What are Soft Skills and Why should you Focus on them?

As job seekers we all spend immense amounts of time refining our skills, whether that means high tech skills, business skills, marketing skills, or just interview preparations (resume writing, test interview questions). However, there is another set of skills that are just as important, possibly even more, to our interview success. These are called soft skills.

Soft skills are less tangible and harder to measure than more hard knowledge based skills. However, these skills are what enable you to be a good employee and co-worker, and smart HR departments know this.

I recently overheard someone pose this question to an law office professional: “Who are the top-earning partners at your firm – the ones with the best technical skills, or the ones with the best relationship-building skills?”

In most cases, the answer would be the latter, since relationship-building and communication skills are important for bringing in new business. Hard skills can help you land a job, but in order to advance and succeed you really need to cultivate a balanced set of soft skills as well.

So what soft skills are recruiters looking for?

Listening

This one sounds basic, but I placed it at the top of the list for a reason – it is an area that many job-seekers struggle with, especially as they begin their career. Often times, we are in such a hurry to achieve results that we overlook important details or don’t take the time to gather all of the information we need. At minimum, poor listening habits will be frustrating for your coworkers. At worst, it could lead to significant mistakes that cost you your job.

Learn how to listen and be present in the workplace, as well as in networking situations. Making others feel heard is a great way to begin the relationship-building process, and it will also help make you a more effective communicator. If you want to improve in this area, start by taking notes during meetings and individual conversations and practice restating the main points to make it clear that everyone is on the same page.

Confidence

Another important soft skill is confidence. While confidence seems more like a trait than a skill, I would argue that confidence is most often expressed through your communication style. In that sense, confident communication truly is a skill that must be practiced and acquired.

How can you exude confidence through your communication style? It begins by taking the time to collect your thoughts before you speak. When you get in a hurry, you get flustered, trip over your words, and struggle to get your point across. In particular, think carefully before jumping in during meetings. Listening and being present is another key step to confident communication – if you are fully engaged in the conversation, you can speak with a greater degree of confidence.

When in doubt, the old adage really is true: “Fake it until you make it!” Sometimes, you have to consciously project confidence in order to overcome your nerves. After you make confident communication a habit, it will gradually start to become more natural.

Manageability

Manageability is one trait I hear mentioned every so often that I think is highly underrated. Simply put, are you teachable? Do you respond well to feedback, or do you fall apart? Are you solution-oriented, or do you only bring complaints? At the end of the day, are you someone who makes your supervisor’s job easier, or are you the type of employee that makes them want to pull their hair out?

There are a lot of things that fall under the heading of manageability – being accountable, communicating effectively, adhering to company policy, etc. The bottom line is that employees who respond well to supervision often have an easier time growing and advancing in their careers.

How can you make this an area of emphasis? Start with the basics – show up on time, follow the rules, and listen carefully (and respond professionally) to any feedback you receive. Keep in mind that if you’re struggling in this area, it could just be that you’re not a good fit with your company or your supervisor, and that’s a clue that it may be time to move on.

Adaptability

Today’s workplaces are changing rapidly, across every industry from healthcare and public policy to manufacturing, sales, and education. One of the skills that employers really like to see from their employees is adaptability. How do you handle change? How do you respond to challenges and conflicts?

Employees who are flexible and who have positive demeanors are more versatile and more fun to be around. Demonstrate your adaptability by volunteering to help others with projects, being a good team player, and maintaining a good attitude in the face of adversity. Once you build a reputation as an adaptable team player, you may eventually get asked to take on some responsibilities that will have a major impact on your career path!

Initiative

The word “initiative” represents a soft skill that takes many different forms. In job descriptions, you will sometimes see it defined as “self-starter,” “entrepreneur,” or “leader.” At the end of the day, what many employers want is someone that will take ownership over their job and truly make an impact. There are very few companies that are simply looking for worker bees – recruiters now want candidates who can function in dynamic, complex environments and play well with others.

If you’re trying to demonstrate your initiative, you can do so by displaying leadership roles or unique projects on your resume. In the workplace, this skillset is illustrated by taking ownership over your responsibilities, delivering high-quality results, and seeking out new opportunities. Think about any way that you can take greater initiative to enhance your resume – whether you are an experienced professional or a student waiting tables, there are almost always opportunities for growth if you look hard enough!