Organizations look for candidates who possess the appropriate technical skills to do the job efficiently. People learn such skills in colleges and universities and through their experience on the job. Financial accounting, mechanical engineering, data science, and business administration are all examples of technical skills or hard skills.
However, there’s another set of skills that employers base their hiring decisions on. They are called soft skills. 97% of employers believe that soft skills are the key to business success.
So the question is, what are soft skills, and what makes them so important to organizations?
We will discuss these questions and other things like the importance and examples of soft skills in this post.
Let’s start with the definition of soft skills.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are the personality traits that are crucial to your development in your professional and personal life. Unlike hard skills, which you can learn through formal education and training, soft skills are developed with insight, practice, and observation.
Also referred to as interpersonal or non-technical skills, soft skills relate to your attitude, behavior, and manners. Things like time management, adaptability, creativity, and work ethic are some examples of soft skills.
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
The most noticeable difference between hard and soft skills is that hard skills are technical, which means that a person can learn them with the help of teachers, trainers, coaches, and educational institutes. For example, to become an aerospace engineer, you need to enroll in a bachelor’s program that teaches you all the technical and theoretical aspects of aerospace engineering. However, the institutes, workshops, and colleges that teach soft skills are few and far between.
Secondly, hard skills are somehow tangible, while soft skills are intangible. An organization can measure a candidate’s technical expertise by looking at his qualifications and experience in the industry. However, no tool can help an organization accurately measure soft skills like creativity or problem-solving.
Lastly, to polish hard skills, people engage in up-skilling education and on-the-job experiences. They take on new projects to get better at their technical skills. On the other hand, people polish their soft skills with the personal and professional experiences they go through in life. For example, a person with weak time management capabilities might only get to learn the skill after facing harsh or punishing situations.
Importance of Soft Skills
Soft skills get little respect but will make or break your career.
– Peggy Klaus, Author and Leadership Coach.
Role-Specific Soft Skills
Employers regularly look for candidates who possess role-specific soft skills. For example, if you have the soft skill of creativity, you are more likely to be hired for a designer’s role at a creative agency.
Soft skills can give you a competitive edge over other candidates applying for the same position. For example, if you are equal to another candidate in terms of hard skills, you will likely be given preference if you possess more or better polished soft skills.
Soft skills like curiosity or willingness to learn can give a clear message to employers that you can go the extra mile. As a result, they realize that you have the potential to learn new things while on the job, even if you don’t have any knowledge about them yet.
Better Hiring Decisions
Soft skills also help employers make better hiring decisions. For example, a candidate for a management position who possesses proven leadership skills will make the hiring decision easier for employers.
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are transferable. When you switch to a new role, you carry your soft skills with you. This gives you a clear advantage, and a head start. For example, if you are good at communication, you will perform better no matter the nature of the new job.
Better Performance during Interviews
You get to demonstrate your soft skills in an interview. More often than not, it is not possible to demonstrate technical skills in an interview. Organizations have different ways to test your technical skills.
Interviewers often ask questions like how you prioritize tasks when you have multiple deadlines or about a time when you had to manage a group of people. That is why an interview is a great place to demonstrate your soft skills, which can increase your chances of getting hired.
Top Soft Skills with Examples
Adaptability is an integral soft skill that you need for a successful career. It refers to how quickly you can change your attitude, mindset, and behavior when presented with a new or unprecedented situation. Employees constantly face new tools, processes, and clients in an organization, and adaptability ensures they can handle those changes.
For example, a superior or a manager might give negative feedback to a new employee during their first few weeks. If the employee is adaptable, they will take that feedback positively and use it to improve their performance in the workplace.
Problem solvers are people who can observe and judge a bad situation, come up with a solution, and take decisive actions to solve that problem. It is inevitable for various problems to arise in a workplace, so an employee with problem-solving skills is valuable.
For example, an employee overlooks an important instruction while making a report. A colleague with problem-solving skills notices the mistake and decides to fix it before passing it to her superiors. This saves both from getting in trouble.
Good communication skills are highly valued in the workplace. In almost every job, there is a need for effective communication skills. Whether it is your coworkers, employees, superiors, or clients, you need dependable communication skills to get your point across and build trust. 97% of employees believe that communication impacts their daily task efficiency.
For example, a lack of communication about a project deadline between a manager and a subordinate can negatively affect the relationship with the customer/client.
Creativity is the quality of presenting new ideas, alternatives, and possibilities in a way that solves problems. Creativity allows employees to think out of the box and figure a way out when others can’t. Creativity is also connected to innovation.
For example, Uber used creativity to develop a novel idea of revolutionizing the traditional cab industry, which ultimately transformed the business model around the world.
Work ethic is a set of qualities that push people to bring strong discipline to the workplace. Qualities like punctuality, hard work, accountability, listening, mutual respect, following instructions, time consciousness, and good manners in the workplace are part of the work ethics. A strong work ethic also pushes employees to put the organization’s needs first.
For example, a CEO is the first to show up in the morning believing that it will set a good example for the employees is a classic example of good work ethics.
Time management is an essential soft skill to have in your professional or even personal life. It is more than simply submitting work before a deadline. A person who is good at time management knows how to organize, prioritize, plan, delegate, and set goals in a given time.
For example, an employee decides to delegate a less-technical and low-priority task to a subordinate so that they can focus better on a high-priority problem with a shorter deadline.
How to Improve Soft Skills
Pick a Skill and Practice it Regularly
Choosing a soft skill and practicing it regularly is the first step in developing it. For example, if you are always late to work, make a conscious effort to be on time. Find ways to remove the hurdles that make you late, such as staying up late after midnight or not accounting for traffic on your way. You can polish all the soft skills in this list with discipline and consistent practice.
Observe and Mimic Others’ Soft Skills
Every professional you work with is likely to have soft skills they’re good at. To acquire soft skills you don’t have, observe such people closely and try to copy them. Copying someone’s actions and behavior gradually helps you become good at those behaviors.
For example, if you lack confidence and find it hard to talk to new people, observe those who already have that confidence. Notice how they behave around new people and try to mimic their behavior.
Set Specific and Measurable Goals
Setting specific and measurable goals can make it easier for you to learn new soft skills and improve the ones you already have. You can also ask your colleagues or superiors to provide constructive feedback to better measure your progress.
Setting goals in developing soft skills will also help you better identify your weaknesses, giving you a clear idea about where to focus your efforts.
Be a Good Listener
Being a good listener can be beneficial if you’re trying to learn a soft skill. Listening well means listening to understand and not merely to respond, and it can open doors to many new soft skills.
For example, if you’re trying to learn how to communicate better, listen intently to those around you who have mastered the skill of communication. Notice how they formulate their sentences, how they express themselves, the tone of their voice, and the strength of their arguments.
Improve Your Writing Skills
Just like listening well, writing well also plays a part in helping you improve your soft skills. A large part of your work day may be spent writing emails and reports. If you know how to write well, you can use it to your advantage and communicate better.
There are plenty of ways to improve your writing. You can take courses on business writing, ask your colleagues for feedback on your writing, or look up various free online resources that can help you develop strong writing skills.
Improve Your Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is a soft skill that enables you to reflect deeply on things happening around you. It uses observation, analysis, and experimentation to help you find the best course of action.
This soft skill is often at the core of other soft skills. For example, if you want to become better at managing your time, you need to critically analyze what you’re doing wrong, why you’re doing it, and what steps you can take to avoid it.
Many professionals often treat soft skills as something secondary. However, research indicates that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills, while technical skills are only responsible for the remaining 15% of success.
Perhaps the best thing about soft skills is that with observation and consistent practice, all of us can develop these skills. Which soft skills in this list are you going to start practicing? Let us know in the comments!