Even though the traditional resume is getting chucked out the window, standard advice to job candidates still is to try to find a job where your experience and qualifications are a terrific fit. A new Harris Poll on behalf of talent and outsourcing company Yoh now says you can put that advice on the shelf, too.

In the soft and hard skills battle, soft skills overwhelmingly win

The online survey, which covered more than 2,000 adults, found that 75 percent of Americans would most likely hire a candidate who has soft skills (e.g., time management, enthusiasm, dependability) but not the right experience or qualifications. This assumes that there isn't a perfect candidate available and you have to bend a little to fill the job.

The survey also found that only 13 percent would hire the opposite way, choosing a person with experience and qualifications but no soft skills. Comparatively, just over 12 percent said that they most likely wouldn't hire anybody and would just leave the position open indefinitely.

Those making hiring decisions apparently see someone without soft skills as just as bad as not having anybody at all.

Matt Rivera, Vice President, Marketing and Communications for Yoh, asserts that employers have shifted their hiring focus because of the low unemployment rate and shortage of highly skilled labor. They're also taking into account that good soft skills have a positive effect on employee attrition. People leave bad managers, after all, not jobs, as multiple other surveys have proven.

Different groups, different preferences

Breaking the data down just a little more, the survey revealed some differences in how specific groups would treat the hiring situation. For example,

  • Women would hire for soft skills slightly more readily than men (77 vs. 72 percent).
  • Young adults (age 18-34) are more likely to want hard skills compared to older counterparts (age 35+) (22 vs. 9 percent).
  • College graduates of any age are more likely to choose soft skills than those with a high school degree or less (78 vs. 71 percent).
  • Those in higher-earning households ($100,000+ annual income) are more likely than those in lower-earning households (<$50,000 annual income) to choose soft skills.

"While we can't definitively say based off this survey sample, most young people are not as experienced in making significant hiring decisions and therefore aren't as aware of the importance of soft skills in hiring," Rivera explains. "In the same vein, those with a college degree and high earners--individuals most likely to be making hiring decisions--choose soft skills over hard skills."

How employers can help

There is, of course, some risk for any employer who takes on someone without significant real-world knowhow. But according to Rivera, employers make this decision consciously, and while there are no guarantees, they know that people who can fit within the company culture are more likely to succeed. They understand people are going to make mistakes and look at the big picture.

Rivera says there are two big strategies that can protect the business and get the new hire more balance.

1. Have the person who lacks technical skills to start out in a very transactional or one-task role, moving them to a more team environment where there's greater interaction over time. The new hire likely can use their soft skills to leverage the relationships they're building and subsequently pick up knowledge very quickly. The rub here, though is that some organizational friction can happen if the new hire happens to move forward faster than others with more experience.

2. Pair the new hire with technical, cultural and social "navigators". These are people who can guide the new hire through tasks so they get the skills they're lacking, and who simultaneously can help the new hire get cultural proficiency for the company (a soft skill in itself).

It's also important to have a real sense of the jobs you're looking to fill.

"Managers should assess their positions and evaluate where technical skills are critical versus other positions where a general knowledge is sufficient and an employee can develop further technical skills," says Rivera.

Remember where you started, too. Whether you had to develop soft skills over time or got by with a "fake it 'til I make it" attitude, you need an appropriate level of expectation whenever you're considering taking a chance on someone else.

What to do if you lack the soft skills companies want

"Sharing examples of working in a team environment is a good start, as well as describing any interaction with other departments, customers, partners or any key stakeholders on a project," says Rivera. "Even with limited experience or soft skills, pointing out those interactions can help show a willingness to work with others."

You can also note leadership experience in a cover letter with results-oriented terms or points that are more attractive than actual resume skills, such as "ahead of schedule" or "led a 15-person team on a project that generated $250,000 in revenue".

In either case, try to be a great storyteller.

"...Sharing past experiences as stories rather than a list of duties and achievements can help emphasize the personality and work ethic you brought to the table. It's also critical that they are able to relate these stories to their technical experience during the interview process."

So see the enormous value soft skills now have. But don't work yourself into an anxious frenzy if you still have work to do. No matter where you happen to be with soft and hard skills, employers can help you, and you can improve and frame yourself to get what you want.