SOFT SKILLS, HARD SKILLS & SMART JOBS
By Brian Antenbring, President
Dr. Seuss coined the term “nerd” back around 1950 and jockish lunkheads and James Dean wannabes supposedly began using the term to repress their socially-awkward, pocket-protected mental superiors. After that, it was a cliché that smart people with ‘hard’, technical skills tend to lack the other critical skillset that is so useful for getting along with their fellow humans. From the Nutty Professor to Peter Parker and today’s cast of oddballs on the Big Bang Theory, our pop culture just keeps on reinforcing this odd and (for the most part) untrue perception of technically skilled workers.
Along the many CTOs, engineers, coders, software project managers, financial wizards, SEO analytics experts and other technically skilled people I’ve been lucky enough to have known over the years, very few of them lacked what the recruitment sector today calls ‘soft skills’: EQ, the ability to listen and empathize, communicate effectively and more. To be sure, these people they weren’t all on the highest end of the spectrum for those skills, but among those who rose to the top, most already had these kinds of aptitudes before they ever took on higher responsibilities.
The problem for companies looking for skilled workers isn’t that there are too few technical workers with soft skills; the real problem is that there are fewer opportunities for these smart people in the tech sector to prove they’ve got it.
A programmer you know might be the most gregarious, collaborative, team-inspiring person you know outside of work – but at their office, assuming their company has some kind of peer review system in place, those social skills are likely not even measured. The metrics for a programmer are essentially writing error-free code that works as advertised – and everything else is superfluous.
The upshot is that for personable, technically-skilled workers to get the recognition they deserve from companies and recruiters, they often have to show those soft skills in indirect ways: extracurricular, off-the-clock projects and networking online and in person.
Companies need to stop selling their own people short. They need to institute more comprehensive employee reviews that include an EQ portion – and giving technically-gifted employees a chance to actually demonstrate what they’ve got. It won’t just make the job of recruiters easier in finding the top talent they can get – it will also help valued employees ultimately reach their full potential.
Is your company struggling to find employees with the right mix of hard and soft skills? Let us know about your challenges.