"Social skills matter more than hard skills" for getting work--is there any reason to believe this?

I have heard many people from various walks of life say that social skills matter more than hard skills (like being a good programmer, or being good at math, or being a good carpenter, etc) when it comes to getting a job or getting a high income.

I’m wondering if there’s any hard research to support this or, indeed, any good reason to believe it at all.

If there is, I’ll accept it, of course. But it doesn’t accord with my personal life, and it sounds like a covert form of nerd bashing. For example, most of the chess club members I knew, people who were mostly socially awkward or introverted, are now either working upper-middle class jobs (in their early 20s) or in good graduate schools. And (pace the stereotype) they were also generally rather successful with women.

So I’m wondering if the “it’s all about having good social skills” line has much merit to it?

Depends upon the job, of course, but I will say that when it comes to career advancement, social skills are just as necessary as “hard” skills.

It depends on the job, of course. If you have a job dealing with the public a lot you’re going to need those social skills, even if you are bright as anything. And of course there’s the interview process.

ETA: Even being a carpenter - say you want to start your own business. You better be a good salesman, friendly, approachable, trustworthy. Etc.

Arguably, it doesn’t matter how good you are at a job if you can’t talk your way into being hired. No interview process is ever purely meritocratic; at some point you must connect to another person.

If you’re working for yourself, then you need social skills to connect to customers. You might be a fantastic woodcarver, but without marketing you simply aren’t going to be able to leverage that skill.

Lastly, there’s the fact that the highest-paying jobs are executive or managerial, and those require people skills far, far more than they require technical aptitude.

Of course, I think that’s rather one-sided when it comes to actual technical positions. You could talk your way into a programmer position, sure, but if you don’t have the necessary technical skills you won’t succeed. (Then again, if you’re personable enough, you can probably get away with learning on the job and fudging just enough to stay on until you get promoted to where you don’t need the skills.)

You get the interview because they like your resume. You get the job because they like you.

You have to have enough hard skills to get them to look at your resume, and to keep the job. But everyone they interview will have those skills. The one who aces the interview best is the one who gets the job, and that’s where soft skills come in. I think it’s better to say there is a cap on how many hard skills you need, but there is no cap on soft skills. This is true particularly of jobs where people skills are more important than any other ability (like management).

But there are exceptions to this “rule.” There is no hard skill cap on being an author or artist, and soft skills matter less in those professions–because your career is *defined *by your work. And the better your hard skills in those fields, the more money you will make.

One of the constant compliments I recieve from customers is “I talk to them like a normal person in terms they understand without going technogeeky or sounding condescending”

In my business (onsite computer support) customers will love you if you treat them nice…they can find a computer tech to treat them like morons with fat wallets anywhere. Getting one who actually speaks normal english without an attitude of smug superiority is a treat to them.

Hard skills are more readily taught and learned by someone who already has well-developed soft skills. Soft skills aren’t always readily acquired at all, because learning to do something requires willingness, flexibility, etc, which are themselves soft skills - and soft skills can’t always be imposed (“beatings will continue until morale improves”)

It is fairly rare that even programmers work alone. You need to be able to work as part of a team, or lead a team, and be able to tease the “real” requirements out of the customer. (vs. what they thought they needed)

Then there’s this famous (perhaps apocryphal) quote about Mozart (paraphrased):

“If Wolfgang had half the talent and twice the ability to get along with people, he’d go further in life.”

Then again, if the above were true, he wouldn’t be Mozart.

If they were very successful with women I doubt they were as awkward as you think.

Yeah - like lighthouse operator, for example. :wink:

There are exceedingly few jobs where so-called “hard” skills matter more. In fact I have worked with people who were technical wizards, yet they never advanced far and were bounced from job to job because their social skills sucked. Similarly I’ve seen people who weren’t all that great at what they did, but had great social skills and went quite far with them. I never saw someone with comparable “hard” skills (ie modest to poor) who also had poor social skills get anywhere.

Sorry but for all our technology and apparent eagerness to de-humanize the workplace/society, it’s still made up of people and therefore yes, social skills are THE most important skills you can have - for a job, or for life. They will carry you farther than any other skill, with rare exception.

Heck, even in my department which is the most technical one in the company, I’ve had to tell my boss who does the hiring that I don’t want people who are directly qualified; qualifications are nice, but I need people who are computer literate and intelligent and able to work as a team. I can teach the job, no problem, but I can’t teach someone how to communicate.

We’ve also had our share of employees who were good at the technical job but had negative social skills. They could do the work fine as long as they were left alone, but when interacting with others they were surly bordering on hostile, and you can never be wholly isolated in a workplace. They caused tension and a sour, near-hostile atmosphere which eventually culminated in ugly firings. They thought they were immune because they were good at the job, but I’d rather have someone who’s not as good at the job who I like working with than that.

I was trying to be nice in my response… you know, using those “social skills”. :wink:

Getting a job, or succeeding/doing well at it once you’ve got it? The skill sets are not the same, perhaps unfortunately. (Just as the skills required to attract people, get dates, etc. are not all the same as those required to sustain a healthy relationship.)

That said, some jobs are practically all social skills. Others, not nearly so much. But there are relatively few where the inability to get along with people doesn’t put you at a major disadvantage.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” must have started somewhere…

You get the interview because you know somebody. If you don’t network, you’ll never amount to anything.

It’s not who you know, it’s who’s willing to say good things about you.

Hard research though?

It would be difficult to quantify “social skills” since a wide variety of skill sets are encompassed under that umbrella, from glad-handling, to clear articulation of ideas, to leadership and the ability to inspire, to the ability to conform better than others, to life of the party, to …

Heck even the “hard skills” are difficult to quantify. Social ones?

Sure though the argument seems valid enough.

Social skills will never hurt you, and are viewed in all lines of work, as favorable even in ones that involve little more social interaction than with the interviewer when you’re getting your job, and then involve just crunching numbers and working with data. I think social skills are helpful in all aspects of the work environment in multiple lines of work, at almost every level of responsibility and position, in both getting the job and rising up within the organization.

Hard skills are less transferable from one industry to a totally unrelated one, or even a slightly unrelated one, since hard skills tend to be specialized ones. But the generality of general intelligence which tends to make it easier for smarter people to acquire any given hard skill balances out the fact that each individual hard skill generally needs to be aligned with a company that is looking for that skill specifically.

Overall, I look at the employability function as involving two main variables, social skills and hard skills, with these two independent variables being multiplicative; if any one of the two is atrocious or distinctly below the norm, then to remain a competitive candidate and possibly get hired or move up, one has to be really, really good at the other. For example, a master of office politics who really doesn’t know what she’s doing or a great programmer who has major social skills deficits can do quite well and even rise very high in an organization. There are very, very few people who have truly exceptional hard skills and social skills, and those who do won’t be unemployed for long - if unemployed is taken to mean “looking for a job but hasn’t found one.”