The wish list among employers has been revised – dramatically.  Last year, hiring managers across the country were on the hunt primarily for IT skills.  Then, as now, security cleared job seekers had an advantage.  But in the current climate, employers are beginning to look for what they commonly refer to as “soft skills.”

Soft skills are more about people than professions.  They include personal traits and characteristics like integrity, optimism, a sense of humor, good manners, empathy, even common sense.  But those aren’t the words hiring managers use when they put them down on the list of job descriptions.  Instead, employers are selecting their words carefully and professionally, in the hope they’ll land good employees who are also good people.

“Soft skills are the attributes that managers look for when evaluating an applicant’s interpersonal skills and likeability,” said Margaret Rouse, Director of the IT encyclopedia,, one of TechTarget’s network of IT web sites.  “In a job description, you’ll see them being asked for in sentences like, ‘The successful applicant must possess strong organizational and team-building skills, be able to communicate clearly, work with a geographically distributed staff and negotiate/resolve conflict efficiently.’”

Rouse explained that the search for soft skills continues once an applicant is selected for interviews.

“In an interview, they’ll be tucked inside questions like, ‘Can you describe a situation in which you were asked to solve a problem without having all the information you needed?’ or ‘What was the best idea you ever failed to sell?’”

Last year’s job ads were all about the hard skills, with listings that included experience with Java, SAP professionals, software development and engineering, network engineering and network administration.  Those skills remain highly valued.  But in addition to these requirements, take a look at some of the most commonly required skills in current job listings:

  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Self-motivated
  • Good customer service
  • Able to work independently and in teams
  • Strong work ethic
  • Interpersonal skills

Most of the above are listed in conjunction with IT skills, but they’re listed for a reason.  More and more, hiring managers want some assurances that a potential employee will perform well, get along with others and contribute to morale as well as profit margins.

“In some managerial circles, the label ‘soft skills’ is frowned upon, simply because the word ‘soft’ implies ‘weak,’” said Rouse.  “Instead you might hear a manager talk about an applicant’s emotional IQ, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or cultural fit.  But whatever label an organization chooses to use, an applicant’s demonstrated ability to work well with others is more important than many job seekers realize. It’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get (and keep) the job.”

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Tranette Ledford is a writer and owner of Ledford, LLC, which provides writing, editorial and public relations consulting for defense, military and private sector businesses. You can contact her at: