If you’re looking to set yourself apart from other candidates during your job hunt in 2021, your degrees, certifications and technical skills may not be enough. With most companies continuing to operate in a remote work environment, the soft skills hiring managers now seek have undoubtedly changed. Candidates tend to focus solely on their hard skills, otherwise known as technical skills, and their relevant work experience; however, studies show that your soft skills are just as essential and play a critical role in landing you the job. According to a survey conducted by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 97% of employers surveyed said that soft skills were either as important or more important than hard skills. However, 46% of new employees fail within 18 months, and of them, 89% is due to a lack of soft skills. 

What are soft skills? 

Soft skills are broadly classified as a combination of personality traits, behaviours, and social attitudes that allow people to communicate effectively, collaborate, and successfully manage conflict. Unlike “hard” skills, which often describe a candidate’s technical abilities, soft skills include any skills developed beyond your technical competencies and intellectual knowledge.

While there are an abundance of soft skills worth noting, here are the top 7 that hiring managers are looking for in 2021:

1. Adaptability 

Although we faced unprecedented circumstances in 2020 due to COVID-19, change, whether in the workplace or our personal lives, is inevitable. Reflect on how jobs have changed in the past year alone and will continue to do so throughout 2021. The typical workplace environment transformed from an office to an entirely remote work environment. Video conferencing has now become the default method of communication and collaborating with staff or meeting clients for the first time via video is the new norm. These aspects have required the workforce to adapt to their new environment and make the necessary changes. With adaptability at the forefront of our lives and key skills employers are looking for, be prepared to answer questions relating to how change affects you and your productivity at work.

2. Communication

Now so more than ever, effective communication is one of the most critical soft skills a candidate can possess. Able communicators can adjust their tone and style according to their audience, comprehend and act efficiently on instructions, and explain complex issues to colleagues and clients alike. In addition, an often forgotten, a key component of strong communication skills is the ability to listen. Whether you are dealing with a customer or working with your colleagues, good listening skills will help you learn and respond correctly to the circumstance you have been presented with.

3. Time Management 

Many employers were forced to take a leap of faith with their employees moving to a partial or fully remote work environment in 2020. With lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, school closures, and childcare center shutdowns, the typical 9 to 5 quickly became difficult to manage and employees were forced to navigate a flexible schedule and face the challenge of time management head-on. In 2021, employers will place much more importance on seeking individuals who can adequately manage their time to complete tasks efficiently and effectively without the natural structure of an office environment to support them. When a potential job opportunity arises, read through the job description to see if the project management tools used by the organization are mentioned. If so, familiarize yourself with these tools and demonstrate your ability and understanding of the software to stand out against your competition. 

4. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others. Individuals with strong emotional intelligence are able to think empathetically about the people around them and positively contribute to the interpersonal relationships that develop in the workplace. With  71% of employers valuing emotional intelligence over IQ, and 75% more likely to promote an employee with higher emotional intelligence over someone with a higher IQ, the correlation between emotional intelligence and a successful employee is clear. During an interview, display your emotional intelligence by practicing active listening, genuinely showing your emotions, ask questions about company culture, and discussing your growth. 

5. Active Listening 

Clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon coined the term “active listening” as a key communication skill in 1962. He describes it as a method of paying close attention to the speaker, comprehending their speech, retaining it, and then providing a thoughtful response. As remote work remains at the forefront of our reality, it’s relatively easy to become disengaged from continuous virtual communication methods. Practising active listening means focusing on what someone says as opposed to the literal meaning of each word. According to Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist from Brown University, “Listening is a skill we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distractions and information overload.” By incorporating active listening into the workplace, your mood and productivity will improve, as will your relationships with colleagues. 

6. Growth Mindset 

Individuals who thrive on challenges and recognize failure as an opportunity for growth tend to lead more resilient and successful careers. In the beginning stages of the pandemic, those with a growth mindset were able to shift their thinking and found new ways of propelling themselves forward amidst the chaos. In 2021, hiring managers will be searching for candidates who express interest in developing their skills, take a challenge head-on, and view failure as an opportunity to learn. 

To demonstrate your growth mindset in an interview setting, prepare fully beforehand, discuss how you have overcome challenges, highlight your commitment to enhancing your skills, and showcase how you set goals and are motivated to reach them.

7. Collaboration

As employers continue to place more importance on optimizing their team’s effectiveness rather than just individual performance, identifying candidates who know how to collaborate with others is fast becoming one of the most important soft skills a candidate can bring to the hiring table.

Think about situations both personally and professionally that have demonstrated your ability to collaborate and be prepared to discuss them during your interview. Outlining specific examples of how you operate within a larger team will inform the hiring manager of your ability to delegate tasks, manage conflict, take accountability, and recognize the skills and achievements of others. 

These soft skills are just a few of many to take note of while preparing for your next job opportunity or interview. Keep in mind that while some of us may naturally develop successful soft skills over time, others may need more assistance or training to fine-tune them. If you’re looking to evaluate or improve your soft skills, try taking an online course and don’t be afraid to ask your superiors how you can improve. Whether you’re looking to enhance your skills or searching for a new career, LRO Staffing can help! We’re here to open doors to opportunities and guide you through the job search process – from the initial interview to the signed contract or job offer.

Peter Heuthorst

Author Peter Heuthorst

Leveraging his previous staffing expertise, Peter joined LRO in order to help advance business development efforts within the realm of IT & Engineering. Recruitment savvy and passionate about networking, Peter plans on making a long career in the industry and loves learning about new technologies.

More posts by Peter Heuthorst