EQ over IQ: why a can-do attitude can trump a degree

A study suggests employers value soft skills over qualifications. It'd be nice if it wasn't an either/ or...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 14 Jul 2011
Bad news for those jobless graduates who turned to pricey post-grad courses while they waited for the job market to recover: a survey by Virgin Media Business has found that business owners are actually far more interested in ‘soft skills’ like communication skills and empathy than the number of letters after your name. Apparently, 85% of employers look for candidates with a ‘can-do’ attitude, compared to just 27% who look for academic qualifications. All those MBA-toting C-suite wannabes might wince – but perhaps it's partly a sign of the times...

The survey, of 5,000 business owners, also found that just 28% of employers look for professional qualifications - although perhaps that's more a reflection of the current state of these qualifications than anything else. Moves are afoot to boost the status of vocational courses in particular, so they're not seen as a second-class option. But that's going to require business and the education sector to work closely together to make sure these courses are teaching the right skills.

Even more surprisingly, just a quarter of employers claim to look for computer literacy. Given that office workers make up 12m of the UK’s 30m-strong workforce, this seems a little odd - unless they just take it for granted these days that any old punter can work an office desktop (with the possible exception of MT editor Matthew Gwyther). Or perhaps they're just too dazzled by those impressive communication skills?

To be fair, this survey is presumably not trying to suggest that a big smile and a sparkling personality are a valid substitute for a degree. But with unemployment standing at 2.53m, this is a hirers' market; since most employers will be inundated with applications from a raft of well (or even over) qualified candidates, soft skills could well be the deciding factor. And faced with the choice between someone with a first-class MA but no discernible interpersonal skills, and a less well-qualified candidate who's fluent and engaging at interview, we know who we’d choose – every time…

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