As time progresses, more workers and employers have had to adapt to the pandemic’s “new normal” for the workplace. One of the areas where employers have shifted their focus is in their approach to hiring.
According to the Employer Branding NOW 2020 survey by employer-branding firm Universum, hiring managers are placing greater emphasis on soft skills over technical job knowledge. This comes at a time when adaptability is especially important, and companies’ levels of dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been highlighted in the US and around the world.
The survey ranked the soft skills that today’s top employers are looking for in their ideal candidate, and we’ve highlighted the skills that resonate the most with the Grammarly team. Here, we dive into what each of these skills encompasses and share perspectives from individual Grammarly team members about how they maintain these skills in their own work.
Ranked number one on the list of what company leaders are looking for in their next hire is learning agility. Forty-six percent of companies cited learning agility as a priority when evaluating candidates. This skill involves a person’s ability to problem-solve their way through an unknown scenario or situation. This skill isn’t about your cognitive ability, but rather how quickly and easily you can learn and absorb new information.
Drew Sherwood, Grammarly’s Head of Commercial Inside Sales, further defines learning agility as “key to adapting to changes, as well as to understanding which skills are no longer relevant and which new ones need to be acquired. This means being open-minded to feedback and rebounding quickly from failure to apply new learnings.” He explains that at Grammarly, there’s “a culture of trust that empowers employees to be candid with one another, enabling me to be agile with my learnings and resilient in the face of change.”
Openness to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
Racial inequities across the globe, particularly with the recent Black Lives Matter rallying cry for social justice in the US, has emphasized the need for diversity in the workplace. According to the survey, 42 percent of top companies view openness to diversity, equity, and inclusion as a priority in the hiring process. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts aren’t limited to matters of race, either; organizations are striving to select from a “more diverse talent pool” and freeing the hiring process from biases of all kinds.
As a member of Grammarly’s People team, DEI is front and center for Esther Jung, People Program Manager. “Self-reflection is a powerful tool I leverage every day at Grammarly,” says Jung. “I am constantly reflecting and assessing the actions I take. Through these moments, I expand my awareness and range of perspectives to embrace everyone’s uniqueness and differences.”
Jung adds that being open to diversity and inclusion is about more than just her individual attitude: “Each action every team member takes shapes our culture, experience, and product.”
Working remotely can be isolating. According to an April 2020 Slack survey, 45 percent of newly remote workers (i.e., those without prior experience working remotely) said that working from home felt lonely and adversely affected their “sense of belonging at work.” The focus on collaboration helps employers identify candidates who are keen on finding ways to work together, despite not being in the same physical space.
Celeste Mora, Senior Content Strategy Manager at Grammarly, places empathy at the heart of collaboration: “To collaborate with someone effectively, you first have to understand where they’re coming from. This is why I like to have the occasional ‘explain it to me like I’m five years old’ conversation with my close cross-functional collaborators: I want to understand exactly how they think through a problem, not just the problem itself.”
Mora also emphasizes the importance of consistently honest communication in fostering a collaborative culture. She explains, “If someone I’m working with was hurt (however slightly) by some feedback I gave and I don’t know it, will they trust my opinions as much in the future? We need to make sure we know what and how others are thinking and feeling, and that will make collaborative relationships even stronger.”
The pandemic has tested workers’ ability to bounce back from challenging situations. Thirty-four percent of leading companies are leaning toward candidates who’ve demonstrated resilience in the workplace. As the world works toward getting to the other side of the pandemic, employers are mindfully looking for candidates who exhibit this characteristic.
Optimism might be challenging to sustain when work conditions or the global context are challenging. However, Tolik Visikirskiy, People Partner at Grammarly, emphasizes that “Even when it’s hard, positive thinking can help increase my productivity, give me strength to push through things, and enjoy the result.” Buoying one’s spirit is a core aspect of resilience, but so is adaptability. Per Visikirskiy, “In the modern world, things change and evolve very fast, so I try to be flexible. If I prepare myself for the chance that things I’m working on might change, when that does happen, I’m less stressed, accept changes, and stay positive.”
Creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation also ranked high on this list, with 31 percent of respondents prioritizing it during the hiring process. This skill isn’t always teachable, and in a remote situation, it’s even more challenging to come up with creative and new solutions compared to brainstorming inside of a conference room with peers.
Grammarly team member Sasha Marinich sees adaptability and evolving as the keys to staying creative and fresh in his work as an Engineering Manager. He explains that “the environment at Grammarly brings new exciting circumstances regularly. Sometimes I’m challenged with team growth and scaling. Sometimes I look to solve strategic technical questions. At other times, I have to review my own skills and approaches to match the situation at hand. Since the nature of the challenges can be so different, my working partners also tend to be different over time.” Change promotes innovation, in other words.
It’s still unclear when companies will bring their employees in-office again—if at all. In a survey by Mercer, one-third of companies plan to keep at least half of their employees in a remote-work arrangement after the pandemic. This makes communication among the top areas of focus for hiring managers as continued work within distributed teams is expected. Twenty-five percent of Universum respondents call it an important skill that leaders are looking for in a candidate.
Laura Pereyra Rue, Senior Internal Communications Manager at Grammarly, embodies an empathetic communication style at work. For her, communication is “about being thoughtful and building understanding. I think it can be easy to say a lot, very quickly, but I try—and it’s a practice!—to slow down and carefully share what I mean so that there’s a shared pool of meaning. Otherwise, it’s easy to miscommunicate.”
Everyone is still adapting to the possibility of extended pandemic workplace restrictions, and where they fit into them. If you’re looking for a new job or thinking about transitioning to a different opportunity, consider which of the above soft skills applies to you. Having a concrete anecdote or example on your cover letter or at your next virtual interview could help set you apart.