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Can soft skills help you get a job?

By Matilde Rebori and Morten Melby

‘Soft’ values will be a major focus of the labor market by 2020. This was the conclusion of the World Economic Forumsmeeting held in Switzerland in 2016. Within the disruption created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is important to remember that it is humans that drive the technology, not the other way around.

It is likely that you had to take a ‘Calculus’ class at some point in your life, perhaps in high school, but have you ever attended an ‘Emotional Intelligence’ course at school? Probably not. This skill is however in the Top 10 ranking of the most demanded capabilities by employers in 2020.

Although employers highly seek hard skills, also soft skills, i.e. leadership, communication, and collaboration, top the companies’ ‘most-wanted’ skills this year. In fact, according to LinkedIn 57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills.

Changing needs of employers


Contrary to what you might think, good social skills are not only a requirement for lawyers and vocational counselors, but also for financial managers and computer scientists. So, forget the stereotypical image of the nerdy programmer who just quietly sits at his or hers desk quiet and does something smart with the computer. He or she actually needs to communicate, and hopefully in an effective way, with customers and colleagues.

Or think about the famous ‘Greed is Good’ speech from the movie Wall Street (1987), would it be the same were Gordon Gekko a poor communicator? I doubt it.


It is also worth noting that jobs which demand high social skills are also the fastest growing ones.

David Deming, professor at Harvard University, argues that over the last decades social skill task inputs grew by over 20 percent, more than double the growth of analytical (math) task inputs.

His research (see the graph below) shows that between 1980 and 2012 jobs requiring only or mostly mathematical skills have declined, especially because computers have substituted humans in those tasks.

On the other hand, workers who combine math and social skills are the ones who thrive the most in the job market and experienced an increase in employment share.



This gives us a new – and unexpected – perspective on understanding what organizations look for when they are hiring.

Increasing importance of social emotional skills


Traditional skills are not enough anymore. In fact, on top of those also cooperation, communication and problem-solving ability are becoming more and more requested. These competencies are developed through social emotional learning (internationally known as ‘SEL’). You’re now probably wondering what in the world ‘SEL’ is. Don’t despair, it is just a fancy word for a simple concept. CASEL, the world’s leading organization in supporting social and emotional learning in districts and schools, defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Thus, not only are social emotional competencies crucial for jobs which typically require strong interpersonal skills, i.e. child-care workers, but they are also important within many other fields of expertise; the engineering field, for instance.


Innovation Manager Hanne Shapiro from the Danish Technological Institute encourages engineers to think more as anthropologists. According to her, should also be good at working in virtual teams and understand and dialogue with customers. Even though these are not traditional skills among engineers.

Furthermore, a World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, provides an interesting insight on the ten skills employees will see as the most important in 2020, compared to 2015.

We can see also here SEL and social emotional skills play a key role and will increase their relevance:



In conclusion: surely you can develop soft skills ‘naturally’ during working life – it is never too late to learn something new -, but what if they were exactly the competencies which could get you the job you really wanted?

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