Share This Page

Non-cognitive “soft” skills rated more important than cognitive skills, even with current focus on technological advances


By Sameer Gadkaree, Senior Program Officer, Employment & Joint Fund

All of us have filled out online job applications only to go weeks without hearing anything back.  Like others, I wonder, what happens next?  And, the answer is that after the applicant pool gets winnowed down by an algorithm, HR professionals look at the application and resume to figure out who they will interview.  One problem with this process: only 20 percent of human resources professionals have complete confidence in the accuracy of commonly used application and resume reviews to screen entry-level job candidates, according to the SHRM/Mercer Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey - a research collaboration between Mercer and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), funded by the Joyce Foundation.

Mercer’s review of published research suggests that more objective measures supported by technology might help move employers and hiring managers towards more objective screening.  These methods can better capture underlying skills, opening jobs to applicants to which they would otherwise not have access. But according to the survey, less than half of companies use selection tests for entry-level hiring (42%), which scientific literature endorses as one of the most accurate predictors of performance, along with interviews. Few organizations use personality tests (13%), cognitive ability tests (10%), or online simulations (2%) to select entry-level employees, yet these methods have some of the strongest empirical research support.

In short, entry-level hiring is ripe for disruptive change, and employers who incorporate more objective methods - with scientific support - into their hiring practices can reap solid gains.

One positive message from the survey concerns "non-cognitive" skills that employers value, such as dependability, integrity, respect, and teamwork.  Recent years have seen growing interest in the non-cognitive realm, and Mercer's research suggests that most applicants for entry-level positions possess at least some of those valuable skills.  The report also suggests, though, that employees will need higher-order cognitive skills such as oral and written communication and critical thinking to advance in their careers.  And thus workforce developers and educators need to ensure that the focus on non-cognitive skills is not to the detriment of developing those higher-order cognitive skills. 

View the full report here.

Read the press release on the findings here.