Soft skills: What they are and why they matter
Ready for some whopping news? A total of 93% of employers say the ability to demonstrate soft skills is more important than a major. Ninety-three percent, no less! So right now, if you’re reading this and aren’t sure what soft skills are, you’ll want to know about them. Let’s go …
93% of employers say the ability to demonstrate soft skills is more important than a major*
What are soft skills?
You’ve heard the term “people skills”. That’s what soft skills are–it’s an umbrella term for the many things people skills involve.
Soft skills are all about how we connect and communicate. They’re also known as interpersonal skills. They include everything from our social skills to our attitude and mindset. And our social and emotional intelligence influences our soft skills, plus how proficient we are at them.
Soft skills all have a stake in things like time-management, creative thinking, teamwork, networking, and conflict resolution. (Those, too, are all considered soft skills).
For clarity’s sake, let’s look at what hard skills are. These are things like the ability to use computer software; things like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, etc.
Hard skills are also things like analytical skills. Anything that you’ve learned on a course, studied on-the-job, and/or independently. You develop hard skills through practice. And, unlike soft skills, hard skills are easy to quantify.
Which are the most important soft skills?
Most important soft skills will vary from job to job and who you speak to. Yet, those which top employers list are often communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Creative thinking and learning through reflection (not just for data analysts!) are also right up there. Leading others completes the list of most in-demand soft skills across the globe.**
75% of long-term career success is dependent on soft skills***
How can you improve soft skills?
While there is such a thing as soft skills training, with courses you can pay for, it’s wise to do your research. There’s plenty of learning you can do independently—and for free. And, as a future leader, learning by doing is your fast track to both expertise and excellence.
Let’s look at some really easy ways you can brush up your soft skills. If you’re proactive, every day brings many opportunities. Whether you’re at uni, in your first job, or established in the workplace, there’s always room to freshen your soft skills. So, why not try a few of these?
1. Rather than being ‘open’ to feedback, request it
It opens up communication channels. It also proves your eagerness to learn and embeds yourself in a team. It’s a great way to sense-check that what you’re doing is on the right track.
2. Communicate often
Make what you’re working on known. This doesn’t necessarily mean circulating your to-do list to the whole office, but it does pay to update bosses on progress. You’re on top of things, so communicate that. If something urgent has derailed your planned tasks, communicate that too. Managing expectations is your secret weapon.
3. Step out of your comfort zone–it’s where growth happens
Tasks like leading a workshop, which, with all those stakeholders invited, might feel like a daunting task. Maybe you need to present something you’ve been working on? Or it could be a job you want to apply for but you’re not sure you’ve got what it takes? There’s only one answer: step up to it. The more you do these things, the easier they become.
4. Be ready, and willing, to learn
Sometimes feedback can be difficult to hear. Recognize that it’s with the intention to help you learn and foster a better outcome. It’s rarely personal if you have a good boss and/or team.
5. Take on a leadership role
This is your fastest way to practice soft skills. Try it out, learn, and try again. (That’s your strategy for learning everything, really).
A leadership role doesn’t have to be managing a department, website, or global operations. Take it down a few notches if you need to. You could volunteer yourself to organize a social outing for your team? What if you took responsibility for something crucial that isn’t in your job description? Or yes, take a role that steps your leadership up to the next level. And if imposter syndrome (questioning if you’re capable) creeps its sneaky little self in, kick it to the curb and keep going. You CAN do it.
6. Adapt with workplace changes
Procedures, processes, and staff can be subject to change. And sometimes more often than feels comfortable. Learn to roll with and evolve with it. Like stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s another opportunity for growth.
Speaking of the workplace, every step towards getting there (and being “on the job”) brings the opportunity to refine your soft skills. Your resume might get you a foot in the door, but then what? At the interview stage, your soft skills need to shine. From the first greeting to how you hold yourself (with confidence!), to how you answer questions and also deliver them. After all, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.
Once you’re “on-the-job”, your daily environment offers lots of practice opportunities. Cross-functional teamwork takes good—and regular—communication. You’ll most likely have to present your or a team’s work at some point. Watching how others do those tasks—in person, online—can boost your skills. Is there a leader you admire? A mentor you could work with? Search for TEDTalks on soft skills and leadership and see what inspires you.
“To succeed with data analytics, you need to be able to identify the point where business soft skills meet technical hard skills. Making good use of this combination is critical for effective business as well as problem-solving.”
— Goke Olagbemi, Class of 2019
One other point where soft skills are critical is when there’s a call for diplomacy in the workplace. Or resolving conflict. While it’s natural, and healthy, for people to have different opinions, things need to stay productive and professional. Books, blogs, and again, finding leaders you admire can help you build these skills so you can navigate even tricky situations with mastery.
** These skills have been identified as those most in demand by employers across the globe, based on the data analysis of millions of job postings by Hult’s partner Burning Glass Technologies.