A second  recruiting article The Wall Street Journal published lately dealt with the increasing need to identify and hire those with “soft skills”. These are people who are clear communicators, skilled problem solvers,  those who get along with co-workers and work well in teams. Surveys of hiring managers by LinkedIn found this is both hard to determine in prospective employees but more and more critical in today’s organizations with overlapping roles and multiple work teams.

Recent business studies have concluded that soft skills are equal or more important than technical skills in the current workplace. And this is true, not only for senior roles, but for middle managers and often even lower level people in some roles or businesses.

The world has changed a lot! When I started in business, an “older” guy taught me about soft or people skills. He said, when you start out in any job, 90% of your job and success will be based on your technical skill and 10% on people skills. After five years, and a couple promotions, the mix is closer to 50-50. And when, and if, you reach a senior role, the people stuff (as he called it then) was 90% and technical only 10%. I would say that for my early years, I found this to be true. But I would also say that the people who rose quickest in organizations (including, in retrospect, myself) often were much more people focused and thus exhibited these so-called soft skills.

But now we get to the hard part. How do you develop these skills?

In today’s very high tech world of business, this is not easy. If you are locked onto a computer screen all day, you are not dealing with people. If you are doing video conferences with thirty people in six offices or posting your work onto group websites, you are not dealing with people. Instead most young people have to go out of their way, and probably on their own time, to connect with others in a one on one or small group way.

For me, starting out in public accounting was the key. We went to different client’s offices and had to “sell” ourselves to them so we could get our work done. And part of our work was seeing if the client’s team had made any mistakes! So you learned to sell yourself to then be able to do your job. Today many service businesses provide this same opportunity. Many inside and outside sales roles do, as well as retail and hospitality businesses .

But the best advice I can give young people on this subject is that You have to work at it yourself to develop these skills. Yes often firms (and even our Human Resource friends) may provide courses or programs to help. The long running Dale Carnegie speaking program has helped a number of people I know.

It takes time and individual work to develop your people skills but based on this article and a number of studies, it can be the key to your future in whatever organization you are in. Good luck!