If you’re a hiring manager with two nearly equal candidates skill-wise, you’ll try to pick who will be the easiest to work with. Though both might have excellent writing skills, a strong track record, and experience with your tech stack, you’ll lean toward the person with better soft skills.
If you ask hiring managers what soft skills they typically look for, a few common ones emerge: independent thinking, good communication, an eagerness to learn, etc. But the perfect concoction of soft skills will be unique to the business, the role, and the hiring manager’s experience of skills that have been valuable for them in the past.
Below, five hiring managers describe the desirable soft skills they look for in candidates.
In her AMA on growing a career in content, Maggie Leung, VP at ClickUp and ex-NerdWallet VP of Content says she looks for someone who’s self-motivated and a free thinker.
She looks for people who don’t think in a box and have good judgment. If she asks why you approached something in a certain way, she should be able to follow your logic. She also looks for people who take initiative and take feedback well—not people who roll over and ingest everything without question, but those who consider what’s useful and apply it.
Finally, she looks for introspective people. “If you’re not, you’ll miss a lot of learning in life and work. And as a manager, I can’t follow anyone around and be telling them [what to do]. Most of the time, your manager isn’t even around,” she says.
Responding to a frustrated Slack member who keeps getting picked over for roles, Jane Flanagan, Senior Director of Content at FreshBooks and Chief Content Officer at Digital Sisco, says she looks for people who are a culture-add rather than a culture fit.
Between two equal candidates, she looks for the one who has a 1) communication style that strikes a balance between open and confident, 2) growth mindset—someone who strives to improve, and 3) curiosity about the role, asking questions and connecting the dots between what they offer and the position.
For Jane, hiring someone with an open communication style who asks many questions is a priority. Someone who can adapt and communicate is more valuable than someone with traits that match the rest of the org.
As I mentioned earlier, hiring managers often look for soft skills in new hires that made past employees successful. For example, Eric Doty, Content Lead at Dock, says he looks for people who are “lifelong learners.”
“When I used to hire SEO writers at an agency, our best hires were always recent journalism graduates. They took a research-forward approach to their writing (as you would expect), but they were always hungry to expand their skill sets,” he says.
From a more shrewd angle, Eric also mentions that since learners aren’t at their full potential, they can be more affordable but still offer a lot of value. Plus, they’ve “learned how to learn,” so they’re more likely to research questions independently rather than asking the manager everything.
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Ryan Baum, Content Lead at Gorgias, who’s hired three content marketers in the last eight months, says aside from hard skills, which he measures through a take-home assessment, he looks for people willing to iterate and improve.
“All the skill in the world is useless without motivation, so I look for a learning mindset, a passion for good work and growth, 100% honesty around past mistakes and areas for improvement, a team-first mindset, and alignment with Gorgias' values. All of these signal a higher ceiling of potential, over time, if the skills are also improving,” he explains.
Since one of Gorgias’ values is publishing high-quality content at a fast velocity, they look for writers who can balance the two. Being a go-getter with good time management skills is key to thriving in a high-growth startup environment like Gorgias.
Several hiring managers I spoke to mentioned adaptability, which is more vital than ever with the rise of ChatGPT-4 and AI writing tools. New use cases emerge every week and more companies want to bring AI into their workflows.
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“The ability to adapt means pivoting your strategy when necessary, shifting your focus to new platforms or topics, and experimenting with new formats and styles. It’s important to be open-minded and willing to learn new skills, even if they're outside your comfort zone,” says Jess Rodley, Director of Operations at Dialed Labs.
AI tools and ChatGPT are changing how we do content marketing. A candidate with a flexible, adaptable mindset is more likely to succeed in the rapidly evolving online landscape.
Though no two hiring managers seek the exact same soft skills in candidates, there are some common traits. Though the degree may vary, the most common soft skills include the following:
So while skillset and ability to do the job matters, what tips the scale will be these traits that make someone easy to work with and more likely to succeed.