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Soft Skills

Another important element that must be included in your job roles is a description of the required soft skills, or nontechnical capabilities. Soft skills are different from having the technical ability to perform a job role and are just as important as technical skills when considering candidates for your SOC. Let’s look deeper into the concept of soft skills.

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character and personality traits, career attributes, emotional intelligence, and other human-based factors. Identifying the ideal candidate for any job role must include considerations for your position’s soft skills along with the expected technical skills (also known as “hard skills”) to ensure a successful match is made. For example, if an employee is shy and can’t communicate well, he or she would not be ideal for a role that requires that responsibility. I see many companies make the mistake of promoting a person into a manager or team lead role just because that person has many years invested in the company or is a top performer in his or her current position. The soft skills associated with a manager are unique and require leadership attributes, which some employees will not have based on their personalities and social skills. Not considering soft skills when recruiting new people or promoting employees will lead to underperformance in your SOC.

Certain job roles in a SOC require mature soft skills. Any role that involves communication with executives, public relations, or legal parties requires brevity and clarity of communication in both digital and in-person communication. Soft skills must also include adjusting what is being communicated based on the impact it could have on the target audience. SOC roles that interact with executives must also include soft skills that can provide respectful pushback and constructive feedback when necessary.

Certain roles within a SOC are responsible for developing escalation procedures for events and executing those procedures when an event occurs. These types of SOC roles require soft skills for communication to ensure the accuracy of data that is provided as the escalation process occurs. Soft skills also include deciding when to escalate an event, how often the event should be escalated, and how to identify the severity of an incident. Mistakes in communication can cause a breakdown of the escalation process ranging from overlooking severe incidents to wasting resources on non-severe incidents.

Evaluating Soft Skills

What soft skills should you look for as you recruit candidates for your SOC? According to the LinkedIn article “Hiring Without These Critical ‘Soft Skills’ Is a Recipe for Disaster” by Lou Adler, creator of the Performance-based Hiring methodology, several key hiring mistakes that are not related to technical or soft skills contribute to failure. The first mistake is a mismatch between a manager’s style and the new hire’s need for management and coaching. Some employees will want guidance and will feel isolated if left alone, while other employees interpret guidance as micromanagement and will not approve of being continuously monitored and managed. It is important for a hiring manager to explain their management style and identify if candidates would be comfortable working in that type of environment. A simple question you could ask candidates to identify their desired management style is, “Are you more comfortable with a hands-on manager or a hands-off manager?” Essentially, you are asking potential new hires if they prefer having periodic interaction or continuous interaction with their direct manager. Experienced managers will be able to adjust their management styles to how their direct reports want to communicate with their manager, the expectations for which can be set upfront during the interview process.

Another soft skill conversation hiring managers should have with potential candidates is about the pace of the organization and expected motivation factors to complete tasks. Organizations work at different speeds, sometimes putting pressure on people to meet specific timelines or encouraging people to work late hours. For example, some organizations may claim to work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business hours but frown upon people who leave right at 5 p.m. if work requirements are behind schedule. A hiring manager should be upfront during the interview about how aggressively work schedules are enforced.

People are accustomed to different types of communication styles and expectations. Mismatching communication expectations between a manager and employees can lead to misunderstandings and team underperformance. For example, some people view text messaging as real-time conversation that requires immediate response, while others treat text messages similarly to email, responding to incoming messages when time permits. In this example, somebody with expectations for real-time responses to text messages may interpret not receiving a prompt response as being ignored or as the receiver not wanting to respond, whereas the reality might be that the receiver of the text message believes that text messages should be treated like any other form of communication and prioritized based on importance. Communication style should be confirmed between the hiring manager and candidate, including how often communication should occur and what type of details should be communicated. Examples of reports and data expected to be delivered by employees to their direct manager are great items to go over with a potential candidate to identify if the candidate meets the required soft skills to complete the tasks.

SOC Soft Skills

Specific roles in the SOC have corresponding soft skills expectations, many of which were identified earlier in this chapter as I described skills involving how people communicate and work. I pointed out that some roles have strong organizational and operational skill requirements. Some roles require critical thinking and problem solving. Roles involving interacting with team members require the ability to collaborate with others. Technical writing skills are needed for roles that create reports or develop training. Many of these skills are not developed through technical training but rather are gained through work experience or general education or are just part of a person’s personality or natural abilities.

Many SOC managers and directors I speak with are less concerned about a new SOC member’s knowledge of specific tools. SOC leaders want a new SOC member to have an understanding of underlying functions, systems, networks, and processes and be able to fit into the SOC culture. Along with a strong work ethic (discussed in the next section), soft skills are a critical evaluation point for many SOC roles. Soft skills tend to be more important than technical skills for many roles.

The following is a list of soft skills that I find are common in members of a SOC regardless of which service they provide. I recommend including these soft skills in job profiles when recruiting.

  • Problem solving: Industry and market knowledge

  • Analytical skills: Troubleshooting complex issues

  • Communication: Business understanding

  • Negotiation and diplomacy: Work under pressure

  • Detail-oriented: Organizational skills

  • Teamwork: Documentation and presentation

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