Soft Skills: the Employment Bridge

Generally, when graduate students apply for a job, they presume they will get accepted due to their technical skills and academic background. Yet several surveys confirmed the existence of a skill gap in employability, and graduates don’t meet employers’ expectations. Unfortunately, most of the vacant positions never get filled because of soft skills shortage, such as punctuality, precision, professionalism, etc. In other words, in the view of employers, the skill of communicating, problem-solving, and strategic thinking are the rarest skills among candidates. Employers believe teaching methods should be revised to insert soft skills in the program and prepare the oriented and confident student for the business.

Despite the general belief among academics that technical skills are sufficient for employment, employers put this factor at the second to last priority in their hiring checklist. So what makes a candidate suitable for a job position?

Trends toward soft skills

During the past 30 years, several terms were common to represent such skills and competencies. WHO recommended Life Skills in 1993 as a general term to distinguish these required skills from technical skills. Transversal skills, transferable skills, 21st-century skills, and soft skills are the other alternative terms. To have better insight over the most relevant word, we looked at the worldwide google web search data. The results show the trends toward soft skills have increased since 2016. Although life skill is still the most popular term in this area, the trend toward soft skill has surpassed life skill during the last two years.

World wide web search of the term “soft skills” and its alternative.

Soft Skills: employers’ top priority

The below list is the essential qualities that define employability. Although it is necessary to understand, developing these skills is for everyday life.

  • verbal communication
  • team working
  • making decisions and problem solving
  • planning and organization
  • information processing
  • data analysis
  • technical knowledge
  • computer software use
  • report writing
  • ability to influence

Each employee should be aware of his/her required qualifications and how to learn and develop these qualities. Most of the listed competencies are not directly related to a particular job, task, academic discipline, or area of knowledge, but they are useful in a wide variety of situations. In other words, these skills ensure the active participation of citizens in society and the economy.

Social Identity and its associated soft skills

Before learning and developing soft skills, one needs to be aware of his/her social identity. Naturally, one needs to fit himself/herself in a group based on these identities. But it is essential to understand that the identity is not static, and it can change and develop over time. The main three components of identity are “Given identity”, “Chosen identity”, and “self-identity”. Age and gender are “Given identity”, marital status, academic background, and working experience are the “Chosen identity”. And finally, traits, behaviors, beliefs, values, and skills are self-identity. Identifying social position will lead to self-awareness, self-management, communication, empathy, and fair treatment.

The most important soft skill is Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is one’s ability to perceive and express emotions clearly and use them positively. EI is the ability to manage emotions in social interactions to enhance effectiveness. EI acts as a core factor in social interaction, especially in the workplace integrity over emotions can improve employee-employer relations and upgrade productivity and efficiency as a result.

The critical role of soft skills in employee retention

Onboarding phase

Recent studies showed that nearly one-third of new hires employees are actively looking for a new job. What’s more, 23% of the newcomers will quit their job before their first anniversary. So, inserting a phase between “Recruitment & Selection” and “Job Performance” seems crucial. This additional phase is onboarding. During this phase, the employee has the chance to express and define himself/herself within the organization and obtain a balance between life and work responsibilities. During the time of organizational entry, the new hires need enough space and time to understand employment scopes and assess whether they are suitable for that ambiance or not.


During the onboarding phase, the employee has to find the answers to questions like “Do I fit in this organization? Where’s my place in there?” This process is sense-making. During sense-making, the employee starts to search and gather information about daily tasks and organizational objectives in addition to building relationships with their colleagues and supervisors. A good start has a long-term impact on employees’ professional and personal life.

Organizational socialization

Organization socialization is an alternative term for the onboarding phase. It refers to the process of transforming employees. During this process, the employee will learn job-related skills, pass training programs on how to complete the tasks, and develop relationships to achieve social integration. Organizations can socialize their newcomers through different methods, including Human Resource practices, orientation programs, and training. For instance, employers can directly teach socialization to the employees or let them understand it by gaining by-products. Also, the organization can define a role model from its experienced employers or assign a supervisor to feedback on employees’ job performance. The organization should choose this role model/ supervisor meticulously since he/she will define the whole organization in the eyes of the newcomer.


After finishing the onboarding phase, the organization should have a predefined strategy for training and developing the employee’s soft and hard skills. But the managers should be aware of their employees’ capabilities and their optimum level of functioning. Managers should figure out whether their team members are good at executive skills or engaging skills. Whether they are capable of thinking, designing, and producing a new thing or whether they can collaborate and effectively share responsibilities to enhance team engagement, employers should organize their career plans considering their natural conditions and capabilities.

Amongst all the soft skills, flexibility, and understanding culture are the most fundamental and crucial skills within an enterprise. In the time of changing policies and strategies, both employers and employees should be flexible enough to adapt quickly to the new situation. In an international company understanding culture is a required skill to facilitate effective interrelations between the company and its foreign clients and even between international colleagues.

The importance of soft skills

As can be inferred, the organization’s performance is highly dependent on soft skills’ execution. According to research, the failure of the newly hired employees and employers are mainly due to soft skills rather than technical ones. Statistical reports showed that only 11% of job failures are due to a lack of technical skills. It is considerable to mention that the most scarce soft skills (coachability and Emotional Intelligence) have the highest impact on the turnover rate. Soft skills integration plays a crucial role in employee retention. And since replacing employees will cost organizations too much money and time, they should converge their HR practices towards improving soft skills.

Cimatti, Barbara. “Definition, development, assessment of soft skills, and their role for the quality of organizations and enterprises.” International Journal for quality research 10.1 (2016).

By: Yassaman Djafari, October 2020