Soft skills are incredibly important, not only in the professional world, but in everyday life too. First things first, though – what actually are soft skills? Let’s look at the term in more detail.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are essentially ‘people skills’. They relate to your personality and how you interact with others. To be specific, soft skills can be classed as a mixture of people skills, social skills, communication skills, personality traits, attitudes, career attributes and social intelligence. Because they are not vocation-specific, they are transferable across jobs and industries.
Soft skills stand in contrast to hard skills; technical abilities that can be backed up by formal qualifications and specific experiences. On the other hand, soft skills are less tangible, and while a person either does or does not have a hard skill, they might possess a soft skill to a certain extent. This makes soft skills much more difficult to assess. To a degree, soft skills are part of your character, but you can develop them if you are prepared to put in the time and effort.
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Why are they important?
Soft skills help you navigate life successfully. In a work environment, recruiters evaluate whether or not you are a suitable candidate for the role they are trying to fill by looking at both your hard and soft skills. Of course, you’ll need to have the relevant qualifications and experience to demonstrate that you have the skills needed to carry out the job, but you won’t get very far on a day-to-day basis if you don’t have soft skills.
For example, if you plan to work in an office, you’ll need to be able to work cooperatively with your colleagues, communicate effectively and have a great work ethic. If you are applying to be a waiter, your employer will want you to be a team player, a problem solver and an empathetic communicator.
Most jobs require both hard and soft skills. Take doctors, for instance; they must have the knowledge and skills needed to accurately diagnose health issues, but also the approachability, compassion and discretion to discuss them with their patients.
Soft skills are particularly important for graduates. If you don’t have much experience in the relevant field, employers will look to your soft skills to see if you have the potential to become a valuable employee. They will try to assess your attitude and work out whether you would be a suitable fit for their work environment.
What are the top soft skills?
- Communication – the vast majority of employers will want employees that can communicate clearly and concisely in person, on the phone and in writing. This involves listening as well as talking, and it will enable you to tactfully put across a different opinion without creating a dispute. Communication skills are vital if the job involves making presentations, negotiating, writing reports, customer service or networking.
- Critical thinking – valuable employees will have the ability to analyse situations and make quick but sensible decisions. They should also be adaptable, innovative and good at problem-solving.
- Teamwork – this involves working cooperatively in a group of people. You should be able to accept diversity within the team, solve any differences in opinion and take constructive feedback on the chin.
- Work ethic – having the self-motivation and focus to successfully see a project through to the end. Jobs should be completed with attention to detail, in good time and to the best of your abilities. You should also be able to think clearly under pressure and work independently without supervision. People with good work ethic also tend to be organised, reliable and great at multi-tasking.
- Self-awareness – you need to have the humility to accept accountability for mistakes and be willing to learn from them.
- Creativity – creative individuals are of great use to employers, as they can find new ways to perform tasks, boost efficiency and identify new ventures. You should be open-minded, playful and willing to take risks.
How can I demonstrate soft skills when jobhunting?
When you’re applying for jobs, make sure you identify the types of soft skills that are valued in the sector you want to enter. Once you’ve done this, update your CV to make sure it mentions them. But don’t simply list the soft skills you have. Make your application more believable by inserting examples of times when you demonstrated these skills effectively – and don’t forget to include the outcome. By doing this, the employer will be able to see that you can use soft skills to create positive change.
Even if you’re a recent graduate, use your experiences to bolster your points. In college or at university, you probably juggled deadlines, worked independently under pressure and collaborated with others. If you’ve done part-time work in a shop or café, you’ll have refined your customer service, teamwork and problem-solving skills.
How can I improve my soft skills?
Improving soft skills can be more complicated than gaining hard skills. If you’re particularly shy, for instance, learning leadership skills can be extremely difficult – but there are ways to go about it.
- Practise. It may sound obvious, but practise the skills you intend to improve. Seize opportunities at work or in your social life to refine your abilities.
- Observe others. Take the time to mentally note the good habits of those you look up to. Perhaps they let a colleague finish explaining something in full before they put their point across, or block out their day in the morning to make sure they fit in everything they need to do. Incorporate these into your own routines and, hopefully, you’ll improve your soft skills.
- Set goals. Work out when you want to have improved by and plan to carry out small tasks or have new experiences on the way. If you’re looking for a job, prioritise the skills that it requires.
- Ask friends or colleagues for constructive criticism. Their outsider perspective could be extremely valuable, as they might highlight something that you hadn’t even considered.
- Use the resources available to you. You can find a huge number of useful books and online courses that can help you polish your skills.
Alice Tuffery, Point Franchise ©