As the New Year and dreams of a new job approach for many South Africans, hiring managers have revealed the top seven soft skills they look for on applications and during interviews. “Many graduates continue their struggle to find suitable employment, despite their achievements in the classroom. Often, they are perplexed by their inability to make it through the interview process, even though they seemingly comply with most if not all the requirements of the job,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.
Payne says that too often the problem is misdiagnosed, with these despondent jobseekers focusing entirely on external factors for their failure to launch, rather than doing the more difficult introspection required to determine what might be lacking from their CV or their interview skills.
The IIE’s careers centres focus on assisting and placing students after graduation, and a large focus of IIE curricula includes applying insights gained from these centres to make graduates job-ready. In a recent survey among some of SA’s top hiring managers, they revealed the 7 top soft skills they look for in new recruits. Payne says that applicants who repeatedly encounter a brick wall should check that they are not shooting themselves in the foot by paying attention only to their education and not to their personal brand holistically.
“A soft skill can be defined as a characteristic that is not learnt in the classroom but rather identified and then worked on by an individual,” she explains.
“Virtually all managers hiring graduates agree that the most important soft skills in their book are a positive work ethic, a good attitude, and the desire and receptiveness to learn and grow.
“It’s easy for employers to find people with hard skills – those taught at university or school or learnt on the job, such as how to operate machinery, how to draw up a balance sheet or how to program a computer.
“But Managers identified the most valuable employees as being those who can grow into a position and adapt and learn as the business changes.”
Payne says job applicants should study the following list of coveted soft skills, to see where they match up and where they need to do some more work:
- Flexibility – The ability to learn and participate in areas where you may not be proficient, but are comfortable attempting to learn and get involved
- Self-management – Candidates who are able to plan, organise and work responsibly while managing stress levels. The ability to remain calm and professional. The ability to restrain yourself from continuously accessing social media sites and to represent your own personal brand on the internet in a professional manner.
- Time management – The ability to meet deadlines and pace yourself so that you don’t have periods of inactivity and periods of chaos.
- Positive work ethic – The willingness to put in extra working hours when necessary, and be responsible with your sick leave and working hours. Graciously accepting feedback on the job you’re doing and applying the lessons learnt. This fosters professional growth.
- Willingness to be accountable – In order to progress and be promoted to more senior positions, you need to demonstrate that you are prepared to be accountable for your work output. Should anything go wrong, you will admit and correct the error and not blame it on someone else.
- Problem solving / creativity – These are critical when unexpected problems arise and you are required to be resourceful to solve the problem.
- Communication/team work – The ability to be socially adept and work comfortably and productively with a variety of people irrespective of gender, race or culture. To be able to listen, respond and interact within a team.
“Most importantly, make sure that you highlight your mastery of these skills during the interview process, and apply and grow them once you’ve landed the position,” says Payne.