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According to a recent interview with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, the biggest skills gap in the U.S. these days is not coding – but soft skills. Soft skills (or human-skills or people-skills) are often overlooked by individuals, but certainly not by employers. Hiring managers and recruiters specifically call out interpersonal skills such as communication, collaboration and time management as skills they look for in candidates joining their teams.

 

If you’ve been following the Coach’s Corner blog series, you’re hopefully already benefiting from these weekly posts where coaches share their knowledge and practical advice on topics such as empathy, active listening, stress and change management. We’re continuing our focus on raising awareness of soft skills, and helping our SAP Community members increase their emotional intelligence so that we can build stronger relationships and stronger communities.

 

If staying relevant and putting your best-self out there is important to you, then you won’t want to miss our upcoming SAP Community Call on November 19, 2018. Two of SAP’s Senior Technical Recruiters will share knowledge of how soft skills impact hiring decisions, and reveal what they look for in terms of online presence and EQ of prospective candidates.

 

Register and join our upcoming SAP Community Call: The Importance of Soft Skills to Employers

Agenda:

  • Overview of Soft Skills and introduction to our speakers
  • Importance of digital presence
  • What recruiters looks for
  • Tips to improve LinkedIn profile
  • Most sought after soft skills (by recruiters and orgs)
  • How to develop these skills
  • Q&A

 

I can’t emphasize enough how unique this opportunity is to hear directly from recruiters, and specifically from SAP. Whether you care about how attractive you are to recruiters or how relevant your skills need to be in this change environment, this is a call you won’t want to miss!

 

Check out and register for upcoming SAP Community Calls.

 

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  1. Matthew Billingham

    A certain level of soft skills is desirable, but only as a complement to hard skills. I’d rather take on someone with weak soft skills but with strong hard skills than vice-versa. Do you really want to overlook someone who’s a genius at solving problems quickly and accurately, simply because they’re a bit socially inept – and possibly not able to become more adept?

    Individuals who are technically brilliant and also empathic, great communicators etc. are not so common. (I know this because I’ve not many people like me 😀 ).

    That’s why we have leaders of technical teams; so the general public and the clever people are kept apart.

    While we should encourage soft skills, and certainly when I was a manager this is what I did, my concern is that they can become overvalued, to the detriment of the technically able.

    Confidence tricksters have amazing soft skills. But you probably don’t want to hire them.

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    1. Jason Cao
      Post author

      Thank you for your comment Matthew Billingham! I agree that if I was a hiring manager, I would also be focused on the candidate’s ‘hard skills’ for the job…as a start.

      ‘Hard skills’ such as coding, IC design, or project management are qualifying and baseline skills we look for when we want to hire developers, chip designers, and project managers. What happens when I have 2 or even 10 candidates with seemingly brilliant minds, decades of experience, and an arms-length list of certifications to back up their qualification for the job? I look for other data points that help me build that trust-score. This is where soft-skills becomes the difference-maker. Whether or not we agree with LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner assertion that coding skill is a commodity these days, his point about individuals needing to improve our interpersonal skills should not come as a surprise either. Perhaps within this statement is a message that we’ve been too focused on hard skills and have forgotten about or should focus more on soft skills.

      My questions for the recruiters would include: hard skills can be tested, so how do hiring managers/orgs evaluate soft skills in candidates? What can candidates do to showcase their soft skills as differentiators…are there soft skills that even introverts can highlight in the hiring process?

      Too often we hear of managers burning out because they were promoted to lead a team they excelled in. Their struggle wasn’t the result of mis-matched personalities (ie. introversion vs. extroversion), rather it was a gap in expectations and proper training to effectively lead the teams (ie. soft skills). Fortunately, both hard skills and soft skills can be nurtured and learned.

      I was lucky early in my career to learn from a high-level exec at Unisys who shared a simple model of Attitude vs. Aptitude. Ideally we have folks on our team with high attitude and aptitude. Depending on your own tolerances, you might be able to work with team members who show low in one, and high on the other. I think we both agree that improving attitude can be more challenging than aptitude – this is where leaders like you have an opportunity to shine, by applying relationship-management skills to improve the well-being of these individuals as well as for the team. (And it’s obvious when individuals score low on both attitude and aptitude that we may have an insurmountable case.)

      It’s not easy to find work these days that will allow us to shut the door, and still be successful, without interacting with our clients, team members or managers. Even Norman Osborn needs to learn how to work with the Kingpin. 🙂

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      1. Matthew Billingham

        One technique I used when interviewing was to ask the candidate – without a chance to prepare –  to give a presentation on how they fitted into the organisational structure of their current employer (not naming names of course!).

        It was extraordinary how few people could do it well.

        The most useful course I ever did was a 3 days presentation skills workshop. Toastmasters International are also a really good way of getting used to public speaking (or so I’ve heard; I’m not a member).

         

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        1. Jason Cao
          Post author

          What an excellent question, Matthew! It’s a great way to see their communication skills in action, while hearing them describe where they think they fit. As a career coach in a large organization, I ask colleagues to describe their “purpose” – not what they do, or their current job responsibilities. This usually yields many meaningful reflections and conversations about how they intend to leave the world a better place. 🙂

          Speaking of Toastmasters, SAP Mentor Paul Hardy can probably shed some light into the impact Toastmasters has made to his own presentation and communication.

          Thanks,
          Jason

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          1. Paul Hardy

            It may not seem like it at first glance but Toastmasters is a 100% fit into the IT world. The reason behind this is the key to success in producing software is communication. It does not matter how good you code is, if it does the wrong thing because no-one could explain to you in a coherent manner what actually your code should be doing.

            Toastmasters is all about public speaking, and you might think of that as standing in front of a large group of people and giving a presentation (which the vast bulk of IT people do appaling, reading out the words of slides is a fine example, I still saw that at TechEd even a few weeks ago. Don;t put words on slides. Just don;t. A title is fine, but the more detail there is on your slide the less people will lsten to you. I use a title and a few pictures, and then people wonder how the pictures relate to the tiel, which i then expalin so i give them a reason to listen to me as opposed to a reason to not listen to me and read my slides instead).

            Standing up in front of a large group is one thing, but Toastmasters define public speaking as pretty much every time you open your mouth in public – the famous “elevator pitch” is a fine example.

            We have “table topics” where you are given a topic to speak about for 60 seconds, and the time you have to prepare is the time between being told what you will spake about and the tiem it takes you to walk to the podium, about 20 seconds if that.

            You then get evaluated on your performance. I did two videos at Barceloan Teched one where I was interviewed, one where I did the interview. I sent them both on to my Toastmasters group for evaluation.

            If you constantly make yourself a better communicator then your ability to function at work constantly improves as well.. This is not specific to IT but as I said failure of communication is a killer in the IT space,

            Note the programs in Toastmasters are not called “Competent Speaker” but rather “Competent Commincator” and “Competent Leader”. Whats the difference you ask? In Toastmasters you are trained in listenign as well as sapeking, on the ever popular grounds that we have two ears and one mouth….

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            1. Jason Cao
              Post author

              Thank you Paul Hardy! Somehow I knew you would chime in to share your knowledge and experience about Toastmasters. 🙂

              I love the tip on keeping the audience curious with the images, then weaving the images together for a complete story. Brilliant!

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    2. Jelena Perfiljeva

      Realistically, soft skills won’t get you in the door on their own. At least definitely not in IT. They can be a differentiator between equally able candidates but as far as hiring goes have no merit on their own. If you don’t have the right “keywords” on your resume no one is going to contact you.

      Not to downplay their importance in life in general (or rain on Jason’s blog 🙂 ) but as far as hiring I think one needs to be realistic about the value of their soft skills.

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      1. Jason Cao
        Post author

        Thank you Jelena Perfiljeva! I think your mention of keywords is an important job-searching tactic. First of all, employers need to be clear and deliberate with their job posting about the skills (hard or soft) they need from the candidate to be successful. Then the onus is on the candidate to help recruiters and hiring managers make the connection and build trust in their competence to do the job well.

        And its quite OK to share your perspective on the importance of soft skills – you can let it pour. 🙂 I think we agree that soft skills are an important differentiator and should not be overlooked. I place heavy emphasis on soft skills because it is so powerful for relationship building.

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        1. Jelena Perfiljeva

          It’s a good point, the employers really need to be more clear about the soft skills required. E.g. once I’ve overheard someone making a note after an interview: “X has a lot of [technical] experience but I just don’t see them working successfully with our users”. Well, “dealing with whiny users” wasn’t in the job description, so what do you expect?

           

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  2. Denis Konovalov

     

    So, socially inept/awkward people are in danger to loose the one area (tech) where their skills allowed them to be productive member of society…

    this is getting better and better — soon no one who doesn’t fit current pseudo-social agenda or standards will have no opportunity to earn living….

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    1. Jason Cao
      Post author

      Thank you for your comment Denis Konovalov!

      If you read this recent article from the World Economic Forum,  the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence will take away jobs as well as create new ones for us. I don’t believe that individuals who are socially awkward will lose their jobs or can’t find jobs if they don’t become social butterflies by tomorrow. 🙂

      I believe that if employers and those who seek employment want to stay two steps ahead it’s important to make learning and developing soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity and problem solving a forethought than an afterthought. The best part about these skills is that I don’t have to be an extroverted, charismatic networker to show their benefits.

      Our world is gaining greater understanding of differently-abled people in general. I’m proud to say that SAP has an established “Autism at Work” program that puts into practice our goal of creating an inclusive work environment, giving more opportunities for people on the autism-spectrum a chance to earn a living and fulfill their personal purpose.

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      1. Denis Konovalov

        I agree that more round education and teaching social skills is very important in a time when kids grow up in their phones and not on the streets.
        However, I also believe that when you apply for a job – your ability in the required professional skills should be deciding factor, not how social or ani-social you are or your skin color, gender or what religious preferences you have.

        If we start adding social skills as requirement (in a tech field) , we might as well add all others.

        And yes – great that you mentioned the ‘Autism at Work” program. I think that is a great example of not judging people by their social skills 😉

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        1. Jason Cao
          Post author

          Agreed Denis! Soft skills is much more than just social skills. In addition to things like problem solving, creativity and critical thinking, it also includes things such as leadership, time management, stress management, and conflict management. When we overlook soft skills such as time management for technical skills such as software development, it doesn’t matter how beautifully written the code is when it no longer has a use.

          (Time-management is very anti-social. At least that’s what my wife tells me when I’m too caught up with planning each day than enjoying our vacation. 😉 )

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          1. Denis Konovalov

            yes, there are no easy answers here 😉

            And it all will be a moot point soon as coding is the first place where AI will replace us.

            Not to mention rising oceans and resulting wars…..

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            1. Matthew Billingham

              I don’t believe it’s possible that AI as being developed will ever replace programmers. It’s far too general a problem.

              Big Blue might beat me at chess, or a neutral net identify images faster, or a clustering algorithm identify violets better than me… But they’re all hopeless at designing a lego porsche.

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    2. Matthew Billingham

      Indeed, that is my concern. And the autism initiative notwithstanding, there are plenty of people who are just not very good at soft skills who are not particularly on the autism spectrum. Obviously such people cannot usually rise to the levels were soft skills are paramount, but why shouldn’t someone who’s good at problem solving continue in that role for their entire working life?

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      1. Jason Cao
        Post author

        Yes, organization should support their employees by giving them the opportunity to develop and grow in the area and function they choose – whether it’s tackling tough problems or building dream teams.

        Sharing about SAP again because it’s most familiar to me, there are individual paths/tracks for those who want to manage teams, and those who want to stay as individual contributors. In other words, employees don’t need to be a people-manager in order to get promoted, have a salary-increase or get recognized for their higher level of expertise…there’s a track for them.

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      1. Jason Cao
        Post author

        I think working with people may be your hidden talent – and I’m not being sarcastic. It certainly doesn’t have to be sales, marketing or any other stereotypical extroverted, talkative roles. OK, will leave it at that because my goal is not to change anyone.

        I believe there is a potential in many people who already have strong empathy, compassion and curiosity to be great influencers and leaders.

        I’ve been doing some self-studies at night and came across this quote that I would like to share from Carl Rogers – “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

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  3. Matt Fraser

    I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) of hiring quite a few people over my career, even in my non-managerial role. Some of my best hires, including one who is sitting across the aisle in his cube from me right now as I write this, have been people who didn’t technically qualify for their jobs, but who had interesting enough resumes to warrant a call back, and who then proceeded to impress everyone during the interview, not with technical skills, but with attitude and aptitude.

    In other words, what I look for in hiring is someone who will fit in well with the team and the organization, and who has the technical aptitude to learn anything we put in front of them. That’s more important than already having the particular technical skill or certification. It’s much, much easier to teach someone how to administer a NetWeaver application server than it is to teach them how to be a go-getter and do their own research and on-the-job learning. It’s also much easier to teach them that technical skill (press this button, here, at this time, when you see this result….) than it is to teach them how to talk to the CIO about why he/she should invest in a particular upgrade or technology, etc.

    We have people who are technically competent, yet per the old cliche must be kept in a closet, out of sight of the public, and they are definitely contributors, or they wouldn’t still be with us. But that doesn’t have much place on my particular team, where interfacing with other business units is a key part of the job — even as an ABAP developer — and where translating the upset rant of a business user into a realistic tech spec and set of relative priorities can make or break a release.

    I took this to heart many years ago from the example of a small aerospace R&D company, a vendor to a much larger and more well-known one in that space, that had a staff of perhaps twenty engineers. The owner of the company never, ever wanted to lay someone off during a downturn — they were too small to afford the loss of a single person — so they agonized painstakingly over each and every hire. Every member of the team had a thumbs up or down say for each hire. And they prioritized fit with the team over technical skill, as that was the make-or-break differentiator when times got tough.

    Want to make it onto my team? Technical skills are important, but if your resume is a simple list of certifications and no indication of how those translate into real-world results, we’re not interested. You come off sounding more like a short-term contractor than a long-term team member. If your resume is full of spelling errors, likewise, you’re going to have a tough time with us, because we emphasize attention to detail as a critical component for success in our operations. If you can’t be bothered to spell-check your own resume, how careful will you be with configuring our mission-critical system?

    We don’t expect every candidate to be a Toastmaster like Paul Hardy , and we don’t expect every candidate to have a Nobel Prize in Literature. We do, however, expect every candidate to conduct themselves in a professional manner, and to make an effort to understand our business and where technology fits into it, and to have some idea of how their contribution can further the overall mission. It’s a regular occurrence here that business units will request things that make absolutely no sense, and it’s part of the job to evaluate that and to make suggestions when we see a better way to further the operation. Otherwise, if all we do is take a list of requirements, no matter how silly, and churn out a technical solution, then you might as well outsource us now, because we’re not adding value.

    Thank you, Jason, for your always-insightful posts.

    Cheers,
    Matt

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  4. Tarun Chhichhia

    In my Opinion lot of stereo typical thinking around one or the other, Both skills are trained. One might come naturally to some personality over other.

    I don’t buy the skills gap is soft skills. You should look up ” Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain. I have seen most introverted people or people who are conventionally considered to have low soft skills light up when they talk about something they love and are passionate about.

    Soft Skills can be easily acquired, it is like anything else a matter of training and desire. But people who lack or more so don’t feel they need it should not feel like it is a deficiency. Just be comfortable in your skin. There is a lot of people making noise without substance, tons of followers on social media does not mean success.

     

     

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