Soft Skills for Nurses: What’s Important for Healthcare Hiring

By Caroline Roberson on June 8, 2022

​The healthcare industry is in a talent crisis. A shortage of qualified candidates and surges in demand is leaving hospitals, research centers, and care facilities scrambling to fill open positions.

But recruiters can’t just pick candidates based on degrees or certifications.

While education is a vital component of any healthcare worker’s resume, it’s often the ‘soft skills’ that determine their success and retention in a role. Healthcare organizations are increasingly listing soft skills as a criteria for hiring — emotional intelligence/empathy, communication skills, teamwork and time management top the list.

Though the exact soft skills a candidate needs will vary based on the job they do.

Healthcare organizations hiring staff to run a fast-paced ER need talent who are responsive, resilient, and rapid problem-solvers; whereas if those new hires are going to work in a pediatric unit, or in a nursing home interacting with the same patients and families every day, skills like empathy, adaptability, and optimism would be more valuable.

Curious as to which skills align most closely with common healthcare roles? Take a look at the lists below for better insight:

Home Health Aides

  • Active Listening
  • Service Orientation
  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Critical Thinking
  • Monitoring

Mental Health Counselor

  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Active Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Service Orientation

Registered Nurse

  • Coordination
  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Active Listening
  • Critical Thinking
  • Service Orientation

The pandemic is adding a new sense of urgency to this trend.

Healthcare workers are facing a high risk of burnout as COVID-19 continues to take its toll. That’s causing many facilities to reallocate existing staff, putting employees into settings that require them to quickly adapt. Home health services are also expanding and agencies/businesses are hungry for talent who can engage with patients virtually via tele-health and remote contact.

In all of these settings, understanding the soft skills employees need to thrive will help managers make the best hiring and reallocation decisions, as well as provide the support these employees need to avoid stress-related turnover.

Vetting soft skills

With these figures in mind, the challenge is how to vet candidates’ and employees’ soft skills as part of the recruiting and management process. In healthcare, it’s easy to determine who has the credentials to fill a role, but soft skills are more subtle. They can’t be identified in a resume and are difficult to verify during interviews, even for the most seasoned interviewers.

But they can be quickly quantified when employers make pre-employment assessments part of the hiring and talent mobility process.

HighMatch’s assessments measure the seven core personality traits that identify how people relate to and interact with others, and the four problem solving traits that describe their abilities and the types of tasks that come easiest to them.

Together these assessments can show recruiters and talent managers exactly what soft skills a person excels in, and where they may need additional support to find success. That gives recruiters a way to more accurately match candidates to the job profile, and to compare candidates with similar pedigrees so they can make the best hiring and placement decisions.

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Start with a benchmark

To make the biggest impact, assessments shouldn’t be used in a vacuum. Just as every healthcare job description comes with a clearly defined set of requirements, an assessment is most valuable when it can be compared to a benchmark. That means recruiters and talent managers need to define the soft skills required for the existing role, then align those skills to their hiring profile.

For this, many companies start with a benchmark study, which assesses the traits of current top performers to determine what characteristics they have in common. This process helps companies identify the specific traits that top performers share, and what sets them apart from their less successful peers. In many cases, outlier traits can be the key to uncovering great hidden talent.

That data can then be translated into a hiring profile that defines what traits are most desirable for each healthcare role, and weighs them according to their importance to on-the-job success.

Once healthcare companies have these profiles, they can apply them across the organization. Recruiters can use them to vet and compare candidates knowing the closer they match the profile, the more likely they’ll be to succeed. And talent managers can use them to better understand their current workforce. This makes it easier to move talent around the organization, and to customize training and mentoring to fit the various needs of individuals.

And every time a new hire or employee completes an assessment, it can be added to their employee file, building a corporate knowledge-base of soft skills that can be tracked against performance.

Soft skills and the future of work

The pandemic may have intensified the demand for adaptable talent in healthcare, but the challenge of filling these roles isn’t going away. An aging workforce, high rates of burnout, and more demand than supply means healthcare companies will continue to struggle to fill key roles.

Making sure new hires have the soft skills to thrive in these high-pressure jobs will help companies better vet their pipelines, and ensure the candidates they do hire will be ideally suited to every role, which can help improve performance, retention, and bottom-line results.

This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA. HighMatch has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

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