52 AM by Sachchida Ojha   [ updated Mar 23, 2014, 6:53 AM ]

If you've been looking for a job and not getting any interviews, it's possible that you may be making typical job seeker mistakes. You may not be tapping into the best practices when it comes to applying for a job online. If it's been a while since you've looked for a job, you may be surprised to learn how much things have changed. If you don't know the rules to help you apply effectively, you could be very well-qualified for positions, but never have a chance to interview for them.

Pete Kazanjy, co-founder of TalentBin, a talent search engine for the entire Web, offers these tips to help:

1. Become one of the hunted. Companies are looking for the best, and they aren't necessarily sitting around and waiting to see who applies for their job opportunities. Kazanjy notes that companies are actually proactively searching for the best employees to work for them - whether you're currently looking for a job or not. "We are living in a time where recruiters and employers directly reach out to those candidates they are interested in - and that is a good thing," he explains. "They offer to bring job seekers a better job or career opportunity and have already done a bit of research about you and believe you'll be a good fit for them, putting the odds in your favor of landing that job if you choose to pursue it."

If you want to be on the radar of employers who are looking for you, be sure to make your presence known. This includes getting involved and actively participating in all types of events, both in person and online. Look for Meetups, Twitter chats and blogs where you can comment, and join groups on LinkedIn and communities via Google+. Some recruiters have been known to troll gaming sites for technology-oriented hires. Maintain a presence on the best websites and social media sites for your field and demonstrate your keen knowledge of your subject matter.

2. Form a relationship. Kazanjy notes that traditional tools from the sales industry, such as customer relationship management, are now expanded to benefit human resources and recruiting professionals so they can better manage relationships with potential candidates. He explains: "Talent search platforms, such as TalentBin, are evolving to include rCRM [recruiting customer relationship management]. These tools help employers see what you're doing online, but also allow them to directly reach out to targeted hires on social media platforms. This pipeline management layer allows recruiters to create more meaningful, well-rounded relationships with potential candidates as everything is tracked for them in just one place - making it easier for them to reference new skills you may have developed since you last corresponded."

When you engage with recruiters and potential employers, you can demonstrate what you offer in a three-dimensional way that you may not be able to present in just a résumé. These online conversations also give you a chance to show off your communication skills. "Employers like to see you are prompt, grammatically correct and engaging in back-and-forth conversation," Kazanjy says.

3. Put your best digital footprint forward. As technology evolves and social recruiting becomes more popular, recruiters track your digital footprints. However, they aren't necessarily only looking for negative information. Traditional media outlets love to showcase examples of how employees can lose opportunities via social media errors. "They're also looking to find out what you're passionate about and if you actively engage on social media sites," Kazanjy notes. "They check if you're on Twitter, LinkedIn and more, most often looking to see if you share industry news or follow industry leaders, if you participate on forums and if you join and attend Meetup group events. Showing an interest and 'community participation' through your social media life proves your dedication and motivation to learn and grow."

This online activity demonstrates confidence and appeals to employers who seek candidates who demonstrate critical thinking and written persuasion capabilities. Online activity also demonstrates your ability to use new technology, including social media, beyond chatting with your friends. Meanwhile, talent search functionalities allow recruiters and companies to find and make sense of all this data.

Don't miss the opportunity to use social media to attract employers, as they are shifting their approaches and will be thrilled to meet engaged and interesting candidates online.

1-1 of 1