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The Growing Importance of Intangible Skills in Hiring: Preparing for the Impending Shift in Recruitment

Now more than ever, recruiters are looking for more holistic skill sets in the candidates they hire. In today’s competitive job market, it’s not enough to just deliver on core skills. Whether hiring for a senior or entry-level role, intangible or soft skills such as attitude, work ethics and other behavioral traits can mean the difference between a candidate who performs adequately and someone who excels and grows within the organization. The most valuable candidates, those who have the greatest impact on a company’s performance, possess a combination of core skills and intangible or soft skills.

Why intangible skills have become more important?

In most competitive job markets, recruitment criteria are not limited to just technical abilities and specialist knowledge. Every job role requires some interaction with others, whether it’s your colleagues or customers, hence soft skills have become very important to most employers.

In the past, hard skills like technical knowledge and computational skills used to be the prime requirements for most jobs. However, in today’s current business landscape, the possession of soft skills is now considered essential, and in some cases even more important than technical knowledge.

Understanding the growing importance of intangible skills, many business schools like the Yale School of Management introduced “Global Virtual Teams” to help foster relationships across different time zones and cultures. Stanford University offers a course on interpersonal dynamics, and many other universities and colleges are following suit.

How to begin?

As an organization, it is important to hire candidates with intangible skills that are most vital to your business. Organizations can start by identifying soft skills they want to focus on at two levels; one at organizational level and the other at the role level. Great candidates will provide the most impact to an organization when their personality matches the company culture and the role they are being hired for.

As a next step, before you begin the hiring process, determine which intangible traits are required for success within the role you’re looking to fill. For example, does the candidate need to be competitive, creative, a team builder or a natural leader; or does the candidate need to perform well under intense pressure and make strategic decisions.

Risk-taking, resourcefulness, resilience and creativity are intangible skills that gain importance in an uncertain environment. They form the backbone of the profile needed in strategic roles and HR. While you should look for soft skills when hiring a new candidate, it is equally important to train and upgrade your existing workforce in soft skills and similar traits. This requires a planned strategy and focused efforts of HR and the learning and development department in your organization.

Highlighted below are ways companies can better prepare for this shift in recruitment.

  • Putting employees in charge of their own learning curve– Encourage employees to be in charge of their own learning and development, while still providing them with the necessary support and opportunities. There is a shelf life of certain skills, which is why it’s important for employees to continuously learn new technical and soft skills.
  • Looking at learning through a consumer lens– A customer-first focus helps organizations determine what its employee learning should focus on. When employees know where and how they can apply learning, they are given a reason to continuously seek it out. While candidates with technical skills are readily available in the market, an organization may choose to instead focus on building intangible skill sets with new hires.
  • Focus on the modality of building a continuous learning process– Knowledge and learning can be delivered based on the requirements of a new project, also known as a reactive approach. However, another approach is the predictive approach, which is a learning process based on predicting where an industry is expected to go. A third approach is dynamic and agile.
  • Internal role movement– Internal mobility engages employees in learning on an ongoing basis, making it yet another way of building a continuous approach to workforce development. It encourages employees to add new skills by advancing their careers.

With the increasing application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the job market landscape is evolving. Both talent seekers and job seekers need to be aware of this shift. While AI and ML will continue to automate tasks that humans once did, they are both incapable of replacing soft skills. Hence the reason to invest in intangible skillsets, such as inventiveness, empathy and conflict resolution is, organizations understand that they can’t replicate these skills with technology and are looking for viable candidates to fill leadership positions and other crucial roles.

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