In today’s competitive job market, it’s not just about having the latest qualification or years of experience in your chosen industry – though these are still important. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of something known as ‘soft skills’. And even better, you might already have them and not realize it!
Don’t worry if you don’t know what soft skills are – below is a guide to what they are, how to identify them, how to improve them and how they can benefit employers.
So, what are your soft skills?
In a nutshell, soft skills are intangible skills which help to improve your abilities in the workplace. Examples include time management, communication skills, teamwork, innovation and being able to solve problems under pressure.
They are, in effect, the opposite of ‘hard skills’ which are basically technical skills such as having knowledge of a particular computer program, being able to speak another language or having the ability to use specific machinery or equipment.
And whilst these are all important, and indeed essential skills to have to gain employment in your chosen area of work, there are many other talents which can also greatly improve your conduct in the modern workplace and ultimately, bring you career success.
How do I find out if I have any soft skills?
You probably already have a number of soft skills and don’t even know about them. Because they aren’t tangible, they are often overlooked and people often don’t think to add them to their resume.
But more and more employers are starting to look beyond purely qualifications and experience when judging candidates. You can have all the qualifications under the sun but if you can’t communicate effectively then you will never get very far, and equally, if you can’t manage your time then you won’t be able to get the job done, no matter how experienced at it you are.
So, increasingly employers are recognizing the significance of these soft skills when appraising potential employees.
Here is a list below of examples of soft skills but this is by no means exhaustive and everyone has different skills dependent on their experience and background.
The key to assessing your soft skills is to sit down and really think about both your work and life experience and if you can think of a situation when a personal trait or attribute has led to you being able to bring about a positive outcome to a scenario or you have successfully managed a difficult situation then chances are this is a demonstration of a soft skill.
As long as you can back up each skill with an example then you can add it to your resume – it’s as simple as that!
- Ability to listen
- Being creative
- Demonstrating leadership skills
- Effective time management
- Evidence of communication skills
- Displaying flexibility
- Coming up with innovative ideas
- Showing problem-solving skills
- Working well within a team
- Ability to delegate tasks where appropriate
- Proving perseverance
- Being able to employ critical thinking skills
How can you improve your soft skills?
Don’t panic if you feel you haven’t got a good selection of soft skills to show on your resume. The beauty is that unlike many ‘hard skills’, you can easily gain soft skills training without committing to expensive or lengthy courses.
The Internet is a great place to start and will give you an idea of the kind of soft skills you could attain simply by signing up to an online course. Another advantage of online training is that it is flexible and can be fitted in around existing job, family or training commitments.
It might not be enough to simply sit down and try and list your own soft skills. It can be hard to look at yourself objectively – it is much easier to look at other people and say what attributes you think they have and the same applies here.
So, ask a trusted friend or family member what they feel your positive personality traits are and where possible, ask them to give examples which showcase these traits. You may be surprised!
Just by becoming more aware of yourself and how you conduct yourself both in the workplace and in life in general, you may notice you have more skills than you thought.
Once you have a starting point and you are aware of any fledgling soft skills, you can then work on developing them further, to give you the opportunity to provide a potential employer with specific examples of that soft skill.
Again, you can call upon a trusted friend or relative to help you develop any particular soft skills further. For example, you might want to improve your communication skills, so by sitting down and practicing a particular role play where you would need to communicate effectively, you can see what tools you would need to gain a positive outcome.
You could invent a situation where you need to demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence to ensure a problem is solved satisfactorily. Act it out with your friend or family member and make notes on how you would deal with this scenario if it happened in real life.
This helps you to build up a soft skills ‘portfolio’ – a summary of examples of how you can actually prove you possess these all-important skills. You can keep adding to it so you end up with a definitive list of your personal soft skills.
If you are in an existing role and want to improve your prospects of promotion, then look at ways in your current job that you can improve your soft skills development by identifying and honing your skills. Why not offer to take the lead in the next team meeting?
Think of ways you can demonstrate your interpersonal skills by taking a more active role in relations between employees – set up activities to encourage team bonding and to improve relations between people in the workplace.
Not only does this make you more popular with your colleagues but it shows a real commitment to improving communication and collaboration in the workplace, an attribute which will go a long way to prove your worth as an employee.
How can you demonstrate your soft skills?
It can be harder than you think to effectively show your employer your range of soft skills. Anyone can make a list of skills on a resume, but actually translating them into evidence of these type of skills is another matter.
If you are applying for a particular job, it is worth having a look at the job specification and making a note of the soft skills you think are essential skills for the position. You then need to cross-reference them with your own soft skills. Assuming you already have some experience within the industry, then the skills should match up and this is the first step to a successful job application!
Next having made a concise list of the soft skills required for the role, you need to demonstrate how your skills marry up, giving specific examples. Being able to follow through and give examples of your soft skills is absolutely crucial to getting that all-important interview and ultimately, the job itself.
The job application might not allow you to go into so much detail but in preparation for any potential interview, make sure you have a few examples of scenarios when your soft skills have helped and make sure they are relevant to the job you have applied for. You don’t want to get caught out in an interview, so it is important that you have really thought this through beforehand.
For example, if you are applying for a job that involves taking the lead in meetings then you could talk about a meeting where you took charge and resolved a conflict between colleagues in a positive way. Or your role might be an organizational one so you could mention a situation where thanks to you, you introduced a new system for organizing files in the office which led to greater efficiency and time management.
Remember it is about quality here rather than quantity. A couple of detailed examples which demonstrate your excellent use of soft skills will be far more effective in acquiring a job or promotion, than a long list of attributes which can’t be backed up.
As an employer, how do soft skills benefit you?
It is easy to demonstrate how soft skills can and do give employees an advantage, but it can be harder to convince employers how important soft skills are in the workplace. It is much harder to measure and define a soft skill. Whilst hard skills can be easily quantified and their benefits to the employers more effectively demonstrated, this does not mean that soft skills should be worth any less to the employer.
Without effective time management for example, projects won’t get finished on time or on budget, which has a direct financial and organizational impact on a business. Failure to negotiate or communicate properly can lead to lost contracts which again directly affects the profitability of a company.
And so, when couched in terms like this, any discerning business owner must realize the long-term benefits of a workforce which possesses a good selection of soft skills.
Increases in productivity and sales
It’s not rocket science but employees who have skills such as good time management and communication skills are more likely to get the job done quicker and more efficiently, which leads to better productivity and sales.
The quality of work also tends to be better because they aren’t having to rush jobs to get them done on time, and excellent communication skills means people work better together because everyone knows exactly what their role is and what the common goals are.
Soft skills such as the ability to negotiate effectively mean the business is more likely to see increases in sales, as a skilled negotiator will be able to ensure the best possible deal for the business. The ability to communicate confidently with clients means that they don’t feel pressured into a sale, as the salesperson knows how to speak to them in the appropriate way.
It is important that potential clients are dealt with in a manner that makes them feel appreciated and not under pressure to agree to a sale. Taking a gentle persuasive approach is far more likely to achieve genuine sales than an aggressive and pushy manner and makes customers far more likely to return.
Makes customer experience better
Having employees with a good selection of soft skills means that you as a business can offer an improved overall customer experience.
From the first point of contact to signing on the dotted line, to after-sales and follow up calls, if your company can show that it cares about its customers then it is far more likely that your customers will rate you highly and it is also far more likely that they will come back.
In addition, we all know the importance of word of mouth with regard to repeat business, so this is also a highly powerful tool to encourage new customers.
Less obvious benefits of soft skills but benefits nonetheless include things like effective time management so customers are seen on time and aren’t having to wait around.
In addition, excellent organizational skills means clients are dealt with efficiently and aren’t forgotten about and in the competitive world of business, simply being the most reliable and efficient operator in your field can be the difference between someone choosing your business and someone not, which in turn can be the difference between surviving and not surviving. Definitely food for thought for business owners.
Creates better communication between employees
If the communication within your workforce is good, then the benefits to your business are manifold. For a start, it means that there is a clearer understanding of what roles people have so everyone knows what the scope of their tasks are. Workers are more likely to collaborate effectively with each other if they know who does what and who to go to, in order to get a particular job to get done.
The likelihood of conflict is greatly reduced and any tension is likely to be dealt with early on before it gets out of hand and can be brought to a swift conclusion, before it does any damage within or outside the workplace.
Higher levels of emotional intelligence in the workplace create an environment where people support each other and help each other out. In essence, it helps to create a real sense of community where people give each other positive reinforcement, helping to build confidence and in turn, makes for a more productive workforce too.
Increases worker retention
Establishing a workplace where people stay long term is of huge benefit to a business in a couple of ways. In the first instance, it means that once you find the best staff, you retain them which benefits both you and them in the long run.
And secondly, workers with good soft skills will continue to aspire to achieving even more skills. A business that actively encourages its employees to undertake online training courses to improve their soft skills will reap the rewards time and time again.
People are far more likely to stay in a workplace where they feel their existing skills are recognized and appreciated and where they are given the opportunity to acquire more skills.
Improves confidence and lowers risk
Greater confidence means lower stress in the workplace. If someone feels competent and able to do their job effectively then they are less likely to suffer from stress caused by worries they can’t do their job properly. This accounts for a huge proportion of stress in the workplace.
A recent global study called ‘Work Stress as a Worldwide Problem’ presented at the second World Conference on Business, Economics and Management, found the top three causes of stress in the workplace to be job insecurity, labor intensification and imbalance in work / personal life.
All these issues can be remedied through the acquisition of soft skills. For example, improved time management can greatly reduce the imbalance between work and life; increasing people’s confidence can help to make sure workers feel able to do their job effectively; and, having good communication in place means that people worry less about the security of their position.
And how can soft skills help to reduce risk? Well, for instance, if a worker doesn’t have the confidence or the means to let their manager know if they can’t do something, then the potential for negative damage is greatly increased. Lack of communication can mean that an employee unwittingly may violate company rules or put themselves in danger. All of which can add up to a hugely negative impact for the business.
How can you develop your employees’ soft skills?
Whilst the presence of a good set of soft skills remains difficult to measure in a tangible sense, the evidence in favor of having employees with well-developed soft skills is overwhelming. So, having established their importance in the workplace, how can you help to develop your workers’ skills?
Put simply the best way for an employer to improve their workers’ soft skills is to display them yourself! By setting a good example as a business, there will be a trickle-down effect which means that employees will recognize the benefits of soft skills and will in turn be enthusiastic and motivated about acquiring them.
So, establish good communication with your employees in the first instance, to ensure clarity and confidence in your company and your business ethos. Look at creating a program of development for your workers so they are encouraged to develop their soft skills.
Creating an environment of self-awareness where staff notice their personal strengths and weaknesses gives them confidence and helps them gain a clear idea of areas for improvement.
Encourage staff to undertake additional online training in particular areas. This training can be tailored to each individual person according to their needs and what soft skills they would like to further develop.
Whilst this may take a little time out of their work schedule, the increase in productivity and sales as a result of improved soft skills will outweigh this in the long term.
There are a number of small but highly effective ways in which soft skills in the workplace can be recognized and developed.
You can encourage innovation and creative development by asking employees to suggest improvements which could be made within the business and to bring forward any new ideas they might have.
Not only does consulting staff with regard to the business help to improve their creative and innovative skills, it also makes them feel involved and appreciated; they know their opinions matter and make a difference, which in turn will help improve confidence in the long run too.
As a business, you can encourage staff to undertake extra-curricular activities which in general will help to improve relationships and communication between staff, and by choosing particular activities you can also bring about a huge improvement in specific areas.
For example, why not organize a team building exercise that is centered on a problem-solving activity? Being able to demonstrate critical thinking and showing problem-solving skills are crucial to being a more productive employee and a more effective team member.
A great side-effect of doing an activity such as this is that staff get to have fun too, again improving morale and encouraging productivity for the business in the long term.
Soft skills might be harder to evaluate in terms of facts and figures on a balance sheet, but in the modern workplace their importance is becoming more and more significant.
Businesses can no longer under-estimate the benefits they bring both on a personal level to employees and on a business level to the company. The evidence that soft skills benefit business through improved morale, greater worker retention, better efficiency and increased productivity and sales, speaks for itself.