The Best “Soft Skill” To Harness At Work

Employers now look for adaptability as the most-coveted soft skill in potential new hires.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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There’s plenty of workplace lingo that encapsulates people’s behavior in the 21st century. “Soft skill” is a newer colloquialism that is both an employment and communication description of a person’s interpersonal prowess. From teamwork to emotional intelligence, soft skill is an umbrella term for a person’s qualities outside of their educational or employment experience.

Over the years, employers have changed what qualities they’re looking for in new hires. In recent years, people in charge of hiring have been searching for adaptability in their future employees, which is increasingly imperative in offices working with hybrid or remote schedules. In an almost post-pandemic society, employers want to ensure that their teams can roll with the punches and adapt to various environments, plans, and interpersonal dynamics.

According to a 2020 study from Harvard University, adaptability is the most coveted quality employers look for when viewing applications. 71% of 1,500 executives surveyed put adaptability as the most important soft skill they search for in a potential leader. A study in 2021 by McKinsey & Company corroborated this evidence, noticing that people who stated they were adaptable were 24% more likely to get hired.

So, what does adaptability mean in the workplace, and how does one know if they’ve harnessed this skill? Experts say that those who embody this quality are consistently adding new skills to their repertoire, showing their range in their capabilities as well as the ability to keep evolving. A critical part of adaptability is how an individual navigates change and if they can do so while remaining productive, positive, and communicative.

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Jacqueline Brassey, the chief scientist at McKinsey & Company’s People & Organisational Performance Practice, discussed the difference between adaptability and resilience, the latter being a previously desired quality for future hires. Brassey stated that resilience is about “bouncing back” but does not demonstrate an individual’s ability to adjust to change or continue moving forward. Adaptability is more focused on reconciling with change and progressing, which is imperative for collaborative teams and proper communication.

Being proactive and adaptable go hand and hand. An executive that embodies adaptability wouldn’t make plans retroactively after their company plummets but would provide steps to change their company ahead of time, aiming to progress the corporation before a hurdle emerges. An adaptable employee would work similarly; they would aim toward learning new skills and expanding their capabilities to be able to handle future issues.

Though adaptability is a trait that has been more of a necessity since COVID began, the idea that workers should embody this soft skill dates further back. US venture investor Natalie Fratto notably discussed this ability in their 2019 Ted Talk and how adaptability is imperative since the world and its technology is rapidly speeding up. Change is a constant in today’s world, and maintaining one’s composure while adjusting to new devices and techniques is highly valuable in the workplace.

Though it’s required to have employment experiences and credentials to land jobs in specific industries, employers can’t ignore soft skills and their inherent value. Social skills like communicating properly, working collaboratively, and adapting to new situations are more important than ever to preserve the workplace flow.