• Lucas Wilegoda, Stefan van Tulder

Top soft skills you should look for when hiring!

For the average business, the estimated cost of creating a toxic work environment sits at around 90,000 dollars per bad hire, as estimated by Deloitte (2017) in a study carried out in Australia.

Most HR departments know that selecting people with high cognitive abilities is no guarantee of hiring the right employees for your organization.

The working office is a much more complex environment, one in which team dynamics and interpersonal skills are often topping the list of performance drivers. Selecting graduates with a high GPA or applicants with a high IQ does not prevent the creation of a dysfunctional workplace.

This is the reason why the modern application process is not only aimed at measuring cognitive abilities, but it also tries to assess which soft skills the applicant possesses.

Soft skills drive performance and salary

Soft skills — how you interact, collaborate and communicate — can be defined as “the intra- and inter-personal work skills that facilitate the application of technical skills and knowledge” (Kantrowitz, 2005). Some examples of soft skills are Charisma, Creativity, and Emotional Intelligence.

Soft skills tend to be a strong predictor of professional outcomes such as performance and salary (Heckman and Kautz, 2012; Duncan and Dunifon, 2012). These skills tend to be much harder to measure than cognitive abilities like logical reasoning, and measuring them constitutes a challenge to every analyst out there.

Prevalence of soft skills in our population of young professionals:

At Talent Data Labs, we have asked thousands of young professionals about their soft skills and collected their responses, creating an extensive dataset that we used to draw some insights on the subject. To begin, let’s have a look at what are the most common and the rarest skills in our sample.

Top 3 — 70 people out of 100 describe themselves as driven According to our research, the most popular soft skill among our respondents is Drive, with 68.6% of our sample describing themselves as driven individuals. Coming up in the second place, we find Curiosity (62.6%), followed by Leadership (55.2%).

Last 3 — 15 people out 100 describe themselves as extroverts

At the other end of the list, we can observe how Humility, Charisma, and Extraversion are the rarest skills, with the last one observed only in 14.8% of our sample.

Cost of mismatches:

We all know that different jobs require different technical competencies, but have you ever looked at it from a soft skill perspective? For example, Creativity can be an expensive skill that might not be crucial for people working in supply chain and logistics, while we would expect it to be rather common for those who work in the media industry. To check for this, we have built a list of the most and least representative soft skills in ten different sectors.

Soft skills per industry:

Below you can see what these skills are for the tech, finance, and media industries.

If you want to have access to the full list of sectors (Engineering, Consumer Goods, Consulting, Legal Services, Government and NGO, Supply Chain and Logistics, Health), which for brevity will not be published here, you can request it by contacting us at

Perhaps not surprisingly, we see, among other things, how Curiosity is prevalent among tech people, workers in the financial sector are often more Competitive, and those in the media industry tend to be characterised by Extraversion and Creativity. This provides evidence that different sectors attract different types of people. But are we sure that these sector-specific soft skills are really what candidates need in order to be successful in these industries?

Is there a recipe for success?

As we can expect, there is no simple answer to this question. Exclusively hiring people that possess the most common soft skills in their sector is not necessarily a good idea, and finding the right balance between different people with different soft skills in your organization is a tough challenge.

Competitiveness or Charisma in the finance industry?

Take the financial sector, for example: as we said, Competitiveness is probably key to thrive in such a challenging and fast-paced industry. But what if Charismatic people can leverage the relative rarity of their abilities (Charisma is the third less representative feature of the financial sector) to perform better than average? In fact, data provides evidence in favor of this conclusion, as having Charisma as a soft skill is associated with a higher than average salary in this job. This may indicate that charismatic workers are equipped to climb up to higher and better-paying positions.

Finding the perfect mix

Openness to ideas in the tech sector is another example of what we have just described: despite it not being a defining characteristic of tech workers, it is associated with earning more money than the average employee. Generally speaking, this suggests that having a diverse workforce, where most soft skills are well represented, can be beneficial for many companies. But ultimately, every organization is different and requires its own “perfect mix” of soft skills to be efficient.

While this is just a simple analysis that scratches the surface of the problem, it exemplifies how talent analytics has the potential to reveal insights hidden in your organization and ultimately to improve the hiring process.

Talent Analytics: where do you start?

Organised and structured data can help you in drawing valuable insights. Collecting your own data will give you an edge over competitors and improve your company’s practices when it comes to talent. What are the most common soft skills in your organisation? Which soft skills do your best employees have? Ask around in your team and office to get the first sample. Then implement your data collection strategy on a large scale. As the amount of data in your possess grows, you will gain more and more insights on how to improve efficiency in your hiring process — and you will save those 90,000 USD.

If you would like to see how Talent Data Labs, and our team of data scientists and psychometricians, can help you improve your specific talent acquisition practices, you can subscribe to our newsletter or contact us at

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