I have a sense that, recently, HR has been overegging the need for soft skills.
In recent years, I’ve had several job interviews where I wasn’t asked a single technical question, or asked to prove I knew a damn thing about employment law. While I’ve been asked myriad questions along the lines of “how would you influence/persuade/convince/challenge?”, the number of “what?” questions has often been lacking. Would the same organisations employ an accountant without checking out their numerical competence? Maybe they would. I was once involved in what turned out to be a disastrous IT Support appointment, where the recruiting managers dismissed as unnecessary my suggestion that candidates should be asked to rectify a software issue. 3 months later, I escorted the unfortunate appointee out of the building. He couldn’t do the job.
Reliance on formal qualifications is risky too, as you cannot be sure the candidate has kept up to date in their field.
I once worked in HR in a large public sector organisation with someone who was great fun, but technically risky. On two occasions, she colluded with naïve managers and attempted hasty, high-risk dismissals, in ignorance of the potential consequences. I found myself almost in a whistleblowing situation, working with directors to undo the damage. We succeeded, by the seat of our pants.
Issues such as TUPE transfers, redundancy, sickness absence, positive action in recruitment – to name but a few areas – require employment law knowledge and technical competence. I acknowledge that teamwork and emotional intelligence matter in HR. However, while good communication skills are a huge asset, they are not enough.