Automation, artificial intelligence and digital transformation mean the world of work is changing rapidly. Given the speed and scale of disruption that is taking place, what does this mean for people looking for employment?
We know from our work here at Prisoners of Conscience that as roles continue to evolve, those responsible for hiring are placing greater importance on transferable soft skills. They see them as assets that retain their value. This is why, in addition to our bursary fund which helps persecuted human rights defenders to requalify in the UK, we have also launched an employability panel that is designed to support the development of these important personal qualities.
Research backs this up. According to latest 2020 Salary Guide from the recruitment consultancy, Robert Half, 57% of hiring managers give more weight to soft skills when making a hiring decision.
Victoria Sprott, international talent director at Robert Half, confirms: “Having the right technical skills and qualifications is essential, but it’s your soft skills that will set you apart from other jobseekers.”
We wanted to know more about which soft skills were deemed important, so we asked leading recruiters for their views. They told us that although there will be some variations depending on the role and sector someone is applying to, generally speaking the following attributes are high in demand:
Proactivity – or what can also be described as “gumption” – was named by all the recruiters as a must.
“If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t wait to be told what to do, then it’s likely you’re ticking off one of the key attributes employers look for. Taking the initiative in work situations, such as leading a meeting or prioritising your to do list effectively, will show your boss that you’re able to work independently and unprompted”, says Laura Holden, Communications Executive at Reed Online Ltd.
Another sought-after skill is the ability to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.
“It’s important that you’re able to adapt quickly and remain resilient to any changes that might occur within your department, or even just your daily tasks. Whether this involves helping out colleagues in other parts of the business, or being able to prioritise your workload to accommodate a new project – having a ‘can-do’ attitude will definitely put you in good stead with new employers,” says Reed’s Holden.
The team at Charity Job agrees. Their spokesperson highlighted how when you work in the charity sector you can spend every day with some of society’s most vulnerable people, which can take “a certain sort of drive”. “More often than not, you’re working with limited resources and funding. You need to think creatively to bring in funds and be adaptable if those goals aren’t met,” they said.
An article about soft skills would not be worth its salt if it didn’t mention communication skills. Indeed, all of the recruiters we spoke to said that effective communication was essential for any type of job.
“Hiring managers value excellent verbal, non-verbal and written communication skills in candidates as it allows them to successfully convey important information, ideas and opinions to stakeholders at all levels of the business,” says Sprott at Robert Half, before adding how “effective communication skills can strengthen business relationships and improve productivity and teamwork.”
Brian Dwane, managing director at Broadstone Resourcing, concurred, emphasising how even in roles that have traditionally been seen as a support function, the ability to communicate is critical.
“Accountancy used to be about sitting in an office and dealing with spreadsheets, but these days many accountancy roles are going down the business partnering route, which is about driving the organisation forward, liaising with others, and explaining complex financial information in a way that everyone within the business will understand, particularly those with no finance experience,” he said.
4. Business sense
Business acumen is also a highly desired quality that employers look for in new recruits.
“Professionals with strong commercial awareness of the business environment, industry and market trends, who are able to recognise new opportunities and proactively leverage their insights to gain competitive advantage are sought after,” says Robert Half’s Sprott.
Just as the world of work is changing quickly, so too are people’s career motivations.
“With things such as the climate crisis and mental health at the forefront of our daily lives, we want more from our jobs than just a pay cheque — we want purpose and passion, and we want to leave a positive imprint for the generations that come after us”, says the Charity Job spokesperson, adding how this means that being able to demonstrate tact and sensitivity towards colleagues and customers can pay dividends.
Broadstone Resourcing’s Dwane agrees. “Empathy is vital. A business isn’t just the numbers, or the products or the sales targets. It’s crucial that all employees can see a business for what it is – its people – which means having empathy for those you work with.”
6. Mindset matters
Finally, businesses value a positive mindset. A person with the right mindset is seven times more valuable to their company than a regular employee, according to research by Reed.
“We get it – not everyone is a ‘glass half full’ kind of person – but being mindful of your wording, and trying to focus on the positives, will show any employer that you’re willing to look for the best outcome in situations,” confirms Reed Online’s Holden.
A positive mindset is certainly a quality that our bursary grantees demonstrate. The funding we provide allows these courageous.