Are soft skills what make things work at work?


  • On the job site, soft skills may be even more important than hard skills.
  • It’s easier to train for hard skills than soft skills.
  • There are ways to check for soft skills during interviews.

You might think that your only concern regarding employee performance is that they know their stuff. New studies suggest that soft skills, like how well one is able to relate to other employees and communicate, are even more important.

McDonald’s recently released a study showing that soft skills are vital to performance in the workplace. Teamwork, the ability to listen well, and a positive attitude were found to be vital.

Google came to the same conclusion about soft skills with a similar study. That survey found that attributes like being a good coach, having empathy, and problem-solving were important employee attributes.

Benefits of soft skills on the job site

If this all sounds a little too “touchy-feely” for the job site, consider this. Of course, you want team members to be skilled at using the tools of the trade, like hammers and backhoes. Yet, you also want those same employees to communicate effectively when things go sideways on the job.

“We’ve found great success going outside the ‘norm’ by hiring people with excellent soft skills and then teaching them the industry of remodeling and construction. Some of our best employees have less than two years of construction experience,” says Scott Julian, director of operations for Lewis Builders, Inc. “I think it’s more difficult to train for soft skills than hard skills.”

You want team members to be skilled at using tools like hammers and backhoes. Yet you also want them to be able to communicate effectively.

“It’s been said that while technical skills will get you hired, the lack of soft skills will get you fired,” adds Darrel Yashinsky, president and founder of the Pinnacle Contractor Group, which has provided consulting services to the construction industry for 20 years.

“I always ask the crew and management what qualities they’re looking for in co-workers and employees. Their answers are always primarily soft skills,” says Yashinsky. “Top answers include being able to communicate and work as a team player, punctuality, as well as being respectful, loyal, dependable, and nice.”

Check for Soft Skills When Interviewing

After you’ve determined that your potential hire has the necessary hard skills to complete the job, ask questions meant to pull out soft skills, such as:

  1. Tell about a challenging time on the job and your reaction to the situation.
  2. What is your first reaction when you run across a delay or a problem on the job site? What steps do you take to determine the solution? (Hint: You’re looking for more than immediately handing the problem over to the foreman.)
  3. Tell about a time when you solved a problem working as a group at any job.
  4. How did you go about asking for help on the job?
  5. How would you describe your behavior while on the job?

During the interview, also look for signs of these attributes:

  • Drive, determination, and motivation. The interviewee should clearly be willing to do what it takes to succeed for the betterment of the team as a whole.
  • Self-awareness. The potential hire should be well aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses.
  • Accountability. An interviewee shouldn’t always be blaming everyone and everything else for mistakes.
  • Positive and authentic. Is the potential employee truly upbeat?
  • Empathetic. Employees who listen to others on the job site have empathy. It shows in how they describe their former coworkers and employers.

How to Develop Soft Skills in Existing Employees

It might not be an easy task, but according to Tammy Lewis, chief administrative officer at Lewis Builders, developing soft skills in current employees can be done.

“To help foster soft skills like teamwork, unconditional support, and communication, we held our first annual company picnic this year. We invited the employees along with their families,” says Lewis. “There were various competitions, including organized team-games like tug-of-war, potato-sack races, and a water-balloon contest.”

The company gave out raffle tickets to winners and then did drawings and gave away substantial prizes such as a large-screen TV, and cash.

“We saw more connection, laughter, and teamwork that day that directly translated to better cooperation, teamwork, and communication on job sites,” says Lewis. “It was a small investment for a big payoff.”

Sign up. Stay fueled.