workplace soft skills

Image by Tom Kawila

5 Essential 2021 Workplace Soft Skills (And How to Recognize Them)

Yes, workplace soft skills still matter. In fact, amid our ever-changing “new normal,” the intangible qualities that focus on behavior, personal traits and cognitive capabilities are more in-demand than at any other time in the modern workplace. They are also more challenging to recognize.

According to Deloitte, 90% of organizations are redesigning roles and teams. Perhaps no surprise, traits like adaptability continue to be in high demand as businesses adjust their operations to embrace remote work and other hybrid workplace models. At the same time, many job seekers are looking to make career transitions. Along the way, they’ll leverage the transferable, people-centered capabilities they currently possess.

In other words, we’ll soon be looking at a perfect storm for soft skills. Companies will covet them while candidates market themselves and their mastered soft skills to the best employers.

So which workplace soft skills do employers require now? In our near-future of work, which soft skills will candidates need most to succeed?

Self-Management

The recent swing toward more autonomous working environments has changed everything. In the process, self-management has become one of the most in-demand — and marketable — soft skills. From everything to task ownership to time management, and self-motivation and the ability to set boundaries, this skill is a must-have in the workplace. A person who self-manages well also significantly reduces the risk of WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue.

Communication Skills

Good communication isn’t all about how we talk to others; it also involves active listening and the ability to keenly observe as well. Candidates must not only be articulate, but they must also be able to “see” beyond the spoken word and notice unproductive behaviors and patterns. Employees with expert communication abilities also tend to mitigate problems before they become a crisis and focus on collaborative solutions when they’re needed most. 

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) is the ability to gauge and manage your own emotions while building productive relationships. EQ influences how well employees interact with one another — especially in remote or hybrid working environments. EQ also helps us increase performance, manage stress and conflict, and show much-needed gratitude. In a world of work where much of our communication happens via one-dimensional, tone-deaf text rather than in-person conversations, EQ will remain a top workplace soft skill for some time. 

Empathy

At one time, we didn’t associate empathy with the workplace. However, since we are now invited into everyone’s homes every day via Zoom, empathy is among the most sought-after soft skills. Especially when combined with a high level of emotional intelligence, empathy helps us read people and situations. When an employee has mastered empathy as a soft skill, they better exhibit adaptability, find it easier to build trust and connect quicker with remote team members. 

Self-Awareness

The mother of all soft skills, self-awareness, allows us to identify and develop the skills we may be lacking. Those with self-awareness pay attention to how they show up in different situations, especially during digital communications (like all those Zoom meetings). They ask for and are interested in and open to feedback from colleagues and leaders. Most importantly, they’re interested in personal and professional growth, achievement and contribution levels. 

How to Recognize These Five Workplace Soft Skills in Candidates

Candidates may not always be aware of their own soft skills. Or, especially during a virtual interview, they may not know how to articulate them). But savvy hiring teams can learn a lot during the application and interview process — virtual or traditional. 

For example, when a candidate completes an assigned, interview-related task on time and conveys their accomplishment to the recruiter, that’s a sign they have mastered self-management and communication skills. Similarly, candidates who give their former teammates credit while understanding how difficult it can be to remain productive during the pandemic display emotional intelligence and empathy. And those who display a passion for growth within a given role and as a member of a team — while understanding how they’ll need to adapt to fit into this new role — demonstrate acute self-awareness.

Want to truly assess mastery of the soft skills most important to your team or company? Be sure to leverage the many behavioral and situational tools available. 

For example, ask candidates to tell stories about how they handled various scenarios. Of course, don’t just rely on the candidate’s ability to serve as a storyteller. So ask the candidate’s references for insights on their workplace soft skills. For example, ask the reference to describe how the candidate handled specific situations involving stress and deadline-related pressure. To keep the conversation balanced, ask how they successfully rose to challenges and met opportunities to collaborate or lead.

Leverage Available Digital Resources

There is no doubt: Emerging technologies have helped us thrive during the pandemic. So why not take advantage of the many digital tools that have been developed and fine-tuned during the pandemic to better assess soft skills in candidates:

  • Video-based interview platforms that capture a candidates’ emotional nuances. We’ve found that reviewing videos after the initial discussion can reveal even more than noticed during the first couple rounds of interviews. Specifically, that review can provide hints that a candidate hasn’t quite mastered a specific soft skill. 
  • Virtual reality (VR) assessments can immerse candidates in a simulated world of the job and working conditions. These VR platforms help crystallize an excellent candidate experience. They also have tremendous recruiting advantages; some have increased work efficiency in industrial settings by 60%.

Recognizing Workplace Soft Skills: A Soft Skill of Its Own

A quick look at an application, resume, and LinkedIn profile will tell you most of what you need to know on the technical and professional side of the hiring process. We’ve all gotten pretty good at that side of the equation.

But screening for these five workplace soft skills is a skill all unto itself. By taking the time to master this skill, however — and by learning how to recognize the most in-demand soft skills for 2021 — you’ll help secure the best possible candidates for your company.