Soft Skills in High Demand

by Peg Bogema

Like most companies, we regularly engage in dialog with our customers about services we might be able to provide them.

Put differently, we engage in dialog to find out what our customers’ pain points are. Because solving customers’ pain points is what they hire us for.

Often companies know what their customers need. Sometimes they know what their customers need before their customers even know they need it!

But there are times when you conduct a needs survey, thinking you have a good handle on what the results will be, and you learn something completely unexpected.

Such was the case for Stout Systems last year. Our routine needs surveying revealed an unexpected pain point.

Technology companies feel confident assessing candidates’ technical skills—but not their soft skills.

Hiring a technically qualified candidate only to have disappointments and friction in soft skill areas often led to the candidate quitting or being fired. And a failed hire is costly in many ways.

We conducted a follow-up survey to learn more about the soft skills that technology companies value.

Our survey targeted Hiring Managers, HR Managers and other stakeholders in a hiring decision.

Communication Skills

It will probably come as no surprise that strong communication skills was mentioned by 87% of the respondents.

In a field that is full of non-native English speakers, you might jump to the conclusion that “strong communication skills” is a reference to comprehension and comprehensibility. It’s not.

Here are some comments from respondents clarifying what they meant by strong communication skills:

  • Asks good questions
  • Proactive about asking questions
  • Listens
  • Routinely reporting status to their supervisor
  • Explain complicated things in a simple way
  • Not afraid to speak up in a meeting
  • Check in actively at reasonable intervals without needing to be reached out to

Working remotely has magnified the importance of communication skills in technical workers. When the team gathers together in person frequently, whether formally or ad hoc in the lunch room, communication naturally takes place. When the team isn’t co-located, it takes more effort and more intention to bring about effective communication.

Communication skill was not the most valued soft skill, however.

Problem Solving Aptitude

Problem solving aptitude was the most coveted soft skill—with 97% of our survey respondents citing it as important. Technology companies exist to solve problems, so this probably comes as no surprise.

Here are some comments from respondents clarifying what they meant by problem solving capabilities:

  • Critical thinking skills—ability to problem solve systematically
  • Sometimes we have to create new ideas for solutions that don’t exist yet or are outside of the capability of existing tools
  • Interested in what they're doing and actually want to solve the problem they're working on
  • Curious and excited to solve a problem and not intimidated by things they don't know how to do

There were a total of six soft skills that were mentioned by 50% of the respondents or more. If you’re interested, you can grab a coup of the survey results here.

As companies perfect their ability to vet the technical capabilities of candidates, the focus will undoubtedly switch over to finding proven ways to assess soft skills. I would love to know what your company has tried—and how well it predicted a candidate’s soft skill strengths and weaknesses.

This is a technical/business article catered to developers, hiring/project managers, and other technical staff looking to improve their skills. Sign up to receive our articles in your email inbox.

If you're looking for a job in the tech industry, visit our job board to see if you qualify for some of our positions. If you're looking to hire technical talent for your company, please contact us.

Stout Systems is the software consulting and staffing company Fueled by the Most Powerful Technology Available: Human Intelligence®. We were founded in 1993 and are based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We have clients across the U.S. in domains including engineering, scientific, manufacturing, education, marketing, entertainment, small business and robotics. We provide expert level software, Web and embedded systems development consulting and staffing services along with direct-hire technical recruiting and placements.

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