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How Valuable Are Soft Skills To Your Employment Prospects?

Posted by: Marc

Soft Skills

Good communication. Initiative. The ability to work in a team. So-called ‘soft skills’ such as these have long received short shrift from bottom-line worshiping monetarists who believe the only assets of any value comes with a price tag that can be quantified to the cent.

Luckily, those attitudes are on the way out. Increasingly, employers are not only looking for soft skills, they’re rebranding them – more fairly – as ‘essential’ skills. A recent New Zealand survey asked employers what they valued most in an entry-level applicant. The response was clear: being a confident team player with strong communication and analysis skills were all more important than starting a job with technical know-how but no essential skills.

The Development Economics research group say such skills are worth 88bn pounds per year to the UK economy, with customer-facing businesses benefiting the most. Without them, businesses face more problems meeting and exceeding their customers service expectations; difficulties and delays in the introduction and marketing of new products and services; and an increase in operating costs.

Corporate powerhouses like Barclays and McDonald’s – no strangers to short-termist bean-counting economics – have spoken out in support the findings. And why not? After all, technical knowledge can be learned on the job. Skillful identification and effective handling of crisis-situations tend to be more innate qualities, often found in workers who thrive on their wits rather than their qualifications.

These candidates can be hard to identify on paper, which is why the interview process is so crucial. Jez Langhorn, Chief People Officer for the UK branch of McDonald’s, claims half a million UK workers will have their career aspirations hobbled by a lack of interpersonal and time management skills:

“I can’t think of any job where those skills wouldn’t be important… but they are not recognised as much as they should be,” said Langhorn, adding that many employers value such practical skills over academic credits.

It’s not hard to see why businesses in the developed world are no longer relying solely on academic performance as an indicator of worth. With so many school-leavers entering tertiary education as a matter of course, a university degree is no better indication of aptitude than a secondary school diploma was 30 years ago. Rather, a university degree is regarded by employers as evidence of a base level of competence. Finding that one exceptional candidate means identifying essential skills.

Most job-specific skills can be taught to any reasonably intelligent person. Trying to foster a brand new work ethic in a recent (and perhaps reluctant) graduate is a lot harder. The smart money says: recruit for attitude, train for skill.


Marc is a Director of The Talent Hive and leads our IT recruitment practice. Originally from the UK, Marc has been living in Christchurch, New Zealand for ten years and working in the recruitment sector for just as long. Marc has worked as an in-house recruiter and within multinational recruitment consultancies and independent SME recruitment businesses.

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Categorised as: Career Development, Talent Search & Management