The Essential Soft Skills that Get Engineers and Salespersons Hired

Posted on May 25, 2022

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Daniel Stein, PhDPower skills/Soft skillsQuality of Hire

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89% of mishires happen because of a mismatch in soft skills between the candidate and their new employer. Overall, behavioral traits (which includes soft skills but also more general aspects of how a person works, like being comfortable with ambiguity versus preferring rules and structure) are extremely important to a new hire’s success. If they don’t like to work the same way their new organization or team likes to work, they’ll struggle to do well no matter how talented they are. Many organizations recognize the importance of soft skills, even in technical roles like software engineers. 

But there are a lot of soft skills out there – which ones are most important? And can they be more specific than “teamwork” or “communication.” To help answer this question, I looked at Searchlight’s database of nearly 20,000 hiring decisions from over 150 organizations and analyzed the most in-demand soft skills for two sought-after roles at technology companies; software engineers and salespeople. Here’s what I found.

The Most In-Demand Soft Skills For Software Engineers

What soft skills distinguish the software engineers who received job offers versus the ones who did not receive job offers? Engineers that received job offers were rated higher on the following three soft skills in our database:

  1. Growth Mindset: Possess a love of learning and resilience.
  2. Proactiveness in Leaving Things Better than Found: Implements tools, processes, or code that make an outsized impact.
  3. Admits Mistakes and Shortcomings: Acknowledge failures even when it’s awkward or embarrassing. 

These three soft skills are about learning and challenging yourself — and leveraging this motivational force to make the product and the team better off. 

The Most In-Demand Soft Skills For Salespeople

What soft skills distinguish the salespeople who received job offers versus the salespeople who did not receive job offers? Salespeople — such as sales development representatives, account executives, and customer success team members — that received job offers were rated higher on the following three soft skills:

  1. Outcomes-Driven: Measures success against results.
  2. Decisive: Acts effectively and quickly. 
  3. Bias to Action: Acts even when the outcome is uncertain.

These three soft skills are about taking swift action to affect KPIs, whether it be sales quotas or the NPS. 

Bidirectional Fit and Measurement

I want to emphasize that these soft skills won’t necessarily be the most valuable ones in every workplace — successful hiring is about the bidirectional fit between the candidate and employer. Organizations should customize the behavioral traits that they look for while hiring based on their culture and current employee base. 

Recruiters and hiring teams know that soft skills are important, but the problem lies in measuring them accurately. Resumes, past work experiences, and technical interviews do a good job at assessing a candidate’s hard skills. Interviews can assess soft skills, but are also susceptible to many cognitive biases that can warp the hiring team’s impressions of the candidate. Reference checks produce higher-quality data on candidate’s soft skills, but the traditional process for checking references can move too slowly for some organizations (more about how to improve reference checks here). Improving the reference check process helps with measuring soft skills more accurately, and improving hiring as a result. 

Our Methodology

I extracted all positions that had “Engineer” in the job title for the software engineer analysis and all positions that had “Customer,” “Sales,” and “Account Executive” in the job title for the salesperson analysis. Because our clients can customize the soft skills to the job posting, I used a principal component analysis (PCA) to combine similar soft skills. To identify the most essential soft skills for engineering and sales, I compared applicants who received a job offer with applicants who did not receive a job offer. Applicants’ soft skills were rated by at least two references. 

Daniel Stein, PhD

People Data Scientist As a People Data Scientist at Searchlight, Dan combines subject matter expertise in organizational psychology with data science methods to uncover actionable people insights backed by science. Dan has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of California, Berkeley, and his research has been published in Harvard Business Review and Scientific American.

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