Landing a job requires a lot more than just the right degree, experience or series of technical skills. “Soft” skills, otherwise known as emotional intelligence, may make a difference between an employee who can do the job and one who does it well. Soft skills include: leadership, written and verbal communication, problem solving, motivation, interpersonal skills and creativity. They aren’t usually skills we learn in school (although some business schools now have programs to try to help their students improve in these areas).
When it comes right down to it, soft skills are characteristics that make us more likable. Whether or not anyone wants to admit it, likability is an important factor in the hiring process. A Harvard Business School study from several years ago found, “Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.” In other words, when given a choice between competent jerks and lovable fools, lovable fools won out.
It’s not surprising that soft skills continue to play a big role in hiring decisions. Employers realize that they can teach hard skills, such as how to use a software program, but it’s virtually impossible to retrofit employees with soft skills. A recent study from Millennial Branding showed soft skills topped the list of “must have” skills that employers want, with 98 percent of employers saying communication skills are essential and 92 percent naming coordination skills.
Mark Miller, author of Hiring for Attitude, notes for Forbes that 92 percent of employers believe attitude is key, because candidates need to be “motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and … collaborate with teammates.”
What are some important soft skills you want to be sure to try to develop? Consider this list and make a point to pay attention to where you rank with these key soft skills:
Listening. No one wants to work with someone who isn’t a good listener. If you can’t follow instructions, it doesn’t matter how brilliant or talented you may be; you’re going to mess something up. How can you show you’re a good listener? Follow directions carefully when you apply for the job. Practice listening actively when you talk to people. Could you repeat most of the details of a conversation you just finished? If not, try to focus more carefully on your everyday interactions and you could improve this important skill.
Adaptability. No one loves change, especially at work, but today, being flexible and having a good attitude while welcoming the unexpected is a valuable skill. Are you the first to complain if plans change? Do you sulk and brood when things don’t go your way? If that’s you, think about how you can be a little less rigid. It will make you a more marketable job seeker.
Teamwork. It’s hard to find a job description that doesn’t mention working with a team and collaborating cross functionally. It might as well say, “Must play well with others.” You can practice being a team player by actually joining a team outside of work. Consider joining a sports team or volunteer to work for a nonprofit organization on a joint project to practice and improve your teamwork stills.
Judgment. You can’t teach someone to have good judgment. This is why using social media sites to illustrate you know what to say and what not to say online can work in your favor. This is tough to self-assess, but if you’ve ever posted something on Facebook and lived to regret it, you could probably use some extra practice on the good judgment front. Think before you act, and you’ll be on your way to improving in this area.
Integrity and work ethic. Your reputation is everything when it comes to getting a job. What do people say about you? Are you willing to work until the job is done? Do you pitch in and show initiative, even when it’s not necessarily your job? If so, you probably don’t need to worry about your reputation because you have a strong work ethic. If that doesn’t describe you, think about how you can change.
Communication. Probably the root of all soft skills, if you can communicate well, you are halfway there to many jobs. Employers evaluate this from the start. How do you handle yourself on the phone? What does your application look like? Can you send a strong email message? The interviewer will know right away if you can communicate well by how you introduce yourself and how you address questions. You can practice by preparing what you will say in the interview. Think about ways you can communicate succinctly, because this is an important skill, even for people seeking highly technical jobs.
Positive demeanor. It’s just another way to say “nice to be around.” If you’re rude to the receptionist and don’t hold the door for the person walking behind you, it’s likely you aren’t winning a lot of “nice” points. If you’re the office complainer, the “Negative Nelly” who always sees the glass half empty, your attitude and behavior are probably hurting your job search.
picture by bluekdesign