In a competitive job market, in many cases, candidates will find themselves going up against professionals with similar qualifications, education and technical expertise. When companies find themselves faced with a tough choice between candidates, they turn towards other aspects – such as soft skills.

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Due to this, professionals should also be aware of what soft skills are in demand, and how they can work towards acquiring those skills. Here are a few essential answers to commonly asked questions about what candidates need to know about soft skills, and which ones are lacking in the current Thai market.

1. What are some of the soft skills that are lacking in local Thai candidates?

In my view, Thai candidates are typically less assertive or aggressive in their communication style and tone. They tend not to oversell themselves during interviews and give an honest approach about their qualifications and actually, at times, undervalue what they can offer. It takes them a bit of time to warm up and build a relationship with external stakeholders.

2. Why are the skills are lacking? Has it got to do with education or the structure of Thailand’s economy?

I believe the unique culture in Thailand is one of the main influences on the candidates in the market - from both the good and bad sides. As I mentioned, they are typically less assertive and aggressive, especially to more senior figures as they are taught to respect and listen to elders at a young age. Constructive criticism of higher-ranked personnel can be considered disrespectful and rude, even when the point may be valid.

Of course, the educational system in any country will always reflect on the quality of its citizens. In more developed countries, students are given significantly more financial support from the government to pursue their studies. In Thailand, however, it can be considered a privilege for an individual to complete Tertiary Education studies. In addition to the lack of opportunities, the shortage of quality teachers in Thai schools and universities also poses further problems.

It is well-known amongst Thai people that the local educational system relies upon a “memorising” method of learning rather than understanding the actual content of the studies taught. While this may get some individuals diplomas and degrees from respective high schools and universities, the knowledge that is required in a working environment can lack depth. Even more so, the development (or lack of) of soft skills can be apparent.

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3. Why are soft skills becoming increasingly important in the market? What are candidates missing out on if they don’t have the right soft skills?

Global multi-national companies have strong preferences for candidates who possess strong communication skills in both English and Thai. Specifically, top candidates are those who can constructively challenge the status quo and decisions made by their superiors. However, this has to be conducted in the right manner – there is a fine line between constructive criticism and plain out rude comments.

A recent government initiative, Thailand 4.0, is aiming to move Thailand toward a tech-centric ‘value-based economy’. This inevitably results in more demand for talented Thai candidates. Soft skills are considered crucial within any business setting, especially when dealing with regional or global stakeholders.

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4. What are some ways that professionals can acquire these skills?

My suggestion to individuals who would like to enhance their soft skills is to be brave and courageous in discussions and networking. My university professor once told me “you can be an expert in anything nowadays in three months!” There is so much free information out there. Essentially, the only way you can improve at anything is by learning and doing it. There is absolutely no value in learning the theory and then taking no action. For instance, try participating and engaging in discussions more at work, make your voices heard and give constructive opinions. Do not sit quietly in the corner of the meeting room. By engaging, it will naturally enhance your soft skills, personality and mindset.

Soft skills come naturally to those who are “nice” to others. A good practice is to “be nice” to everyone, not just your boss or certain colleagues. Be nice to the cleaners, security guards, waiters, etc. Make conversations with them, ask them about their lives, and care about the answers. Most importantly, never look down on anyone. This will not only enhance your skills of conversing with a diverse range of people but also your image as a person from outsiders. This is a crucial trait for a good leader.

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5. Have you got any real-life candidate stories to share?

This is a story regarding one of my candidates that I shortlisted for a vacant sales position at a global start-up company. I was referred to her profile by one of my active candidates on the database. During the first phone conversation, her personality came across as unenergetic, reserved, and slow. Overall, it was quite a negative initial impression on the phone.

Despite this, I invited her in for a face-to-face interview to discuss her experiences further and work preferences going forward. After our meeting, my perception of the candidate completely changed. It seemed as if she was not the same person as the one who’d spoken on the phone. She was energetic, sharp, and proactive and so she deservedly proceeded to the next round to do a face-to-face interview with the client.

After her interview with the client, the feedback was positive on her ability to do the job but there were concerns regarding her soft skills. The client felt she was too direct in the demand of her salary package and hence decided not to proceed with her further.

The moral of this story is to always have the flexibility to adapt to each person’s character. Having good soft skills means you need to have the ability to adapt to all types of characters to get the result you want, as there is not just a one-way method for everyone.   

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