Soft skills are intangible and grow and change as workplace relationships evolve. They are not as easy to learn but can be developed through classes, workshops, mentorships and determination.
Ted, who has an MBA, exhibited a knack for unearthing the best research. However, most of the time it never reached his manager’s desk before the deadline. He suffered from severe disorganization and was extremely difficult to work with on a team.
Fred, on the other hand, was an excellent communicator with a terrific personality that made everyone want to work with him. Yet his computer skills were appalling, as were his financial skills. When it came to solving a problem, however, everyone knew to consult Fred.
Who sounds like the better long-term employee? Ted or Fred? Ted offers two wonderful hard skills: his degree and research abilities. Yet he possesses three poor soft skills. He is not dependable or organized and is not a team player. Fred is somewhat the opposite. He falls short with two hard skills: computer savviness and financial skills. However, he epitomizes three soft skills. He is an effective communicator, problem solver and team player.
Soft Skills, Hard Skills… What’s The Bother?
What is all the fuss about soft skills and hard skills? What do they really mean? Professional skills characterized as hard are those that are defined and measurable. Perhaps most notable, they are teachable. For example, Fred’s employer could enroll him in computer and financial workshops to improve his effectiveness. Or Fred himself could take classes at a local college to earn a certificate or degree. He could truly learn to master all of those hard skills in which he is deficient.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are intangible attributes of employees. They are non-technical skills that affect relationships and are not as easy to teach. In Ted’s case, he needs to learn to be dependable, organized and a team player. See the difference? While there are ways to teach those skills, they are not as measurable and concrete as teaching the skills that Fred needs. It’s not possible to master them, either, since humans’ personalities are constantly growing and changing, as are the relationships at work.
Which Skills Set Do Employers Care About Most?
According to a January 22, 2018, article on LinkedIn, “57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills.” A 2014 national survey conducted for CareerBuilder found an astounding 77 percent of companies stated that soft and hard skills were equally important. If you think of it in the most elementary way, it’s a lot more difficult to teach a grade school student how to be nice than it is to add two plus two.
A person showcasing a wonderful array of soft skills is more employable and more desirable. What if you know you lack in some of the popular soft skills described? Is it possible to improve enough to be noticed? The first thing that will get you noticed is your acknowledgment. If you can go to your boss and admit the deficiency, you have made one positive step already.
Ask your manager for help in making the changes you want. There are classes for everything. You might find something online or at the local college. If you can’t find related training, ask someone who exudes the skill to be your mentor. He can give you tips and feedback. You will need to be able to accept the necessary constructive criticism throughout this process. Even if you did take classes, a mentor is a terrific way to make yourself more accountable.
Examples Of Soft Skills
In evaluating numerous business-related websites, nearly two dozen soft skills were emphasized for their importance. Twelve of those are described below in order from most common to least. You’ll notice some overlap between the skills.
Communication involves many areas, such as verbal (in-person, over the phone or even webcasts) and written communication (e.g., memos, reports, emails, official documents or presentations, letters) as well as conflict resolution, negotiation and persuasiveness. A good communicator must be able to relate to colleagues, bosses, vendors and clients. This is a key skill all professionals should continually improve.
Everyone knows how uncomfortable and challenging it is to work with a superior, equal or inferior who is unkind, argumentative or uncooperative. An effective team player is someone who listens well, speaks and acts respectfully and does his or her fair share of the work. He or she is also flexible and committed.
When a project changes direction, it’s important for employees to stay level-headed, calm and go with the flow. Companies want folks who can transition and keep the needed work on track.
4. Problem solving
Effective workers can analyze the situation and change course as needed, similar to being flexible. You should be resourceful and have the ability to present solutions, whether it is with people or projects.
Of course, admirable leaders are always needed in the workplace. Companies want someone who can see what needs to be done, find the resources and produce an excellent outcome. They want leaders who get involved, are fair and inspire others.
6. Time Management
Have you ever heard the saying, “If you have five hours to complete a task, you’ll take five hours? Yet, if you have two hours to finish the same task, you will do it?” Someone with good time management skills budgets the proper time to complete what they need to do and strives to get it done early, if possible. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog every morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” If you tackle your difficult or big project first, it will make the remainder of the day easier.
Your supervisor must be able to rely upon you when you’ll be at work and what you’ll accomplish. He or she should also have no doubt that if you have an assignment to complete, it will be done as expected. A dependable employee also produces consistent, fine work.
This is a trickier soft skill to learn but can be done with a lot of practice, awareness and mentorship. Train your brain to think and look outside the obvious. Read habitually and make learning part of your everyday routine. Be curious. Ask questions others are afraid to ask. Be willing to try new things and fail. From failure, people learn how to improve. Don’t forget to take breaks. The human brain needs breaks and other stimulation.
9. Work Under Pressure
There have been many movie scenes of people operating under pressure at work. “Jerry Maguire,” “Office Space” and “The Devil Wears Prada” are just a few examples. In actuality, some people thrive under pressure— and managers love those individuals. This skill incorporates staying level-headed, calm and productive.
10. Work Ethic
A good work ethic shows your employer that you are worthy, reliable and honorable. This attribute is likely something you learned from your parents. An October 31, 2015, article in Inc. magazine described a related analysis by Harvard Business Review. It found that parents’ work ethics could influence their children in a variety of ways from the offspring following it exactly, to doing the opposite. The study established that sometimes the shadowing was deliberate and other times it was not.
You’ve seen the offices where the papers are piled high everywhere, but the owner knows exactly where everything is. While it is possible to work in a state of disarray, it’s not ideal. Create a consistent pattern for filing important emails and papers and a schedule for doing it. Set aside periodic times to purge the unnecessary. Delegate, manage deadlines and make appointments.
This is a big one. The work of motivated employees really shines and inspires others. Recognize good ideas and final products. Be optimistic. Set attainable goals. Determine your purpose.
Other soft skills that were mentioned less frequently included critical thinking, decisiveness, prioritization, growth potential, cultural fit, friendliness, coachability, self-confidence, commitment and attitude.
How To Flaunt Your Skills
When applying for jobs, take particular note of the skills mentioned in the job description, whether it be hard or soft. Be sure to revise your past and present job descriptions to incorporate them into your resume, cover letter and job interview. See the examples below.
In a formal job interview, you’ll likely be asked to give examples of situations where you exhibited the desired soft skill. It might be an example of how you organized a project you lead, what you did in the face of a conflict with a co-worker or how you handled a time crunch.
Whether it be tangible or intangible attributes, if you want to be the best employee or boss, you’ll need to work on it regularly. There are classes online and in-person to help you gain new skills or fine-tune old ones. Advance all your skills, keep a mentorship active with someone you respect and ask your employer what steps you need to take to further your career.