'Soft skills’ characterise relationships with other people and how you approach life and work. They are usually self-taught and self-developed and not specific to an industry or job type. They are also known as ‘people skills’, ‘interpersonal skills’ or ‘social skills’. These skills are in direct contrast to hard skills, which are usually developed through studying and training and are required to be able to perform a particular job. Examples of hard skills include fluency in a foreign language, knowledge of a specific software or experience in a particular industry sector.
Soft skills are becoming increasingly valuable to all employers, regardless of their industry sector, as knowing the ones you can offer them helps companies to better understand how you will fit in with their working culture and teams and how you will perform as one of their employees. For example, if you don't have a positive attitude, can't work well as part of a team and aren't able to communicate well both verbally and in writing, it may not matter how impressive your hard skills and professional achievements may be.
In an interview scenario, you will be asked to describe examples of soft skills that the employer feels are important elements required to be successful in the role, so it is a good idea to review those required and ensure you can demonstrate relevant work related examples wherever possible.
Unlike hard skills, there are no exams to prove that you have any specific soft skills, but this does not mean they are easier to master. You can measure your success in developing them in how well you manage the work relationships with those around you – co-workers, managers, customers and suppliers. Whether you’re new to the job market or looking to upskill to take that next step in your career its worth taking some time to develop some key ones or hone any that you may feel you need to improve upon.
Here are the top 8 soft skills that the majority of employers would definitely be looking for in their new recruits:
The one soft skill that every employer looks for is good communication. The definition of good is being able to give accurate information in a clear and concise way, both in writing and verbally wherever possible and also equally important is to be able to listen well to others communicating with you. Good communication also includes body language, used appropriately when communicating face to face.
Employers want to know how you interact with your colleagues, how clearly you express yourself, as well as how you listen to and respond to instructions from your managers. Having good communication skills is all about adjusting the way you deliver relevant information to your audience. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how they want the information and what do they want to know.
Every job out there will require you to communicate with other people so being polite and helpful with colleagues and customers on email, in person and on the phone, as well as speaking up when there’s a problem, should all be normal practice.
This is arguably one of the most valuable soft skills you can have whatever stage you have reached in your career. It's also one of the most difficult to attain.
With a number of tasks to complete, you will need to show that you can handle the pressure whilst also prioritising and being able to allocate your time effectively to complete the tasks at hand. Punctuality is also important as deadlines and meetings will require you to be on time. You will also need to prove how well you can adapt and how flexible you are when things don’t go as planned. Prior to any interview, it’s a good idea to have a few examples of where you have demonstrated good time management skills as employers will usually include this in their list of questions.
Being organised is a great life skill in general but particularly useful in the workplace. In a lot of jobs, you'll be responsible for managing your own workload, which means being organised so that you meet deadlines. They key to having good organisational skills is to develop processes to complete work, whether it’s a one-off complex project, or the creation and delivery of a weekly report. In every job, there are always certain repetitive tasks and having an effective process in place can help you get things done more quickly and effectively.
Work projects don't always run smoothly and when things get turned upside down, employers want to know that they can rely on you to do what is necessary to put things right. And that means being flexible, as well as adaptable. Both can often mean going outside your comfort zone in order be more effective but they are extremely valuable skills to have – those who can adapt to any situation are perceived by employers as dependable no matter what's thrown at them.
Creative skills are highly valued because they are hard to develop. Some believe that creative thinkers are born, not made, and there is no doubt that there are some people who find these skills much easier than others. Whether you view yourself as a creative type or not, it is worth developing an ability to tap into creative ‘right brain’ thinking, as being able to come up with unique solutions or alternatives is invaluable; it drives innovation and increases efficiency.
This is another soft skill that is not easy to develop. However, everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all regularly encounter problems in work, although some are obviously more severe or complex than others. Planning and structuring will help make your problem solving process more likely to be successful, good judgement and an element of good luck will ultimately determine whether your solution is a success!
7.Interpersonal or social skills
This skill is closely related to communication. The old saying “…people will forget what you said and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel”. To have good interpersonal skills you should be effective at building trust; finding common ground; having emotional empathy; and ultimately building positive and mutually beneficial working relationships with people.
We have already mentioned the importance of developing good interpersonal skills and these are aligned closely with becoming a good team player. The ability to be able work together with your colleagues to get things done is a vital part of most jobs. To achieve a better team result, you should be able to work effectively with any individual, whatever their skill set, personality, work style or motivation level.
However well-developed you believe your soft skills are, it is key to support them with examples of work situations where you used these skills successfully and efficiently. For instance, to convey your ability to work in a team, you will need to demonstrate how you worked together with a group of individuals to successfully complete a task or project. You’ll need to provide some detail here: scope of work, job titles of the team, how responsibilities were assigned and delegated, whether there were any obstacles to overcome, as well as the actual outcome.
Of course this list is not exhaustive, but developing this list of soft skills will set you in good stead when you’re searching for a new role, and in life more generally too!