Why we should stop stereotyping soft skills at work

While our work places try to become more diverse, our images of a candidate's soft skill set hasn't really changed. Now, maybe even more than ever, we need to think broader - and stop drawing conclusions from people's characters to their ability to fulfill a role.

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Ever since I started my career in the public relations world, the one advice I hear the most is this: I should start loving to be in the spotlight, be very vocal about my opinions, and be less of a coordinator. I heard it so often that at one point, I even started to doubt myself and thought that I’d chosen a career path that is not suitable for my character traits. I am an introvert at work, particularly in a new environment. But does that mean I’m not perfect for a job because I don’t live up to its classic image? 

As a corporate spokesperson, I see myself as a connector between my employer and the public. I oversee the corporate messaging and anticipate risks and chances when it comes to the spoken word by executives. Most of my former colleagues were bubbly, always networking and constantly on the phone. But can I still be quite the opposite and therefore maybe give a new perspective on the job profile?

You would think that by now, the image of how an ideal candidate looks like would be disrupted. But think again – what soft skills come to your mind when you think of a mechanical engineer? A dental assistant? A Pilates teacher?

Does every good sales person really need to be talkative and persuasive? Or would we rather close a deal with someone who is a really good listener and senses when it’s not the right time for a potential client? Do we still think about someone shy who loves gaming when we want to hire “a new associate who can write that difficult algorithm”? 

Now, maybe even more than ever, we need to think broader, also when it comes to the characteristics of jobs (and I’m not talking about nonnegotiable soft skills like kindness and helpfulness here). I think that the combination of being empathic and rational is as good as being vocal and emotional. There is no better or worse. There is only one question when looking for the ideal employee: What kind of person would improve the team dynamics and would the current work environment be the right fit for the candidate to thrive in? 

Too often, employers hold on to images they know, and team structures stay the same for years. And while this may serve some people to feel more comfortable and home at work, we should encourage each other to stop drawing conclusions from a persons’ character to his or her ability to fulfill a role. Otherwise, employers miss out on different point of views and unexpected team constellations that can benefit the whole company.

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