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Focusing on Soft Skills to Promote Hiring Diversity

Confession time: I’m grumpy.(1)

Now, I come by it naturally. My dad is also grumpy.(2) Which makes our conversations pretty funny when we get going. And since he’s a manager who’s nearly always hiring at his organization, our conversations frequently turn to discussing his hiring process. So when I’ve asked him about what he looks for, his response boils down to “someone who shows up, works hard, and isn’t a jerk – I can train the rest.”

My dad and I tend to work similarly – we both would prefer to train employees on a skill they lack instead of having to change the behavioral tendencies of a highly-skilled jerk. (This helps avoid triggering our grumpiness.) I can easily train my new customer service rep on the email software we use, for example; but I’m not going to be able to quickly and effectively change the behavior of someone who talks down to customers.

This is why, at, we offer our assessments on soft skills as well as hard skill (cognitive) questions – those personality-type characteristics that govern people’s behavioral tendencies.

Why soft skills? We know that hard skills are easily proven, but with soft skills, they’re task-related, they predict on-the-job performance (and catch those candidates who would talk down to customers), they help assess organizational fit, and they can even help determine how well candidates will get along with managers and team members.

But there’s an added benefit to focusing on soft skills assessments: diversity.

There are a plethora of reasons why diversity is good for business, many of which we’ve talked about on this blog (feel free to go back and check them out) but, let’s be clear - you would be well-served by focusing on soft skills in your hiring process.

Why? Basically, soft skill assessments are “how someone thinks” and their “behavioral style” (my grumpiness or someone talking down to a customer). The skin color, gender, age, etc. don’t play a role in soft skill assessments – which leads to hiring qualified diverse candidates – in fact, there is zero to very small difference between racial groups in the USA (3) with regards to soft skill assessments.

This is turned on its head with the well-established (and unfortunate) findings of large differences between groups when measured on cognitive (hard-skill) abilities (4). If you’re making selection decisions using hard-skill (cognitive) assessments only, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up with adverse impact in your hiring process (i.e., where you select members of a protected group at a significantly lower rate than the majority group). And, again, you will get those hires that talk down to customers.

This is the reason we’ve chosen to focus on soft skills with our free integrated assessments at Not because cognitive skills aren’t important to job success (they are and we offer them), but because we are seeking to promote diversity in hiring. Using valid assessments without substantial group differences is an excellent way to simultaneously promote diversity and improve the quality of your candidate pool.

And it’s also why my dad has an impressively diverse staff working for him.

1 Source: My wife. And parents. Too many people, really.

2 Source: My mom. And me. Again, too many people.

3 Foldes, H. J., Duehr, E. E., & Ones, D. S. (2008). Group differences in personality: Meta-analyses comparing five U.S. racial groups. Personnel Psychology, 61, 579-616.

4 Roth, P. L., Bevier, C. A., Bobko, P., Switzer, F. S., III, & Tyler, P. (2001). Ethnic group differences in cognitive ability in employment and educational settings: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 54, 297-330.

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