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  • Writer's pictureRaffaella Sadun

How to recruit with softer skills in mind

"Soft skills matter to employers. Writing in the Harvard Business Review last year, Raffaella Sadun of Harvard Business School and her co-authors analysed almost 5,000 job descriptions that Russell Reynolds, a headhunter, had developed for a variety of c-suite roles between 2000 and 2017. Their work showed that companies have shifted away from emphasising financial and operational skills towards social skills—an ability to listen, reflect, communicate and empathise. Other research has reached similar conclusions about jobs lower down the pay scale: being able to work well with people is seen not as some fluffy bonus but as a vital attribute.


The trouble is that soft skills are hard to measure. Worse still, the conventional process for recruiting people is often better at picking up on other qualities. The early phases of recruitment focus on filtering candidates based on their experiences and hard skills, since these are the criteria that are easiest to assess at a distance. Putting the words “team player” on a cover letter or a cv is proof of nothing save unoriginality. Smiling a lot at a camera for a taped video message demonstrates mainly that you can smile a lot at a camera. Self-reported empathy questionnaires sometimes seem to be testing for species-level traits (if you agree that “In emergency situations I feel apprehensive and ill at ease”, many congratulations: you are a human)."


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