Employee with soft skills working in a group

Soft Skills Employers Should Recruit For

If you think hard skills are more important than soft skills, or that a candidate’s intelligence quotient (IQ) matters more than their emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), think again.

A growing body of research suggests that EQ is a stronger predictor of success than IQ. Consulting company TalentSmart says that people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time

Howard Gardner, one of the most influential contemporary psychologists in the world, believes that a person’s IQ contributes just 20% to their success. The other 80%, he says, can be credited to knowing your strengths and being able to get along well with others.

“Many people with an IQ of 160 work for people with IQs of 100 if the former has poor intrapersonal intelligence and the latter has a high one,” he says.

In the process of providing emotional intelligence testing and training, TalentSmart has found that, when tested along 33 other competencies, EQ was the strongest predictor of performance. According to the consulting firm, EQ is responsible for 58% of job performance, and 90% of top performers have a high EQ.

The growing importance of EQ and its effect on recruiting

A growing number of companies, including Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal, have realized that hiring people with a high EQ saves them time and money in the long run, and have incorporated emotional intelligence as a criterion in their recruiting processes.

These are the five soft skills they recruit for:

1. Self-awareness 

Self-awareness is a person’s ability to recognize and understand their moods, emotions, drives, and their effect on other people. Professionals with a high degree of self-awareness know what motivates them, what frustrates them, and how they typically react to certain situations. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are and can talk about them honestly and openly.

2. Self-regulation 

Self-regulation is a person’s ability to control bad moods and emotional impulses and channel them in useful ways. Professionals with a high degree of self-regulation think before acting and are able to say no to impulsive urges. They’re considered thoughtful, reliable, and trustworthy.

3. Motivation 

Motivation is a person’s ability to pursue goals with energy and persistence, even when there are setbacks. Professionals with a high degree of motivation will keep going when things get frustrating and remain hopeful in the face of defeat. They can control their impulses and put off instant gratification. They also tend to be more engaged in the pursuit of their goals.

4. Empathy

Empathy is a person’s ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. When a professional is empathetic, they care about how others are feeling and strive to understand where they are coming from, and they use this understanding to guide their actions. They tend to be perceived as kind, generous, and altruistic.

5. People skills

People skills are how well a person can manage relationships. If a professional has social skills, they’re able to get along with all kinds of people. In fact, they even try to create connections with people they’re not very fond of. That means that they have a wide circle of acquaintances and a network in place when they need one. They tend to be excellent team players.

How to recruit for soft skills or emotional intelligence

1. Listen to hiring managers, especially their complaints

Top recruiting and staffing expert Barbara Bruno says that, when hiring managers complain, they are showing you what’s important to them. 

Listen closely to gain a better understanding of what their pain is, the problems that they’re facing, and what that means in terms of hard and soft skills you need to look for when sourcing and screening for the position.

“When they vent and complain, you’ll be amazed at how many more credentials you’re going to want to surface and how much different your specs are going to be, because now you understand what this hiring authority is facing,” she says.

What they actually need might not even be fully clear to them before this conversation. By listening actively, you’ll be able to create a job description that truly reflects their needs.

2. Get all stakeholders to sign off on the new job description

Getting stakeholders to sign off on the job description before sending it out into the world means getting them involved at an early stage of the hiring process

Not only does this help ensure that you correctly understand their needs, but it also gives hiring managers an opportunity to change the specs as needed. 

3. Conduct behavior-based interviews

In behavior-based interviews (BBI), recruiters ask job candidates to provide examples of how they handled situations in the past.   

BBIs tend to be more reliable at predicting job performance than traditional interviews, where candidates are asked to express how they would proceed in hypothetical situations.

To conduct good BBIs, it’s essential that the interviewer know what soft skills they’re looking for so that they can come up with the right questions.

Here are examples of BBI questions for soft skills suggested by the US Defense Logistics Agency (DLA):

Teamwork: Tell me about a time when you worked with a team to solve a problem. What was the situation?  How were you involved?  What steps did you take?  What was the outcome?  

Decision Making: What was the most difficult decision you have made in the last six months?  What was the situation?  What made it difficult?  What did you decide?  What was the result?

Communication: Describe for me when you had great difficulty communicating your thoughts clearly to another person or group.  What was the situation? Where did the difficulty in communicating effectively lie?  What did you do to get your point across more clearly?  What was the outcome?

4. Give candidates an opportunity to do work before hiring them

Work with the hiring manager to create a project to assign to the top candidates. 

The project should reflect what the candidates will do day-to-day. For example, if you’re recruiting a customer support position, you could ask them to answer a few types of customer support emails.

Another idea is to give candidates a task that requires them to interact with one or more teammates.

This should show you how each candidate communicates and collaborates and will provide insight into their work ethic, level of attention to detail, and problem-solving skills.

Start hiring for soft skills

“CEOs are hired for their intellect and business expertise—and fired for a lack of emotional intelligence,” an executive once told psychologist and EQ expert Daniel Goleman.

Today, more and more companies are conscious of the importance of EQ over IQ, and are mindful of the need to assess soft skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and people skills early on in the recruitment life cycle.

By listening to hiring managers and involving them early on in the hiring process; conducting behavior-based interviews, and giving job candidates an opportunity to demonstrate how they work, recruiters are helping companies find talent that is more likely to perform better and stay with them for the long haul. 

Once you’ve defined what kind of talent you need, check out this article on the best strategies to get them to choose your company: 11 Recruitment Sourcing Strategies to Find Top Talent