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Why charities should focus on soft skills when recruiting

Posted on 25/02/2019 by Tracey George MIRP


According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, recruiting for soft skills is the development thought most important to the future of HR and recruiting by talent professionals around the world. Soft skills have always been important, particularly in the third sector, but until recently hard skills have always been prioritised by employers. Changes in the job market mean that soft skills are now coming to the fore.

What are hard and soft skills?

Hard skills are those most commonly listed in a candidate’s CV. They are specific competencies that can be learned and measured, such as IT skills, speaking other languages or experience in using fundraising databases or other software. Training is available to learn most hard skills and they can generally be certified.

In contrast, soft skills are a candidate’s social and interpersonal abilities, such as flexibility, teamwork, patience or time management. They tend to be much harder to measure and more difficult to learn. Soft skills are so intrinsic to a person’s character that they are often spoken of as personality traits.

Why the trend towards soft skills?

Soft skills stats

There is lots of research showing the trend towards soft skills, but what are the main reasons behind this changing style in recruitment?

  • While hard skills are very important, they can be learned on the job. Soft skills have to be developed over time, which takes much longer.
  • Increasing talent shortages means it’s more difficult for employers to find candidates with both hard and soft skills. Instead, they are choosing to recruit for soft skills and train new employees with the necessary hard skills.
  • Hard skills can go out of date as technology evolves, soft skills do not.
  • The rise of automation and AI means that tasks that traditionally required experience and hard skills may increasingly be done by computers. This leaves creativity as the most important factor that employees can contribute.
  • Employees with soft skills generally find it easier to transition as they move up the career ladder. Soft skills are an essential requirement for management positions.
  • Candidates with good soft skills are generally more flexible and find it easier to adapt. For organisations with uncertainties around future funding and regulation, recruiting these employees helps them to keep their options open.

What are the top soft skills?

According to LinkedIn, the most in-demand soft skills in 2019 are (in order):

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Time Management

How can you assess soft skills?

Soft skills are generally harder to assess at interview than hard skills. Most interviewers tend to judge a candidate’s soft skills purely on their body language and social cues. For example, if an interviewee seems fidgety and nervous, they may lack confidence. Or if they answer questions freely and easily, they may have good communication skills.

Unfortunately, as interviews are high-pressure situations, candidates tend to behave very differently than they do in their normal life, making these judgements a poor predictor of future performance. Assessing in this way also allows unconscious bias to creep in to interviews, unfairly prejudicing an interviewer against a candidate.

Here are some more accurate ways to assess soft skills at interview:

  • Set interview questions specific to each of the soft skills required for the role, eg
  • What are your motivations for doing well at work?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Tell me about a time when you were forced to adapt at work. How did you manage?
  • Talk me through a problem you faced in your previous role? How did you approach it?
  • Use behavioural interviewing and give your candidates theoretical problems that might arise in the role which require soft skills to solve. Ask them to go through all the steps in tackling each problem.
  • Ask candidates to list the soft skills they think are required for the role. If they miss one or more key skills, it’s possible that they are not the right fit for the role.
  • Ask the candidate to rank their own soft skills from strongest to weakest. Ideally, the skills that are likely to be most valuable in the role should appear at the top of the list.
  • There are lots of software packages available that allows you to measure a candidate’s soft skills more accurately. You can compare reviews of the leading tools here – many will allow you to trial them for free.
  • Candidates often demonstrate their soft skills most clearly when they are not aware that they are being assessed. Ask other people they meet, such as receptionists and other employees, to give their impressions of the candidate.

Ask the experts

If you need help finding a candidate with specific soft skills, but you’re not sure how to go about it, TPP Recruitment can help. We have over 23 years’ specialist experience in recruiting for not for profit organisations and can find experienced and highly skilled employees for all functions.

Contact us on 020 7198 6000 or