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The Soft Traits You Should Be Looking For in Talent While experience is certainly an important skill to bring to the job, it is not the most important characteristic when hiring a qualified candidate

By Jay Huang

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When considering someone for a job, what do you look at? Chances are, you would scan through the candidate's CV. What, in particular, would you focus on?

Are you confirming that the candidate has been in a similar job in the same industry? Are you also looking for signs that the candidate has been doing well in that job?

More often than not, you are probably looking for hard skills, expertise, experience or qualifications specific to certain jobs and/or industries. These might include functional skills in human resources like recruiting, or technical skills like proficiency in the Angular Web application framework. Unfortunately, hard skills are usually not transferable across many different jobs or life situations.

Distinguishing Soft Traits

Now, think about your best co-worker or employee. What is it about him/her that really stands out?

Does he/she exhibit strong leadership potential? Is he/she a great team player? Does he/she communicate effectively?

These are soft traits. Rather than being learned like hard skills, soft traits are more innate in each of us and are generally relevant across different jobs and life situations.

As you can see, a mix of both hard skills and soft traits is required for people to excel at their jobs. Some would even say that hard skills are "hygiene factors" to undertake the job, whereas soft traits are what distinguish good employees from great ones.

Why are Soft Traits Taking Over?

More companies are exalting the value of soft traits. The need for these traits is driven by two interconnected key factors:

  • Ubiquitous connectivity: With greater demand for the global workforce to be online all the time, real-time communication has become a priority. Work has become increasingly collaborative even as the workforce grows more fragmented. Fragmentation is not merely in geographical terms, but also the mix of full-time, part-time and gig workers, of different cultures.
  • Shortening of business cycles: Business cycles in the digital economy have dramatically shortened. It now only takes years to build a billion-dollar company, where it previously took decades. This means the ways of doing business and the scopes of jobs are changing rapidly, possibly even 10 times faster than before.

The term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is an apt description for the current business scenario. For example, "digital recruiting" is becoming redundant because all recruiting is pretty much digital today.

That brings us to the question: Which soft traits should we be looking for in talent today. The answer varies based on role and organization, but here are some examples that apply to most:

Communication and teamwork: With the constant demands of the business world across a fragmented workforce, effective communication and teamwork are critical soft traits for collaboration across all jobs and organizations.

Openness to experience: People who are high in this trait are more adaptable to change, able to work with new ideas better, and respond well to diversity in the workplace.

Motivation and ability to learn: Possessing the hard skills for today's job may be sufficient now but being motivated and able to learn the skills for tomorrow's job is what really matters.

Proactivity: An employee who is proactive is always thinking of what will happen next. He/She would take the initiative and not wait to be told what to do.

Grit: Working towards grueling long term goals require a certain level of stamina and perseverance. Those who have grit are able to passionately pursue these long term goals while those without it give up easily.

Jay Huang

Co-founder and CEO, Pulsifi


Jay is the co-founder and CEO of Pulsifi, a leading HR technology company that combines AI and organizational psychology in a user-friendly online software to help organizations identify, retain and develop great people at scale. Aside from driving strategic imperatives, Jay’s biggest role at Pulsifi is growing the team and supporting the development of team members. Under his leadership, Pulsifi has grown into one of the region’s most innovative HR tech companies with a portfolio of multinational clients. 

Pulsifi has also built partnerships with the top technology providers in the world including SAP, IBM and Amazon Web Services, which involves integrating their platforms and joint go-to-market.

Before co-founding Pulsifi, Jay was Head of Strategy at CtrlShift, a regional AI pioneer in digital marketing. While at The Boston Consulting Group, he advised global companies with multi-billion dollar revenues on business strategy and corporate development. Jay also has experience in venture capital and the public sector, having worked at Infocomms Investments (now known as SGInnovate) and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore (now part of Enterprise Singapore).

Jay has an MSc in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Cornell University.


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