A high IQ and technical skills are great to have, but surprisingly, STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) expertise is less important than soft skills when it comes to being a top employee at Google.

Hiring departments have historically prioritized technical skills, such as the ability to code in Ruby on Rails, or an understanding of Microsoft Office. Google’s Project Oxygen looked at what made a great manager, and discovered that among the most important qualities of Google’s top employees, soft skills trumped technical skills.

Top characteristics of success

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
  6. Being able to make connections across complex ideas

Google hires some of the best and brightest in the world, with teams of top scientists and specialists in their field. However, when Google’s Project Aristotle looked at what made teams productive, they found that the company’s most important ideas came from “B-teams” made of employees who aren’t always the smartest people in the room.

What made those teams better than the “smarter” teams? They exhibited a range of soft skills, such as emotional safety, curiosity towards teammates’ ideas, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Even if a team had the smartest people in their fields, if they didn’t know how to collaborate and support each other, they didn’t produce results on par with teams that did. In the best teams, every team member must be confident to speak up and make mistakes without being seen as ignorant or incompetent.

When you look at other leading companies, you see the same trends emerging.

“A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters.” – Cathy N. Davidson

The HR industry already knows about the importance of technical skills when hiring, but we are responsible for hiring individuals who will contribute to overall success, not just “the smartest person in the room.” We must focus more efforts on finding employees who have the soft skills every company needs, from EQ to communication skills. When lacking, we are also responsible for making sure our teams get trained in these soft skills to move forward with a healthy, psychologically safe work environment for everyone.


About the Author: Jocelyn Pick