Now that millennials have begun entering the workforce in droves, there has been a noticeable shift occurring in the corporate world. Those that count themselves among the ‘Millennial’ group (myself included) have, on the whole, spent the majority of their lives preparing themselves for “the real world”, the ambiguous next step coming after they finish their higher education.
During the course of their academic career, millennials have had it hammered into them time and time again that results are what matter most. You need an outstanding high school GPA to get into a good college, and then a high college GPA to get a good job. The constant reinforcement of needing high test grades, remarkable term papers, and a stellar thesis to wrap it all up has created an entire generation fueled almost exclusively by results driven performance.
What does this mean for the organizations that are looking to these young professionals to fill the positions they have available both now and in the near future? It means that there is a large, fresh workforce coming into play with an almost singular focus on hard skills. Many millennials have spent their entire lives sharpening the hard skills needed for whatever their chosen career path may be. From classwork to internships, volunteering opportunities to part-time jobs, career focused millennials have spent a lifetime trying to fill their resume with the marketable, hard skills and knowledge they were told they needed to succeed.
They aren’t wrong, having the hard skills shows that they are qualified, and have at least some experience in the field even if it is purely academic in some cases. But the lifetime of building these hard skills has left a noticeable gap in their holistic skill set, a gap that has become more apparent for organizations that are hiring these individuals. By expending so much of their time and energy building the perfect resume, a large majority of millennials have neglected developing their soft skills, the skills that once you’re in the door, allow you to stay there.
A Focus On Soft Skills
Say you’re hiring for a new entry level sales position, and your applicant pool is almost entirely made up of recent graduates. You have your eye on one individual, a graduate from a well-known school, who has an impressive resume consisting of high marks in their classes, relevant extracurricular activities and even a sales internship with a reputable organization. They interview well and you end up giving them the job, but as the weeks go by, you begin to hear complaints regarding this individual. They don’t interact well with others, their attitude is poor, and they’re having trouble relating to their clients. It gets so bad that you have no choice but to let this individual go, and you’re left wondering why this hiring decision turned out so poorly when they looked promising as a candidate.
The answer is that this individual lacked the soft skills needed to be an effective employee. There is little formal focus in today’s academic landscape on these soft skills, and as such, many millennials, while possessing a high number of the hard skills needed, may have trouble with relating to their co-workers, forming the necessary relationship with clients and business partners, and maintaining the positive attitude needed to thrive in a corporate setting. To be an effective salesperson, you need to be able to successfully use a variety of sales tactics, have an encyclopedic knowledge of your product, and effective time management and organizational skills. But you also need to be able to relate to people, to make small talk, to be able to put others at ease and have the emotional intelligence to know how to react in a variety of social and professional settings. Unfortunately, these softer skills are highly overlooked in the academic world, and are rarely taken into account when organizations are looking to hire a member of the millennial generation.
How Can This Be Addressed?
If modern organizations are unsatisfied with the quality of the soft skills that their millennial hires possess, the most effective solution, simple as it may be, is to start assessing for these skills during the application process. The same way that you can assess whether an individual has the time management and product knowledge skills needed to be a good salesperson, you can assess their ability to read people and situations, how adaptable they are in social settings, and even how outgoing of a person they are.
Taking the time to assess these soft skills will result in candidates that not only have the hard skills needed to perform the work, but also the people skills and emotional intelligence needed to navigate the interpersonal elements that are inherent to so many jobs. Depending on who you ask, soft skills can even be considered more critical to success in a job, at least at first. Hard skills are able to be taught, to be trained, as long as the individual has the willingness and capacity to learn them. Soft skills are often harder to make adjustments to, as people become set in their ways in terms of personality and other personal habits. If an individual is well spoken, charismatic, adaptable, and able to learn, they can become a successful employee by being trained on the hard skills needed to succeed, but if they come in with the hard skills and lack the soft skills, training them to relate to others is a lot less straightforward.
The key to bridging the gap between the millennial workforce and today’s organizations lies in the measurement of these soft skills. Including questions designed to reveal personality, behavioral, and motivational traits in an individual will go a long way towards determining whether or not they will be successful on the job. It’s time to stop focusing only on the hard skills a potential employee possesses, and instead beginning to look at the softer skills as well.