Hard Skills: How much importance is placed on technical skills in companies?

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When job vacancies are advertised in a company, the task is to find a suitable candidate. One important variable in the hiring of new employees, but also especially in the selection of candidates for leadership positions, are the existing hard skills. Already in the run-up to the job advertisement, department [...]

When job vacancies are advertised in a company, the task is to find a suitable candidate. One important variable in the hiring of new employees, but also especially in the selection of candidates for leadership positions, are the existing hard skills. Already in the run-up to the job advertisement, department heads and HR specialists consider which skills are required for the vacant position and, based on this, draw up a job profile for potential candidates. This comprises both a list of social and professional competencies, the so-called soft and hard skills, which are necessary in order to fulfil the respective area of responsibility in line with the company´s overall strategy. Hard skills are considered measurable and are therefore comparable. They constitute memorized, applied knowledge and are often an initial indicator of whether a candidate might be suitable for a position. In addition, the technical competences corroborate a preliminary ranking of the candidates.

Hard Skills as a benchmark in applicant rankings

The range of hard skills is diverse and is also largely dependent on the position. They range from knowledge of project management to the proficient use of software programs and business management topics. If a job vacancy is advertised in the company, HR specialists should consider realistically and as precisely as possible, which professional skills suitable applicants should possess before making their selection. Only if detailed consideration is given to this, will a sound staffing decision be possible at the end of the process. This also includes being familiar with the team that will have to accept the new job incumbent as a colleague or as a leader. Only those who fit in with the corporate culture on a human level and stand for the same values can successfully fill their position.

Hard skills in a state of flux

The concept of hard skills is in a constant state of change. There is no question that it is important to have all the technical skills needed to perform your day-to-day job. And yet, hard skills are typically the area of competence in which it is easiest to acquire new knowledge. This raises the fundamental question of to what extent they should actually be included as a selection indicator in the recruitment process, and whether other factors are not more essential.

The fact is: Nowadays a technical deficit in one´s hard skills is no longer an exception, but a recurring rule. In today´s working world conditions, tasks, processes and procedures are constantly changing. The level of technical competence that was more than adequate for mastering professional tasks yesterday may be completely obsolete by tomorrow. The average half-life of knowledge is decreasing dramatically as a result of continuous progress. Currently a half-life of four years is assumed for business expertise, while specialized knowledge in IT is considered obsolete after only 1.5 years.

This is the result of many factors added together. A strong forward impetus in digitalization is shifting positions and tasks. Work processes are becoming faster, jobs are optionally automated or being newly created.
This ongoing state of change requires lifelong learning. No one is ever finished. No one ever knows everything. Technology, digitalization and work processes are all advancing, and everyone must constantly expand and renew their hard skills.
One of the tasks of the Personnel Development department in companies is therefore – also in the sense of value creation – to always keep an eye on the specialized technical competencies of their employees, and in particular of their executive personnel, and to regularly bring them up to date. This is only possible if their current status is constantly evaluated and appropriate development training is offered.

Let go. Rethinking. Realign.

Since everything in a company is always in a state of change anyway, and knowledge never has a lasting lifespan, the Human Resources department must also rethink and realign itself. Identifying candidates on the basis of hard skills makes little sense if this is an area that can easily be readjusted anyway with the appropriate training.
If you are looking for employees who will support the corporate philosophy over a period of years, who stand for the same values, who identify with them and who are committed to them, then what you need are individuals with a strong character plus a team spirit and the willingness to develop.
That is how outstanding employees are defined. It´s not age and not the years of professional experience that accompany it. And it is not the hard skills they already possess.

Update in conducting interviews

Personnel recruitment has long since taken a new approach. Long gone are the days of question and answer sessions that were contrived and never meaningful anyway. And gone too, are the job interviews with inherent power imbalances, in which the applicant was always on the receiving end. Today, for example, discussions take the form of structured interviews, and are a fair, peer-to-peer dialogue at eye level. The applicant has the opportunity to showcase and elaborate upon his or her unique personality and way of working. However, the company must also be convincing as a potential employer in this interview, especially in times of a shortage of skilled workers.

Hard Skills only indicate a trend

There is nothing to be said against continuing to keep an eye on the hard skills required for a position in the company, but they should only serve as a rough guide and not as the sole criterion for selecting an applicant.
If an applicant is a perfect fit for the company or the team and the soft skills are just right, it is more promising to select this candidate and, if necessary, to provide supplementary training for any lacking hard skills, than to decide in favour of an applicant who fulfils the complete range of the required hard skills, but otherwise does not have a winning personality.

Experience shows that companies do not usually terminate employees because they lack professional competence, but because they simply do not fit into the team. And that is precisely why it should be their personality that is the determining factor.