Soft skills are no joke. Judge for yourself. There’s simply no software that was crafted by a lone wolf with no social skills whatsoever inside his mom’s apartment. Although I see awkward programming geniuses from time to time, there’s still a strong dependency between teamwork and the final result. Even if you have the best architect, you still need programmers in your team to make it twice as effective.
Even Dr. House couldn’t cope by himself (because his social skills are obviously flawed), not to mention Steve Jobs who handled all social interactions for the entire team behind Apple.
Whether it’s fully-automated plants or a grocery store, the human factor is still the №1 determiner of whether your venture will flourish or not. So without further ado, let’s see why people behind making AI algorithms should also be the outgoing cogs of your well-oiled machine.
What to Consider
Each person has knowledge and abilities that can be loosely grouped by two terms: “hard skills” and “soft skills.” Long story short, professional expertise means hard skills, while personality traits are regarded as soft skills. As a company CEO, I was surprised to learn that some businesses hire the staff solely based on hard skills with close to no care about the soft ones. Although it makes some sense, I can’t recommend this policy. Don’t get me wrong — hard skills are crucial and you can’t disregard them, but, in my opinion, soft skills are on par with technical expertise.
But I’ve got to admit that nowadays hiring is more centered around the hard skills, and here’s why. The thing is that hard skills, like programming, have a straight pattern to master and, moreover, are measurable. You can get all the info regarding the subject on the Internet or pass university courses — they teach you how to start and make the studying process easier. You receive an easy-to-grasp system to become powerful in a preferred area and a variety of tools that it provides. So, if you have some difficulties, there’s always a mentor to help you out, and your friends can also provide some assistance. And after all the knack and wisdom are collected, you can hone your expertise by working on a real-life project. At every stage, your performance can be measured and assessed by a number of KPI factors: how neat your code is, which components you used, and, finally, whether you completed the assignment or not.
But when dealing with soft skills like communication, flexibility, punctuality, and countless other factors, the task becomes a more confusing affair (and more subjective). While your code uses the same syntax no matter what task you are working at, the way you interact with other living creatures can vary depending on each person. There are no objective standards of how you should talk to your partner, employee, or customer. Each situation is unique, and you get to decide which kind of behavior fits a particular person and how to adjust it over time.
The only feasible measure is whether you get the desired result, but unlike hard skill tests, you can’t get it in the span of an hour. Time is a crucial factor here, so use it wisely — don’t hesitate to ask your candidate about personal traits: how well they handle pressure and with other teammates; do they want to lead the pack; would they care about the clients; is overtime fine for them or not?
If there’s no polygraph around, then trust your experience, combine it with your intuition, the candidate’s hard skills, and add some logic: it’s obvious that an antisocial person isn’t a good match for a small startup where everyone is like a family member. Although it’s worth noting that this method isn’t failproof, professional liars are aplenty.
Why it Matters
Believe it or not, this factor is a crucial one for hiring a top-notch professional — according to 291 U.S. hiring managers, 58% of the open jobs are hard to fill due to the lack of soft skills. Also, a recent survey by the Wall Street Journal showed that soft skills were considered at least as valuable as hard skills by 92% of respondents, according to 900 executives who took part in it.
On the same note, in the technological field, soft skills hold the main value for companies to flourish. Even solar company salesmen don’t need to be technical geniuses or know how the panel works at a developer level. But if they can’t meet customer needs and show no signs of enthusiasm or empathy, that could pose a very big problem for the business.
Moreover, proactive and curious employees can also become valuable assets for your company to create a proper mood. These workers are often eager learners and innovators who tend to bring useful techniques, optimize workflow, or apply innovative solutions that were discovered in their spare time. Just make sure they don’t fix what’s not broken.
At the same time, software engineers are no exception: the usage of soft skills is a crucial asset here.
It’s highly unlikely that a socially awkward candidate will be a fine asset to your team, even detailed instructions in Trello can’t replace a live explanation from a team leader and cooperation with peers.
Depending on the company’s size, developers sometimes get to talk to investors or clients — what better way to know your product other than to ask its very creators. And it‘s not just limited by goals or ideas, the devs should also be able to showcase the product: customization, technical features, UI elements, etc.
Making short presentations for smaller startups is now a must, not to mention the daily meetings when the team works with Agile methodology. As more and more companies adopt this technique for deploying ready-to-use software in the short-term, you will need team members who are capable of expressing their thoughts on how they’ve made the project better and its future prospects.
Also, if you want to expose your product to the world, visiting conferences is simply impossible without a dev with decent soft skills. Certainly, it’s your marketing or sales representatives who will be the anchors, but if you cause a particular interest, there should always be a well-rounded dev who can present your product in detail and keep the crowd engaged.
Regardless of the industry, soft skills are now as important as hard ones when you build a dream team of developers. You should always encourage the candidates to tell more about themselves and how they view the world and people, not just their job duties. Therefore, unlike hard skills that are easily measured and assessed, personal traits need more orchestration, so keep in mind several factors:
- Team composition. You can’t have too many people with the same mental roles — they will simply get overlapped. It’s better to have a diverse set of characters where certain workers will be leaders, idea generators, motivators, or workhorses.
- Corporate culture mismatch. For example, some people just never deliver tasks on time, which may impede the workflow inside your team.
- Loyalty and integrity. These two are the universal perks — by having them, your candidate will probably inherit many other brilliant traits for the company’s ultimate success.
To wrap the things up: just like in every area of this life — communication is the key, so even if you need a worker who should only write the code overseas, hiring a sociopath is never a good idea. Although I believe that people can change, my experience surely tells me that it’s better to get a ready-to-work professional than to struggle making that person a well-rounded, outgoing member of a team.