4 Soft Skills CEOs Look for When Hiring the Best People

By Marcel Schwantes

With content more readily available than ever before and the race toward AI gaining speed, hard skills such as “proficient in Microsoft Excel” and “bilingual” are taking a back seat to social and people skills — or “soft skills.”

Tom Peters, legendary management thinker notes in his latest book, The Excellence Dividend, that “hard is soft. Soft is hard.”

In other words, “hard” skills involving computer technology, data analyses, and digital communication is the new “soft.” And “soft” skills where it involves people, relationships, collaboration, and culture is the new “hard” because those are the real hard skills.

Peters’s thinking is in line with my own, as well as the slew of thought-leaders, execs, scholars, and authors I’ve interviewed about the powerhouse of soft skills.

In fact, Google Trends reveals a consistent uptick in searches for the term since 2004. Having looked at various companies that prescribe soft skills for success, I stumbled into Brilliant Earth — a leader in ethically sourced fine jewelry — and asked their CEO and co-founder, Beth Gerstein, to share what specific set of soft skills they look for in job candidates.

To complement their more technical, role-specific skills that help to ensure that new employees will thrive in the dynamic, Brilliant Earth company culture, Gerstein says she looks for five top soft skills in potential employees:

1. Intrinsic motivation.

When it comes to jobs and careers, being able to demonstrate intrinsic motivation gives job seekers a natural edge; it shows potential employers that they’re excited about growing new skills and taking on new challenges. “Brilliant Earth was born out of the passion my co-founder and I felt about creating a more sustainable jewelry industry — we want our employees to feel that same sense of greater purpose on a day-to-day basis,” explains Gerstein.

2.  Positive attitude.

Cultivating a positive attitude makes for a more enjoyable work environment; it’s also known to help with stress management and — let’s face it — sometimes the workplace can be pretty stressful. At Brilliant Earth, every person on the team — from designers to jewelry specialists to marketers — plays a role in upholding a sense of positivity and partnership. As such, they seek out candidates that exude a positive mindset and are open to effectively collaborating towards a common goal (see point #4).

3. Adaptability.

Companies thrive when they’re able to adapt to change and customer expectations. This rings true when it comes to employees too. Gerstein shared that she looks for candidates that are “nimble in the face of change and open-minded to fluid work processes,” To adapt to Brilliant Earth’s culture built around quick, data-driven decision making, future employees must be comfortable taking calculated risks. Gerstein adds, “We encourage our teams to embrace the process of testing and iterating, so they can make quick decisions while knowing we will continue to improve as we learn.”

4. Collaborative mindset.

While all employees must bring individual strengths and skills to their role, don’t neglect the soft skill of working well within a team. This collaborative thinking is “crucial in making projects more dynamic,” explains Gerstein. During the hiring process, she and her team keep an ear out for verbiage that indicates collaborative thinking while also keeping their eyes peeled for job candidates who are able to complement their skills by leveraging other’s unique skills and expertise.