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How HR Should Evaluate Soft Skills on a Resume 

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No one wants to work on a project with a bad communicator, entrust a budget to a weak negotiator or promote an employee with a poor work ethic. Yet too often, hard skills take up more space than soft skills on resumes and in the job descriptions that prompt them. 

A survey conducted by LiveCareer using analytics from TIRO Communications found that the typical job listing included 17 hard skills and just five soft skills. At the same time, another recent survey, this one conducted by Business Roundtable, reported that 95 percent of employers find it difficult to attract applicants with valuable soft skills, including leadership, adaptability, integrity, industry knowledge and creativity. 

For entry-level hires, written communication, problem-solving, teamwork, initiative and leadership are among the most sought-after skills, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2019 Job Outlook survey. LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report found that 92 percent of employers value soft skills as much as or more than hard skills, a trend that is expected to continue with the growth of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), since qualities like integrity and emotional intelligence cannot be programmed. 

Relying on soft skills to determine hires can require a leap of faith since they are hard to assess accurately and HR personnel still tend to rely on hard-to-quantify and potentially culturally mitigated behaviors such as body language as indicators of soft skills. Ironically, some employers are countering these potential problems by using AI to assess candidates’ soft skills.

Relying on soft skills to determine hires can require a leap of faith since they are hard to assess accurately.

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The following tips are designed to help HR professionals better assess evidence of soft skills on a resume. 

  1. Craft a better job description 

Careful consideration of the soft skills that are valued within your organization and needed for the role should be part of the research process leading up to any job posting. As you craft the job ad, make sure that the soft skills you are looking for are clearly communicated in your job description. Once you begin assessing applications, determine whether the soft skills on candidates’ resumes track to these same skills. 

  1. Going beyond keywords 

HR professionals may need to be more adaptable themselves. According to the LiveCareer survey, jobs seekers often referred to “time management” when job descriptions stated a need for “multitasking” and described themselves as a “team player” when employers were looking for “teamwork.” Considering alternative phrasing, both as you program your applicant tracking system (ATS) and when you review application materials by hand, could broaden the applicant pool and increase your chance of finding qualified candidates. 

  1. An applicant’s work history tells a story

Because the workplace is undergoing historic levels of technical transformation, it can be easy to focus solely on technical skills when making hiring decisions. At the same time, changing technology itself necessitates certain soft skills, such as adaptability, curiosity, and versatility. The best place to look for evidence of these qualities is in an applicant’s work history. 

Do they tend to take risks? Have they been involved in startups or new divisions or projects? Have they taken on diverse roles or side projects? Or have they tended to remain in the same position, handling the same tasks? A job seeker’s work history can tell you a lot about their attitude toward risk if you look closely enough. 

  1. Problems faced and problems solved 

Some of the most effective resumes present narratives of problems faced by applicants and how they overcame them. Such accomplishment-focused anecdotes allow HR professionals to easily assess candidates’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills. However, most job seekers are unlikely to organize their resumes this way. You may want to employ online assessment software in the form of questionnaires, games or psychometrics to ascertain each applicant’s ability to solve problems and adapt to challenges. 

  1. Solid writing skills

Many recruiters use the writing quality of resumes and cover letters to gauge potential employees’ communication skills. A polished, well-written and cleanly designed resume and cover letter can indicate professionalism and attention to detail. Evidence of knowledge of your company in a cover letter can convey an applicant’s enthusiasm and degree of preparation. 

  1. Life outside of work 

Memberships in professional organizations demonstrate sincere interest and enthusiasm for one’s field. Volunteer activities can be evidence of dedication, drive or altruism. All of these factors can bring enormous benefits to the workplace as a growing number of employers cite qualities like compassion, interpersonal skills, listening and emotional intelligence as sought-after characteristics in their employees. 

  1. The value of veterans

Military experience tends to instill leadership, collaboration, and teambuilding skills. In addition, a tendency toward highly prized personal qualities like integrity and loyalty, along with monetary incentives, tax credits and, in the case of federal agencies, certain hiring mandates, are among the many reasons to hire veterans.

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