Big Data Speaks Up for Soft Skills

Ask employers what they seek in new hires and “soft skills” rise to the top. Yes, it is a squishy buzz word but it covers a lot of what matters, including communication, teamwork, creativity and problem solving. For the new grads from our colleges, this is good news — they can show that they’ve got what today’s hiring managers want.

Don’t buy it? Start with the hard data. Sara Johnson, employer and alumni relations manager at Concordia College, has looked at full-time job postings from the last two years for new bachelor’s degree holders in our five-state area. Using TalentNeuron Recruit, a big-data tool that pulls together and analyzes job postings, Johnson’s search identified more than 390,000 postings in that period. She looked specifically at the skills required.

“When you look at the most listed skills, both hard and soft ones, almost all are soft skills,” she said. “These are really people skills. Employers are looking for a good quality candidate with problem solving abilities who can be creative, who can be analytical and who can take that information and articulate it.”

The top sought skill was oral and written communication. “That’s always number one. Looking at our data from job postings, we see demand for communications skills is two times more in demand than any other skill,” Johnson said. “It is about that ability to articulate ideas and information; it is extremely useful across all industries. If you dive in to what it means, it gets at expressing yourself in all sorts of ways.”

Ten of the top skills sought in new hires with bachelor’s degrees

# of postings that mentioned skill
Oral and written communications 148,238
Marketing 68,820
Detail-oriented 57,632
Problem solving 57,192
Integrity 43,938
Organizational skills 43,486
Creativity 40,049
Work independently 35,847
Self-starting / self-motivated 34,784
Team-oriented 33,721
Source: TalentNeuron Recruit

Data for period from May 31, 2015 to May 31, 2017 for full-time, entry-level positions for those with bachelor’s degrees in Minnesota and bordering states

Good news for grads

For college students who’ve been immersed in coursework and campus experiences and apprehensive about moving into the job market, this is a rare view into what employers are seeking. “For a student, they often don’t give themselves enough credit for those skill sets that they bring,” Johnson said. “So it is important to see the value of those skill sets — ones like integrity, working independently and working in a team.”

From Johnson’s perspective, students at Concordia College and Minnesota’s other private colleges have benefitted from educations focused on the liberal arts with opportunities for invaluable hands-on experiences, from internships to undergraduate research.

“The liberal arts colleges really have an advantage in helping students develop these high demand skill sets and preparing them for the workforce,” she said. “There’s always a transition — when you’re a new employee. These soft skills, they’re people skills and they give an advantage to liberal arts students, helping them be productive sooner. That’s a huge value to an employer, they’re a quick learner.”

And looking down the road, with the labor force expecting significant changes as more Baby Boomer retirements happen, the importance of these soft skills will only grow, Johnson predicts. With her analysis of the recent job postings for new college graduates, she also looked for where expectations are changing. The strongest increase was in management and leadership skills.

When employers hire new grads they worry about what soft skills are missing, as research has shown. Hiring managers were most concerned about a lack of critical thinking skills in recent grads. Next up was attention to detail and then communication. So as students apply for those first post-graduation positions, these data about the importance of soft skills can help them prepare. Johnson recommends students highlight these skills on their resumes and prepare to speak up during interviews about their experiences using these skills.

New graduates have what employers are seeking — now’s the time to be sure they let the decision makers know.

By John Manning

John Manning is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Minnesota Private Colleges Council, a partner of RealTime Talent.