According to a survey, more than half of HR respondents said that interpersonal “soft skills” are the most important factors in deciding whom to hire.

Share story

Nearly half a century ago, actor Strother Martin uttered these famous words in the film “Cool Hand Luke” about the importance of getting one’s point across. In this instance, he was a ruthless prison captain lamenting the obstinacy of an inmate, played by Paul Newman. But a basic “failure to communicate” can also be applied to both job seekers and hiring managers.

In a recent survey of more than 4,000 job applicants and HR professionals nationwide, recruiting firm found that 75 percent of the HR respondents said that they continued having problems recruiting enough qualified workers. At the same time, 55 percent of job seekers said they struggle with competition from too many qualified candidates looking for work. Which side is right?

A little analysis of the data shows that miscommunication arises from the contradictory messages that HR conveys about various skill sets. According to the survey, more than two-thirds of HR professionals said that technical (or “hard”) skills are usually the first qualities they look for. However, more than half of the HR respondents also said that interpersonal “soft skills” are the most important factors in deciding whom to hire.

To reconcile these differences, try following these three rules of thumb:

Most Read Stories

Sale! Save over 90% on digital access.

1. Emphasize hard skills in your resume. If you have degrees, accreditations, specialized training or expert knowledge about any of the responsibilities required, state them prominently in your resume. HR is looking for reasons to disqualify you, and an absence of experience in any of the basic requirements is the easiest way to do it.

2. Leave soft skills for your interview. Don’t waste too much space in your resume on qualities such as leadership, interpersonal skills or teamwork. These are critically important, but they can be best summed up in the interview, or perhaps a cover letter, to describe your work ethic and management style.

3. Always customize. Sadly, about three-quarters of HR reps surveyed said that job applicants are still doing a poor job of tailoring their resumes to the specific needs of the employers. While applicants usually pepper their resumes with “keywords,” they are not providing enough context to link these keywords to solutions to employers’ problems.

For those who refuse to go the extra mile to craft a personalized resume for each job opening — well, to paraphrase Martin’s prison captain: There are some people you just can’t reach.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at