Hard skills are gained through years of training, education, and practical experience getting to grips with all manner of challenges in the workplace. But increasingly, a person’s employability depends on how well they can apply these hard skills in a team environment where personalities and work ethic differ from individual to individual. This is where soft skills will give you the edge.
From adaptability and critical thinking to strong communication, we’ll round up the valuable soft skills that are crucial to continuing on the path to career development.
What are soft skills?
Characterised by how a person interacts with others in the workplace, soft skills are attributes, traits, inherent social cues, and communicative skills that can translate to success in a given role.
Different from hard skills which tend to be learned, soft skills are more akin to emotions or insights. They can be difficult to evaluate and measure but are attractive to employers; most jobs require employees to interact with each other. Showing that you’re adept at this engagement may come over time, but the inherent transferability and adaptability of soft skills means they can be applied in any role.
How to improve your soft skills?
Know the importance of communication
The crux of many soft skills is the ability to communicate effectively. Essential in fostering strong relationships within team and group projects, top-notch communication skills are essential, whether it’s through email, phone calls, or in person.
Whether it’s verbally or in writing, communication skills are essential because they illustrate the type of worker you are and let you form relationships with your peers.
Practice public speaking
Practicing public speaking is beneficial because it serves to not only sharpen up your skills with presenting to an audience, but in doing so, it helps you to take note of your pace, body language, volume, eye contact and tone of voice – all of which can be valuable to improving a breadth of soft skills. Next time you’re in a meeting, it can come in handy when you need to communicate your ideas to others.
Get into good habits
Creating new habits that weave your desired soft skills into your behaviour is a great idea. Focus on shifting certain habits and developing more desirable ones. For example, if you struggle with listening in meetings, consider leaving your phone or laptop at your desk so you’re not distracted by their presence.
Help others out
If others are struggling with their workloads, then stepping into an ad-hoc leadership role allows you to improve soft skills such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving in a way that positively impacts others.
Ask for feedback
Receiving feedback shows both a willingness to grow and a desire to find out which areas you need to work on. It also gives the person receiving the feedback a glimpse into how they are perceived by others and how they can adjust their behaviour going forward.
Adaptability reflects how quickly you respond to change and how easily you can master new skills.
Start with a ‘can-do’ attitude
Don’t get too bogged down in routine; just because your company has “always done it this way” doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of approaching things. Workplaces are constantly evolving, whether that’s through the introduction of new technologies or simply finding more productive ways to work, so show you’re prepared to change along with them by being adaptive and flexible.
Don’t wait for change to come to you
Keep up with developments in your field by following your industry leaders on social media and looking up relevant stories using Google’s News search feature. If you don’t present yourself as ready and willing to step outside your comfort zone, how will others know that you’re hungry for promotion?
An experienced communicator can express ideas clearly and engage productively with others. But communication is a two-way process: they’re also adept at listening, understanding instructions, and carrying out them out accurately.
Leaders need communication skills to:
• Build a rapport with new connections
• Nurture long-term relationships
• Explain complex issues
• Delegate clearly
• Utilise feedback
• Deal with a variety of personalities
Tailoring your approach to suit different people will demonstrate that you’re sensitive to others and don’t expect everyone to conform to your ideals.
3. Critical thinking
Critical thinking relies on your ability to draw on experience, gather information, and ask relevant questions to form the necessary judgements.
Ultimately, the goal is to find the best objective solution to a problem, rather than the one that aligns with your preconceptions or personal biases.
You will need to:
• Consider all evidence
• Assess alternative points of view
• Keep an open mind
• Allow results to alter your approach
Within the practice of critical thinking, you’ll refine your research skills, learn how to process data, and be able to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. This will help you to become a more strategic and open-minded employee, one who is highly adaptable with a track record of sound decision-making.
4. Time management
Employers who took part in the UK Employer Skills Survey 2015 rated time management as the most difficult soft skill to find among candidates.
The ability to manage your own time involves being realistic about your capabilities and prioritising your workload to ensure that you consistently meet deadlines.
Leaders must be able to manage their own time as well as the time of others. They need to consider individual workflows when delegating tasks and prioritise them within the company’s wider goals.
Taking full responsibility for your actions will go a long way to earn the trust and respect of your colleagues. When things don’t go to plan, be clear about the part you played and accept the consequences so that you can learn from the experience.
If you can’t meet a deadline, communicate with your team. Never blame your poor productivity on a lack of resources – get creative with what you have, and you’ll impress when you get the job done.
Be clear about what is expected of you and other people. Don’t be afraid to go back to your manager and ask for clarification, or to hold your colleagues accountable for their commitments as well.
Negotiation is arguably one of the most useful soft skills you’ll develop. But it’s actually a complex combination of other valuable soft skills:
• Time management: Prepare in advance to ensure a thorough understanding of the subject matter
• Critical thinking: Evaluate alternative viewpoints
• Communication: Persuade others by explaining your argument clearly
• Active listening: Show that you have considered opposing points and return a relevant counter-argument
• Accountability: Accept criticism and know where you are prepared to compromise
• Emotional intelligence: Keep a level head and know when to ask for more
Whether you have to close an important deal, resolve a conflict at work, or negotiate your next promotion – being able to negotiate demonstrates that you have the initiative and drive to succeed.
How to highlight soft skills on your CV
Complementing your cover letter and job application with a CV that demonstrates your soft skills almost goes without saying. It’s often stated that you should include as many numbers as possible in your CV. The same goes for soft skills, too.
When listing your roles, list the experiences that describe a skill the hiring manager is after, and ground them in specific duties and tasks you carried out. It’s important to show and not tell when it comes to your soft skills; don’t just say you’re a “strong communicator”, show them why you’re adept in this area. For example:
“In my previous role, I had to create a team whose duty it was to improve communications between two other teams to streamline project transitions”.
This shows the hiring manager that you’re both a problem solver and a leader, giving them an indication as to the type of worker you are and how you could fit into the business.
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