Job Search, Hard Skills, Soft Skills, Leadership Skills, Communication Skills
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 14 December 2016
The Future of Skills in Your Job Search
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Changfan Chen

"The hiring process has become more and more difficult because we receive hundreds of qualified applicants from top universities. They all have good GPAs; they are all involved in extracurricular activities. At that point, it’s about finding the perfect fit--someone who embodies the company culture."

Two weeks ago, I interviewed with an accounting firm for their national leadership conference. A few minutes before our conversation ended, my interviewer shared the quote above, which left me with some food for thought.

Hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to pursue a full-time career with this firm upon graduation, I would need some basic tech skills to even be considered: proficiency in Microsoft Office, a strong math background, and completion of the CPA exam. However, at best, these are the bare minimum skill requirements, which may or may not even land me an interview.

In fact, one of my family friends who happens to be a recruiter for an engineering research lab shared a very similar outlook; out of hundreds of nearly perfect resumes, only about 15 candidates are selected for the interview. However, sometimes none of these 15 actually end up hired because there just isn’t a personality fit.

This problem has become increasingly common, as there have been more students graduating from college now, than ever before. Companies have started to shift their focus from tech skills towards soft skills simply because the importance of company culture has grown throughout the years.

Many companies have adopted diversity programs or leadership conferences because the soft skills that come from broad backgrounds are priceless.

Companies can sponsor your graduate education and can teach you a new tech skill. However, soft skills such as patience, leadership, etiquette, and engagement are much more difficult to acquire through a work environment. It is much easier to send a friendly employee to graduate school than it is to teach a rude Ph.D. candidate basic manners.

That’s why many interview questions are often personality-based or situational rather than technical. You’re more likely to hear questions like, "Tell me about a time you encountered an unexpected obstacle and how you overcame it" versus "explain to me how batch reactors differ from CSTRs."

Let’s face reality--if you’ve made it to the interview, something in your resume likely stood out (and you probably met all the minimum tech skills required OR the company believes they can teach you), and now it’s all about personal fit.

Soft skills that have become increasingly popular among employers include:

Communication. Let’s be real--if a recruiter can’t get a hold of you, they won’t be hiring you. Furthermore, communication has become increasingly important in this new digital world. Some people are capable of sounding friendly in messages with their "LOL" and emojis but simply can’t hold a conversation in person. This becomes a problem.

Critical thinking. Nothing in life will ever be perfect, and that is why critical thinking is so important to employers. Whether they’re searching for creativity or solution, a critical thinker is always welcomed in a company.

Responsibility. If you are like my parents, you may have been brainwashed by the media into thinking that college students live their lives without being able to remember a single one of their overly-crazy weekends. Regardless of whether this actually pertains to you or not, an employer needs to know that they can trust your work. Whether the responsibility is upholding highly confidential material, or simply coming into the office at 9 o’clock sharp, being responsible and professional in the work setting is a must.

Leadership. Strong leaders are the whole package: they generally have good communication skills, are critical thinkers and know how to take initiative. These skills are all important in growing a company, so there’s no question as to why companies are often looking for young leaders in the candidate pool.

Tech skills are important. However, the importance of soft skills has been growing rapidly in the past few years and will only continue to expand. Soft skills differentiate the "qualified" candidate from the "perfect" candidate, and with more and more qualified candidates nowadays, the process of finding the perfect one is like searching for a needle in a haystack. I mean hey--at the end of the day, perhaps all the recruiter is looking for is a stellar candidate who would be dedicated and focused from 9 to 5 and a Happy Hour buddy right off work. You never know.

What do you think are the most important skills for work? If you are looking to build more soft skills and upgrade your hard skills, check out ProSky’s training courses where you can work with real people and real companies!