Graduate Management News

April 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Winning the War for Talent with Soft Skills

Classroom skills will get you in the door, but soft skills carry the day.

Soft Skills

At the recent Smith School Business Summit, an annual one-day event designed to bring together students, business leaders, faculty, and alumni to exchange insights on current trends and strategies, a panel of human resources executives from a broad spectrum of industries all agreed on one truth as it relates to acquiring and managing business school talent: classroom skills will get you in the door, but soft skills carry the day. 


“It’s not only what you know and what degree you have, but what kind of personality you have and how you fit into the culture.” 

Wil Vande Wiel
Area President, DORMA Americas 


A panel that included Philip Altschuler, vice president of Human Resources at Gables Residential; Eric Barger, vice president of Global Talent Management at McCormick & Company; Jennifer Cowley, senior manager in Deloitte Consulting’s Federal Human Capital practice; and Wil Vande Wiel, area president for DORMA Americas, all agreed that talent management remains one of the most compelling strategic priorities facing global organizations that are trying to maintain a competitive advantage and retain a passionate, highly engaged workforce. 

Whether in growth mode, as is the case with DORMA, aiming to quadruple its size in the Americas over the next six years, or maintaining a particularly long-tenured workforce, as is the case with McCormick, companies are assessing soft skills as a way to identify leadership qualities, ensure fit, and, ultimately, retain top talent, which makes hiring more cost effective in the long run. 


Talent management remains one of the most compelling strategic priorities facing global organizations that are trying to maintain a competitive advantage and retain a passionate, highly engaged workforce.


How Do You Know if Your Future Leaders Have Leadership Skills? 

Employers want leaders. This is certainly true for Deloitte’s government clients, according to Jennifer Cowley. “Personality will show us all of the places in the organization a candidate can fit in,” she said. “Part of our interview process is behavioral so we can see how individuals interact in a stressful environment and gain insight into how they get along and work as a team.” 

But do today’s business school students possess the skills needed to lead? Again, for recruiters, the answer lies not entirely in classroom credentials. “It’s not only what you know and what degree you have, but what kind of personality you have and how you fit into the culture,” said Vande Wiel. “We’ve learned that we were in the past looking at the best of the best (GPA, schools, etc.), but we ended up replacing them within a year because while their skills were good, but the personality was not fitting the vision of the company,” he added. 

The bottom line is that cultural fit and personality beat everything else. “If you think, feel, and behave differently, then you may not succeed,” said Altschuler. Assessing soft skills, according to these seasoned talent management executives, lets employers gain insight into the cognitive and behavioral traits that drive success. 

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