Today’s job seekers are used to highlighting technical abilities or professional achievements on their resumes, but a recent LinkedIn survey indicates they might be emphasizing the wrong skills.

Released in October, the company’s 2016 Soft Skills Report surveyed hiring managers in six countries, including Canada, and found they were more likely to lament a lack of applicants with problem-solving or communication skills than candidates unable to code a line of HTML.

LinkedIn communications director Danielle Restivo
LinkedIn global communications director Danielle Restivo says that contrary to popular perception, soft skills like communication frequently matter more than technical ability.

“I think that for too long we’ve thought about skills as knowing how to use Excel, or knowing how to write,” LinkedIn global communications director Danielle Restivo tells “Those are important, but soft skills are the piece underlying many potential job opportunities, and I don’t think enough people think about them in terms of their career development.”

Two thirds of the survey’s Canadian respondents – 67 per cent – told LinkedIn researchers they struggle to identify candidates with the right soft skills, with teamwork, problem-solving, and communication at the top of their wish list, and strategy, ownership, and communication the hardest to find.

“Hiring managers want to get a sense of whether people can step into a role and quickly run projects on their own without having to rely on others,” Restivo says. “Being able to show, for example, the strategy that you used to solve a business problem is the kind of thing companies are really looking for now.”

Unfortunately, she says, many hiring managers told LinkedIn those skills simply aren’t coming through, in either applications or interviews.

“It’s one of those things that you don’t really end up learning in college or university,” Restivo admits. “There are no specific courses in how to communicate better, or how to be more strategic.”

So what can companies – and the candidates applying for jobs with them – do about it?

One solution might simply be awareness: Restivo admits that LinkedIn itself was more than a little surprised to learn just how in demand soft skills were, and can imagine other managers feeling the same way.

“This is us extrapolating a little bit, because we don’t have hard data, but… I don’t think the people even realize it’s something they should be doing,” she says. “When you’re in a role your manager is often just saying, ‘we need more of this from you,’ and so it looks like a lot of companies have focused on the skills you need to get the job done without developing skills like interpersonal communication and critical thinking. And that’s a real miss.”

When asked for their opinion, 68 per cent of Canadian hiring managers suggested assessing a candidate’s soft skills through behavioral interview questions, while 58 per cent suggested situational.

“It seems that more and more hiring managers are trying to put candidates into situations in the interview process where they have them solve a problem,” Restivo says.

Hard skills remain important as well – in fact, 49 per cent of Canadian respondents reported having trouble identifying candidates with technical skills such as mobile development and data mining, she said.

Another potential solution, of course, is training – which not so coincidentally is part of the reason LinkedIn conducted the report.

Back in April 2015, the company paid $1.5 billion USD for online education platform, incorporating much of the site into its LinkedIn Learning service, which was launched in September – and which, Restivo is happy to point out, offers courses in such soft skills as teamwork, problem-solving, and communication.

“I really think businesses need to identify what’s holding them back… for example, whether it’s employees who need to learn to be better teammates, or better communicate,” she says. “Then they need to let employees invest some time into learning those skills.”

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