In Search of Soft Skills

A greater demand for soft skills has job seekers, employers adjusting tactics

It’s become a familiar refrain for those looking for jobs or that next promotion, or for organizations seeking talent: It’s not enough for employees to have technical expertise, certifications, education and experience to get ahead. Well-rounded individuals who can communicate, think critically, problem solve, take initiative and work as part of a team are in great demand.

In other words, soft skills are sought after.

Two surveys recently have spotlighted again the soft skills deficit:

  • A survey of 750 employers reported 97% said soft skills affect job performance, but only 31% said that their job candidates have satisfactory soft skills.1
  • A LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers found 58% said the lack of soft skills among job candidates is actually limiting their organizations’ productivity.2

The need for soft skills is not entirely new. Paul McDonald, senior executive director at job-placement company Robert Half, said he has seen a need for these abilities since the 1980s. Over the past decade, however, demand has been driven higher by organization’ rising investments in advancing technology.3

As organizations automate or outsource many routine tasks, for instance, the jobs that remain often require workers to take on broader responsibilities that demand critical thinking, empathy or other abilities that computers can’t easily simulate.

"The computer’s doing more work for the worker and the organization," McDonald said. "So those in-demand individuals are having to do less, for instance in accounting, number crunching, and more interpreting and presenting the results earlier in one’s career."4

In pursuit of the ideal employee, many organizations are investing more time and capital in teasing out job applicants’ personality quirks, sometimes hiring consultants to develop screening methods and beef up training programs.5

During interviews, for instance, more employers are actively evaluating candidates for signs of:

  • Self-awareness—a candidate who can make the connection between his or her actions and professional outcomes.
  • Instincts—someone who would intuitively take the empathetic, team-oriented and optimistic approach.
    Certain interview questions could shed some light on whether job candidates have the emotional aptitude for the job, including:
  • "Can you tell me about a time when you worked as part of a group?" Ideally, an answer would include evidence of initiative, leadership and creative thinking.
  • "Can you tell me about a time when you had to ask for help?" Ideally, an answer would detail how the candidate made a mistake and learned from someone else, speaking sincerely about mentorship and growth.6

But there’s skepticism among some job seekers about how much employers actually value soft skills—or at least, whether this translates into actual hiring practices.

Some job seekers have said they see soft skill attributes on job listings, but rarely get asked about them in job interviews with HR. The reason? They said many organizations use applicant-tracking systems that search résumés and applications for a narrow set of skills, unwittingly weeding out other candidates who may have better soft skills.7

Securing soft skills

What’s a job seeker, or for that matter, an organization that’s hiring, to do?

Coursework: Job training and apprentice programs are increasingly factoring soft skills into their technical training curricula. LinkedIn, for example, has used its data to develop an online course on mastering 10 of the most in-demand soft skills—such as critical thinking, teamwork building and effective listening—through Lynda.com, an online-learning website it acquired in 2015.8

Volunteering: Some organizations consider volunteering a way individuals can hone their soft skills because it gets employees to deal with a variety of people and problems in different settings. This, in turn, can change how individuals approach situations in their job settings. A recent British survey revealed eight in 10 business leaders said their organization should invest more in offering volunteering opportunities to employees to sharpen soft skills.9

Teaching the technical: Other organizations, resigned to being unable to find the perfect candidate with the right mix of soft and technical skills, may be more willing to invest in training someone who lacks technical skills but has a strong work ethic, the ability to communicate, is socially savvy, and is creative and adaptable.10

Practice, practice: The best way to improve your soft skills is through practice, HR experts say. Volunteer to give a presentation or be more vocal during meetings, for example. Consider the way you currently speak with those around you and determine whether there are areas that you can improve in. When other people are speaking, make sure that you’re listening attentively rather than just considering how you’ll respond as soon as they’re finished. Don’t forget to think about nonverbal communication as well, such as emails and other forms of messaging.11

Showcase your skills: Résumés and interviews are chances to showcase strong soft skills. For job seekers, instead of simply stating they have communication skills on the résumé, list specific examples using active language that demonstrates how these abilities were used in past positions to accomplish real results, HR experts advise.12

Empathy training

A specific soft skill getting more attention lately is empathy, or putting yourself in somebody else’s emotional shoes and having a sense of what they are experiencing.13

Empathy is one of the single most important factors in fostering successful leaders, entrepreneurs, managers and businesses, experts say. It reduces bullying, increases one’s capacity to forgive, and greatly improves relationships and social connectedness.14

About 20% of employers in the United States now offer empathy training for managers, a jump from 10 years ago. LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, Cisco Systems Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are among the growing number of firms to have invested in empathy training.15

"Though the concept of empathy might contradict the modern concept of a traditional workplace—competitive, cutthroat, and with employees climbing over each other to reach the top—the reality is that for business leaders to experience success, they need to not just see or hear the activity around them, but also relate to the people they serve," wrote Jayson Boyers, executive director of the division of continuing professional studies at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, in a Forbes column.16

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. PR Web, "New Survey of Over 750 Employers Reveals Major Need for Soft Skills Training," Aug. 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/pr-web-soft-survey.
  2. Kate Davidson, "Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply," Wall Street Journal, Aug. 20, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/wsj-short-supply.
  3. Stacy Rapacon, "The Skills Employers Are Looking For," CNBC, Dec. 2, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/cnbc-skills-looking-for.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Davidson, "Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply," see reference 2.
  6. Sara McCord, Sara McCord, "How to Test for Soft Skills in an Interview," Newsweek, Nov. 9, 2014, www.newsweek.com/career/how-test-soft-skills-interview.
  7. Kate Davidson, "Soft Skills in Short Supply? Says One Reader: ‘Give Up on the Snowflakes,’" Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/wsj-soft-skills-readers.
  8. Kate Davidson, "The Soft Skills Employers Are Looking For," Wall Street Journal, Aug. 30, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/wsj-blog-skills-search.
  9. Training Journal, "Job Candidates Lose Out Through Lack of Soft Skills," Aug. 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/training-journal-skill-search.
  10. Davidson, "Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply," see reference 2.
  11. Melissa Page, "What Are Soft Skills That Employers Value Most?" New@SNHU, Southern New Hampshire University, April 26, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/snhu-soft-skills.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Knoxville News-Sentinel, "Companies Embracing Empathy Training," Aug. 15, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/qnt-empathy-training.
  14. Jessica Alexander, "America’s Insensitive Children?" The Atlantic, Aug. 9, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/atlantic-insensitive-kids.
  15. Knoxville News-Sentinel, "Companies Embracing Empathy Training," see reference 9.
  16. Jayson Boyers, "Why Empathy Is the Force That Moves Business Forward," Forbes, May 30, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/forbes-empathy.

Who’s Who in Q?

NAME: Karl J. Weber Jr.


EDUCATION: MBA from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Weber was introduced to quality after he changed positions when the small, regional-based company he worked for was acquired by a larger national firm. The new position allowed him to learn, teach and train others, facilitate the strategic planning process, and grow professionally and personally.

CURRENT JOB: Quality management and performance excellence consultant to 13 of 40 U.S. construction companies that are members of the American Contractors Insurance Group in Richardson, TX. Essentially, Weber is an extension of each of the member construction companies. His duties include providing quality expertise, advising on quality initiatives and quality management programs and processes, assessing communication gaps, facilitating quality-related meetings, and providing information related to insurance and construction defects.

PREVIOUS JOBS: Regional quality manager and manager of engineering for Gilbane Building Co., responsible for the Florida region, which encompassed about $200 million in annual revenue and about 30 to 40 projects at a time. Duties focused on quality assurance and quality control efforts, including project assessments, building envelope review and assessments, training and rolling out new systems and initiatives, and facilitating the regional strategic planning process that aligned with the corporation’s vision.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Baldrige Alliance Quality Texas examiner.

RECENT HONORS: Recently became Construction Risk Insurance Specialist-certified by the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI).

PUBLISHED WORKS: Weber is scheduled to present on quality best practices in the construction industry at IRMI’s Construction Risk Conference in Orlando, FL, this month. He also contributed to two American Contractors Insurance Group-published white papers related to warranty claims and construction defects, and managing green risk in the construction industry.


FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Exercising and staying active, playing sand volleyball and scuba diving. Recently started learning to play the guitar.

QUALITY QUOTE: Organizations choose to pay for poor quality by not having quality as the very fabric of the organization.


Automotive Standard Scheduled for Release

A new version of International Organization of Standardization technical specification 16949 (ISO/TS 16949), a technical specification for automotive sector quality management systems (QMS), will be published later this month.

The International Automotive Task Force (IATF) 16949:2016 standard will define the requirements of a QMS for organizations in the automotive industry. The standard also will align with and refer to the most recent version of ISO’s QMS standard, ISO 9001:2015. IATF 16949:2016 will fully respect ISO 9001:2015 structure and requirements. IATF 16949:2016 is not a standalone quality management standard but is implemented as a supplement to and in conjunction with ISO 9001:2015.

For more information, visit www.iatfglobaloversight.org.

ASQ News

SCHOLARSHIP AWARDED Sangahn Kim, an industrial and systems engineering graduate student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, was awarded ASQ’s Richard A. Freund Scholarship. Kim, of South Korea, received the $5,000 scholarship, which is named for a past ASQ president and supports a quality professional’s graduate studies. As part of his doctoral program, Kim conducted research that includes theoretical and practical application in quality engineering.

QUALITY RESOURCES Access to ASQ’s extensive collection of quality information and resources are free to members at ASQ’s Quality Information Center. In addition, an ASQ research librarian is available to assist in searching ASQ’s quality body of knowledge for information on a variety of topics, as well as handling requests for reprints of articles or figures and tables from ASQ publications. To access these resources, complete the online forms at https://asq.org/qic-contact-form.html and https://secure.asq.org/reprint-permission-request.html, or email the librarian at knowledgecenter@asq.org.

TEAM COMPETITION ASQ South Asia is organizing its first South Asia Team Excellence Award competition Nov. 26 in New Delhi. The award recipient will be automatically entered to compete in the International Team Excellence Award competition to be held during ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement May 1-3, 2017, in Charlotte, NC.

DEADLINE EXTENDED ASQ’s Journal for Quality Technology (JQT) has extended the deadline to Dec. 31 for its call for papers for three special editions being planned. The issues will focus on: statistical process control for big data streams; reliability and maintenance modeling with big data; and quality engineering in advanced manufacturing. More information about the special issues’ topics can be found in the "Call for Papers" in JQT’s January edition at http://asq.org/pub/jqt.


15 Organizations to Receive Site Visits

Fifteen organizations will be visited by members of the judge’s panel for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the final stage of the evaluation process for the nation’s highest award for organizational performance excellence.

The panel will reconvene in November to review findings and forward its recommendations to the secretary of commerce. Recipients are usually announced in late November. A formal presentation of the awards will take place during the annual Quest for Excellence conference April 2-5, 2017, in Baltimore.


ASQ Conference Events Slated

Several ASQ events are being planned for the coming months. They include:

Short Runs

WORLD STANDARDS WEEK will be Oct. 24-28. Various events and activities are planned in Washington, D.C., that week, including an international standards competition, a conference, luncheons, banquets, forums and other policy meetings. The American National Standards Institute is sponsoring the event. For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/world-standards-week.

PATTY HATTER was appointed to a four-year term on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board. Hatter is vice president and general manager of the Intel Security Group Professional Services organization. Her NIST board term runs until August 2020. The full list of board members can be found at http://tinyurl.com/nist-list.

NEXT YEAR’S International Society for Performance Improvement annual conference will be held April 28-May 2 in Montreal. Events and activities will focus on topics such as talent development, instructional design and organizational development. For more information, visit www.ispi.org.

KPMG, A PROFESSIONAL services company, released its 2016 Global CEO Outlook report. The study examines nearly 1,300 global CEOs’ expectations for business growth, the challenges they face and their strategies. The free 46-page report can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/kpmg-report-ceo.

A NEW PRESIDENT for the International Association for Food Protection was named. Linda J. Harris, a specialist in cooperative extension and chair of the department of food science and technology at the University of California-Davis, began her term in August. For details on the appointment and her background, visit http://tinyurl.com/iafp-new-prez.

THE ASSOCIATION OF Manufacturing Excellence (AME) named George M. Saiz its next president and CEO. Saiz, the former president of MicroAire Surgical Instruments in Charlottesville, VA, has been an AME member since 2005. For more details, visit www.ame.org.

The ANSI-ASQ NATIONAL Accreditation Board (ANAB) has begun offering accreditation for certification bodies providing audits and certification of management systems meeting the requirements of the gluten-free certification program (GFCP). ANAB accreditation for the GFCP is based on ISO/IEC 17021-1, the international standard that specifies requirements with which management systems certification bodies must conform. For more details, visit http://tinyurl.com/anab-gluten-free.

A NEW STANDARD, ISO 20400—Sustainable procurement—Guidance, is currently being developed and will provide guidelines for organizations that want to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. The standard has reached a second draft international standard stage, meaning interested parties can submit feedback on the draft before final publication in 2017. Visit http://tinyurl.com/sustainable-standard for more information.


In the Quality Resource Guide in September’s QP, the website address for DQS Inc. was listed incorrectly. The address is www.dqsus.com.

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