Soft Skills Are Essential To The Future Of Work: Hiring for Skills of the Future, Part One

Whether you are hiring employees, independent contractors, or a blended workforce, we all know that the world is changing rapidly and how work gets done is evolving. As a result, how we screen and hire employees and freelancers has changed too. Soft skills — such as empathy, emotional intelligence, kindness, mindfulness, adaptability, integrity, optimism, self-motivation, grit, and resilience — have become crucial success factors.

Why Soft Skills Have Become More Important

As more and more job activities become automated, soft skills, which cannot yet be replicated by machines, have become more important. In 2017, Deloitte also reported that “soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030” and that hiring employees with more soft skills could increase revenue by more than $90,000.

Empathy And Emotional Intelligence

The importance of empathy and social-emotional skills cannot be overstated. Emotionally intelligent teams have a competitive advantage, and I have found that empathy is one of the most important skills to hire for. Caring about how your teammates and customers feel and sensing their unspoken feelings is a true skill that I believe increases productivity and revenue. Empathy and emotional intelligence require self-awareness and enable better listening, leading to improved communication.

When screening potential employees and freelancers, I like to ask if there are charities or causes they care about. This gives me insight into whether they care enough about others to take action. I also like to ask this question: “Can you think of a time when you worked with someone difficult to get along with — how did you handle interactions with that person?” This shows me whether their empathy and emotional intelligence enabled them to not only defuse a challenging situation but turn it into a win.

Integrity And Ethical Responsibility

Billionaire Warren Buffett is famously credited with calling integrity the most important trait to look for when hiring. I agree that this character trait is critical to long-term success. I’ve found that my most successful employees and contractors are those who are ethical, take responsibility for their successes and mistakes, have humility, respect other people’s time, give others credit and take full ownership of their work — especially for losses. When someone tells me they’ve made a mistake and how they intend to fix it, I know I can trust them. In today’s fast-paced world, integrity is even more critical. It’s easy to take shortcuts and show short-term gains, but it’s harder to do things right to set yourself up for long-term success.

In the days of in-person interviews, I liked to ask the receptionist how applicants treated them (and if a meal was involved, how the applicant treated the wait staff). In our remote work world, ask admin assistants how applicants treat them over email. How people treat others reflects their true character.

To encourage a culture of integrity, I own up to mistakes and encourage others to do the same. To screen for this, ask potential workers to explain an incident that occurred in their life that didn’t go as expected and how they resolved it. How they respond usually shows whether they are capable of taking responsibility when things go wrong.

Adaptability And Resilience

As technological advances come more rapidly, hiring for adaptability and resilience is critical. You need open-minded people who can shift gears and take on different responsibilities as needed, adapt their behaviors to their teammates’ needs, manage uncertainty and find the positive when things go wrong. Agility and flexibility — which go hand in hand with adaptability — allow workers to bring and implement fresh ideas.

One question I like to ask potential employees and independent contractors to look for adaptability is, “What’s the most stressful situation you have handled, and what was the outcome?” I also look for people who have combined working part-time during college or graduate school or taken on different roles and responsibilities. To build adaptability and resilience, challenge yourself to be comfortable in unfamiliar environments and situations.

Self-Motivated And Self-Directed

Self-motivated workers, people who have intrinsic motivation, need less oversight and management. Self-motivation and self-direction enables people to take initiative and ownership of their work, set achievable goals against a schedule and take steps accordingly and adapt their plans as necessary. In a future where things are constantly changing, these skills are paramount to success. While I’ve found these skills difficult to develop, helping connect employees to find intrinsic motivation in their work can help.

One question I like to ask potential employees and freelancers is “Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself and what you did about it.”


Mindfulness is a soft skill that builds on other skills. Those who are mindful tend to be more emotionally intelligent, adaptable, and forthright. Mindful people stay more focused during difficult situations. Mindfulness is the amplifier of all other soft skills as it cultivates the awareness and discretion to know how to respond in a centered, balanced way across diverse situations.

While I don’t have a secret for hiring for mindfulness, I believe in mindfulness training. Companies can support developing mindfulness by offering perks like a subscription to Headspace or Calm. Or, if you want to maximize the benefits of mindfulness, a subscription to Yoga Ed. so your employees and their families can benefit from on-demand mindfulness and yoga practice. (Full disclosure, I’m an investor in Yoga. Ed.)

Hiring For The Future Of Work

Assessing soft skills should be an essential part of your hiring process for potential employees and contractors. Soft skills strengthen other skills and abilities, and teams with these skills will be equipped to adapt more quickly and easily as the future of work continues to evolve.

Next time, I’ll share additional skills required for success in the future of work, how to hire employees and freelancers with these skills, and to develop these skills with your teams.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.