Soft Skills? What Soft Skills?

January 18, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

I guess I take umbrage at the notion that personal attributes and EQ are generally referred to as ‘soft skills’.  The reality, however, is that we screen for IQ.  We rarely screen for EQ, or we do so only as an afterthought.  But I suggest that as a hiring manager you want your candidate to have both IQ and EQ.  As a candidate, you want to deliver both. It’s not an EITHER / OR proposition.  It’s BOTH / AND.

On one side of the interview table, when I coach an executive as a candidate for a position, or on the other side, when I coach a senior leadership team screening candidates to fill a key position, it strikes me that they primarily dwell on the IQ (by this I mean the cluster of education, skills and experience in a specific discipline and industry).  They relegate the EQ to a casual conversation, if at all.

I would dare anyone to say that determination, resourcefulness, tenacity, flexibility and high tolerance for ambiguity are soft skills.  Anyone who has had to learn to be more assertive, or become more collaborative, or more detailed, or more strategic would tell you that there is nothing soft or easy about learning those characteristics. They are as difficult – no, more difficult – to master than any “hard” skill, such as writing software or passing certified public accountant boards. Granted, EQ can be characterized as interpersonal skills, different from, say, clinical skills or engineering skills, but referring to EQ skills as soft creates a delusion that they are somehow less important, if not irrelevant, which is definitely counterproductive.

Some corporate recruiters will emphasize interpersonal skills, including leadership and teamwork. Alan Breznick, of Cornell University, asserts in the university’s Johnson School of Business Magazine that “such intrinsic qualities as leadership and teamwork are difficult if not impossible to teach on the job.” Recruiters must find a way to elicit EQ from the candidates through the interview.

Karin Ash, director of Cornell’s Johnson School Career Management Center, says, “Recruiters want candidates who can clearly articulate who they are, where they’re going, and who can persuade other people around them.”

Try this, Google-search this term: assertive.  Yahoo-search confident.  Bing-search collaborative.  Wikipedia-search diplomatic.  Okay, now you know what those things are.  But how difficult is it to acquire those traits – if you are lacking them?  Very.  Difficult.

Now Google-search: lean six sigma, or social media marketing, or petroleum refining.  You can become conversant on the most difficult technical topics if you spend enough time reading and researching.  But how do you go from aggressive to collaborative?  How do you go from arrogant to humble?  How do you go from compliant to competitive?  See my point?  There is nothing soft about acquiring EQ skills.

Your IQ?  You bring that along, almost from birth.   But your EQ?  Your EQ is something you work on to develop, to hone and finesse during your entire life.

And that, as they say, makes all the difference.

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