How Much Do “Soft Skills” Matter for Technical Hires?

The hunt for candidates with “soft skills” is a growing trend as more companies realize they need people who fit in with others. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, published in 2018, the call for soft skills in the U.S. will increase 26 percent between 2016 and 2030. Moreover, a survey from West Monroe Partners, a consultancy in Chicago, found that nearly all (98 percent) of human resources leaders say that soft skills are important for technology hires. Two-thirds say they have held back job offers from qualified technical applicants specifically because the candidate lacked soft skills.

These are astounding insights as creativity, initiative-taking, project management, and other social and emotional skills were rarely factored into the technology sector as it was assumed all you needed was someone who was just proficient at STEM skills like science, technology, engineering, and math.

However, soft skills will become more in demand over time as companies start deploying automation, robotics, AI, advanced analytics, and other new technologies that handle more of those duties.

Why are soft skills so important? Without them:

  • Tech employees cannot grow as leaders. This ultimately negatively affects the potential collaboration between the C-suite and tech employees.
  • Companies cannot innovate. Challenges communicating with IT can often negatively impact work. If employees cannot work alongside each other, innovation stalls.
  • Projects get delayed. Without proper project management or communication skills, employees are more likely to miss deadlines.

What Skills Do Companies Look For?

So which skills are important for technical jobs and why? Are some skills more or less important for certain roles? Here are just a few examples of soft skills that can be applied to almost any role.

  • A passion to grow. Technology is always evolving, so companies look for candidates who are passionate about evolving with it. That includes a desire to learn new skills, not just to enrich themselves, but to enrich the company. Companies seek candidates who see as growth as something that will help the company’s future success.
  • Excellent verbal and communication skills. These are essential to make a siloed position into one that integrates with all levels of the company. Data science jobs are notoriously technical, but if the person does not possess the skills to articulate complicated things with clarity to people who do not share their technical expertise, it can dismantle communication entirely. Companies look for people who know how to express themselves clearly and succinctly in emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations.
  • The ability to dive in. When working for a fast-paced company, there’s not always time for training; that’s why, on top of expertise, companies look for people who have the bandwidth for hitting the ground running. The ability to adapt to working with a new team and understanding new systems and cultures is essential to performing well in any job.
  • A good cultural fit. Employees are an important part of the engine that will make that culture run, so companies often look for people who will fit into their team. The same is true for any hire that is determined to change the culture. Candidates that are too aggressive in wanting to make the environment fit their needs might alienate long-term employees who have worked together to build a culture and a community. Many hiring managers may recognize these tendencies during an interview and perceive them as red flags.

How Do Companies Identify Soft Skills During the Hiring Process?

How might a hiring manager identify those candidates who hit the sweet spot between technical expertise and the right amount of soft skills? It often starts with the initial screening and carries forward through the interview process and tests.

An interviewer or recruiter may take note of a person’s ability to communicate clearly through their cover letter and resume. Have they done a good job in describing who they are, what they do, and how they do those things? If they can shine on paper, they are more likely to shine in person.  

Next, the face-to-face interview is an opportunity for candidates to provide more information on how they might perform on a team. The interviewer will often pay attention to eye contact, facial expression, vocal tone, and body language. Does the candidate seem awkward? Aggressive? Comfortable? Helpful? All of these qualities and more may come out during the interview.

Finally, the person doing the interview will often ask questions to draw more out of the candidate than simple inquiries about their skills. Behavioral questions such as “Tell me about the last time you helped out someone with less expertise than you” or “What impressed you the most or least about your last role?” are not uncommon. The person’s answer is meant to provide a better sense of how they think, whether or not they seek creative solutions to problems, or how they view their peers.


Companies seeking data scientists, IT professionals, and software programmers look for people with the best skills. At the same time, those skills will mean nothing if those candidates can’t adequately communicate, collaborate, or think critically. 

Soft skills can be developed through training and development, but it’s more beneficial, for both the company and the employee, if candidates who already possess them are identified first.

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