Soft skills don’t add anything to your job descriptions except length. Yet they can have a negative impact on the diversity and quality of your candidate pools.
It’s very common for job description writers to include soft skills in the requirements section of their job descriptions. But it’s better to limit requirements to only those that are absolutely necessary and then save soft skills for the interviews.
Soft skills are things like ‘communication’ or ‘attention to detail’ or ‘problem-solving.’ While very common, they are unnecessary because most jobs require them by default. Highly qualified candidates are less likely to apply to positions with soft skills in the requirements section of the job description.
Writing great job descriptions isn’t easy, especially if you’re a hiring manager as opposed to an HR professional. Also, it doesn’t help that most of the job descriptions out there provide a bad example by including soft skills.
Job description writers often start with obvious requirements like a specific degree and minimum years of experience. After that, though, they run out of things to say and turn to soft skills.
Some soft skills appear so often on job descriptions that writers might think they’re required content. For example, ‘problem-solving’ is arguably a requirement for any position at any company. Yet it still appears in job descriptions across all industries and countries.
Once we think about the ‘problem-solving’ requirement more critically, however, we see how unnecessary it is. We have other ways to determine a candidate’s problem-solving abilities, including specifically tailored interview questions (e.g., “How would you address _____?”).
Additionally, soft skills can be hard to quantify across candidates. If they’re vague or too general, candidates (and also hiring teams) will ignore them. Instead, candidates will use the concrete requirements to gauge whether they qualify.
How soft skills confuse candidates
Candidates use the requirements section as a checklist for matching their skillset to the job. They typically don’t spend too much time mulling over your list, and they may take a pass if it contains vague or confusing soft skills. Or if it’s too long (i.e., a laundry list).
Some of this can be very nuanced, but ‘communication skills’ offers a great example. And it shows up across all companies and industries.
Does ‘communication skills’ mean the ability to work across teams and manage relationships well? Or comfort delivering presentations to large groups? Or the sales chops needed to turn cold calls into leads?
If there’s a specific communication need, such as making presentations, by all means include that in the requirements section. But only as a specific need, which will make the requirement clear to job seekers.
Without a special requirement, you can take communication skills out of the job description and, instead, assess that during interviews. Candidates don’t mind shorter job descriptions, so feel free to use the delete button on all your low-impact requirements.
When to address soft skills (during the interview process)
Removing soft skills from job descriptions doesn’t mean removing them from your recruiting efforts entirely. On the contrary, you have the interview process to discover candidates’ soft skills.
Many companies have robust, public-facing core values such as ‘teamwork,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘accountability.’ But these aren’t particularly compelling bullet points on a job description.
They are, however, important to convey to candidates, and the interview process offers a great time to do that. By engaging in a discussion of how company values relate directly to specific roles, you can get a sense of where candidates stand on those values. In fact, you can include their responses on interview scorecards or in the final hiring discussions.
3 pro tips
Here are three pro tips that should help you avoid using soft skills:
1) Turn soft skills that start with ‘Ability to’ into job responsibilities.
For instance, an office manager should be able to create a welcoming environment for all employees and visitors. Therefore, that becomes a job responsibility.
2) Avoid basic software requirements.
Job descriptions with basic requirements like ‘computer skills’ or ‘Microsoft Office’ attract fewer qualified candidates. Only list those that are actual requirements, and clarify the level of knowledge necessary.
If you’re hiring an accountant, for instance, Microsoft Excel is a likely requirement. But instead of listing ‘Excel,’ be specific about the experience level you need (i.e., ‘can write advanced macros’). This will help clarify the role for qualified candidates.
3) Show, don’t tell company culture.
Regardless of what you say about your company culture, candidates may learn more from the content included in or missing from your job descriptions.
Low-impact requirements, for one, are a red flag for candidates. They can signal a company culture that is lacking, too intense, or even unsupportive.
Also, too many soft skills can signal a bureaucratic or formal work environment. If that’s not true of your company, remove some from your job descriptions. Then incorporate a robust perks section that gives candidates a better window into your culture.
Ditch the soft skills
Soft skills aren’t necessary in job descriptions despite so many including them. In fact, job descriptions that include them attract fewer, less diverse qualified candidate pools.
Rather than including soft skills, try waiting until the interview process to bring them up. In the meantime, avoid basic software skills and tout your company culture with specifics. Also, turn ability-based requirements into job responsibilities while quantifying the requirements you do list.