How much do soft skills matter?

Soft skills can make or break a team

Are you always unsure about decisions you make in hiring?

Do you struggle with hiring the right people for your team?

We’ve all been in a situation where we had to choose a candidate between the one with higher soft skills vs. the one with higher hard skills.

While hard skills can be gauged from their experience and whiteboard interview, soft skills are not always apparent and can affect the productivity of your entire team.

In this post, we will uncover the importance of soft skills in teamwork.

How exactly do soft skills play in software development?

What is soft skills anyway?

Soft skills can be defined as how someone works in a team, an interpersonal skill in relation to other people.

This is basically in contrast with how someone works alone in their own efficient way.

Soft skills seem overlooked in organizations where experience and book knowledge are the primary factors in making hiring decisions.

It puts us in comfort when we make data-driven hiring decisions because it also acts as a scapegoat when things don’t turn out right.

But shouldn’t we ensure overall team’s success rather than simply hiring a person based on their hard skills?

Why soft skills matter

When we factor in soft skills as an integral part of hiring decisions, we are doing our team a favor.

The last thing our team needs is a new team member whose skill levels are high but toxic to the team in many ways.

Even a person with low soft skills might come across as a likable person at first.

But once they are hired, they could slowly divide and toxicate the team work environment.

At that point, it doesn’t matter how much hard skills the person brings to the team.

How to distinguish good and bad soft skills

It is easy to mistake certain characteristics of a candidate as lack of soft skills, or worse, as excellent soft skills.

For example, some talk smoothly during an interview with confidence in their opinion.

They might impress us in contrast to other candidates who seem less confident and quiet during an interview process.

Could their confidence be a sign of dependable leader? Or is it simply just an obnoxious arrogance?

Could a quiet person speak up when they recognize a concern? Could they also demonstrate their listening skills during the interview process?

We must ask ourselves how the personality of candidates would affect our team in a day to day operation, as opposed to the best impression they craft during a short interview.

In the end, we are hiring for the success of the team rather than for the individual.

What to do during interview process

So what can we do during interviews to make sure soft skills of candidates are desirable for the team?

In many organizations, interviewers would ask candidates questions that could reveal their behavioral patterns under different circumstances.

How did you overcome disagreements in a team?

What kind of people do you not get along with?

These questions could uncover some red flags or at least something to watch out for.

The pitfall in such one-way assessment is that it relies on candidates’ self-awareness of what they would do in some hypothetical situations.

In an interview setting, even candidates who are honest in their response could overlook their self-awareness and give an answer that is not representative of reality.

So what’s more effective way to bring out their inner character of their soft skills?

The key is in asking candidates to bring interesting questions to ask about your organization.

Let them ask questions

Instead of holding on to our authority to ask candidates questions, we need to encourage candidates to ask us more questions.

For example, let candidates ask how your team would act under certain situations.

As you answer their questions, be sure to dig deeper into their intent of asking questions and if they are satisfied with your answer.

If a candidate shows any resentment towards how your team works in reality, then it could signal potential incompatibility.

Bonus thought: candidates who ask interesting questions are demonstrating higher intelligence that cannot be simply looked up on search engines.

Be honest with candidates

What’s important to remember is that we need to be honest with ourselves with candidates as well.

If we try to make ourselves appear as more idealistic then we are doing no service for either party involved at the end.

Imagine an interview where both the candidate and an employer respond to each other with idealistic responses.

Things all sounds good to both parties until the reality hits post-hiring.

Soft skills can make or break the team

In summary, soft skills can make or break your team.

When evaluating candidates, consider putting more weights on soft skills instead of just looking at hard skills.

During an interview, encourage candidates to freely ask you some difficult questions and answer them with honesty to save your team a trouble in the future.

While there is no magic formula to determine the right mix of soft and hard skill, you should remember if the candidate would mix well with your existing team.

I’m a front-end developer lead at Fresh Consulting. I write about influential technical leadership (The Pragmatic Question) and latest technology experiments.

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