what are soft skills

What Are Soft Skills & How To Build Them

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are relevant for every single job you have and apply for. Unlike hard skills which are the more technical, job specific skills, soft skills are things such as personality traits, behavioural traits, and your personal characteristics.

Softs skills are the things which make us more productive, effective, and more successful in our everyday dealings with others, and our approach to our work. In this article you’ll learn more about what soft skills are, how to build them, and how to position them during the application process.

Here’s a brief list of various soft skills required in the workplace

Okay let’s dive into some specifics. Below is a list of some of the most common soft skills that employers look for. As you’ll see, these skills are relevant for almost any role, industry, project, and career path.

  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Decision making
  • Time management
  • Problem solving
  • Motivation
  • Conflict-resolution
  • Organisation
  • Stress management
  • Flexibility & adaptability
  • Negotiation skills
  • Teamwork
  • Strategic thinking

Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills are important because they speak to your wider effectiveness and capabilities as a person. Almost all roles and jobs require communication, problem solving, time management, and organisation. For this reason, employers want to see that you’re someone who can harmoniously and successfully interact with others in the workplace, in order to effectively reach targets, goals, and business objectives.

Hard skills and soft skills often work in tandem. For example, a data analyst may have a wealth of hard skills when it comes to comprehending complex data dashboards and CRM’s, but they also need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate the meaning of that data to stakeholders in the wider business. This is where their soft skills would come into play.

Listing soft skills on your resume, CV, and cover letter

As discussed in my ultimate guide to resume writing, you want to discuss your previous jobs and roles in two categories: day to day responsibilities, and the key skills you developed. In the “key skills” section, you should mention some of the soft skills you developed.

Remember not to come across as braggy, and to always back up your claims with experiences and evidence.

Let’s take the example of the Analytics Specialist mentioned earlier in the article. Some day to day responsibilities might be:

  • Monitoring paid spend across all digital marketing channels
  • Monitoring weekly above the line marketing spend (TV, Radio)
  • Calculating cost per customer acquisition (CPA) across all product verticals
  • Sending out a daily marketing report outlining month to date marketing spend, CPA’s breakdowns, and year on year comparisons vs. current monthly targets
  • Communicating daily marketing insights to chief marketing officer & wider executive team
  • Working with marketing performance team to manage Google AdWords spend on weekly basis to ensure weekly CPA targets are met

Now, I know there was a lot of technical jargon thrown around in there. But how many soft skills did you notice?

There was a significant emphasis on teamwork and stakeholder management, as well as time management, organisation, and wider communication skills. Also, the ability to effectively communicate and liaise with the upper executive team could be seen as a highly desirable soft skills for corporate companies.

Discussing your soft skills in a job interview

Soft skills will usually come up in the behavioural based questions aspect of the job interview. Behavioural based questions are questions that give the interviewer insight into the development of your soft skills, and how you generally approach complex tasks and situations at work.

For example, the interviewer may ask you things such as:

  • Tell me about a stressful experience at work and how you handled it
  • Tell me about a time when you had to resolve conflict either between members of your team, or between yourself and another staff member
  • Tell me about a time when you took on a large project, the challenges you faced, and how you solved them

As you can see, these questions give the interviewer a sense of your soft skills, how in touch you are with their development, and whether or not you’re a good culture and maturity fit for the company.

How to build and develop your soft skills

As we’ve discussed, there’s quite a few soft skills required for success in the workplace. You’ll develop and build many of these just going through the course of your career. As you tackle new projects, work with different teams, develop new skills and insights, you’ll naturally develop your soft skills.

But like anything, you can always supplement the learnings you make from your day to day life with self-education. This can take the form of private coaching or mentoring, books, online courses, classes and workshops, and live events.

Which soft skills are the most important to an employer?

All companies and employers are different, as are all jobs. For this reason, every employer and every job will place a different emphasis on required soft skills. For example, in roles where you’re interacting with a lot of different people, then stakeholder management and communication skills may be more important.

However, if you’re working in a more individualised role, such as a software developer, a writer, or an accountant, then organisation and time management may be more important. It all comes down to understanding what kind of job you want, and then reverse engineering the soft (and hard) skills required to succeed in that job.

That said, some soft skills that are critical to almost every single job are:

Communication skills:

The ability to communicate effectively and clearly is one of the most important skills you can develop in your career. It’s not just about talking to the person you sit next to. It’s about being able to communicate a contradictory opinion in a neutral, balanced way. It’s about being able to lead a meeting, deliver a pitch or presentation, and share your thoughts and feedback during huddles and standups.

It’s about being able to hold a conversation, and clearly discuss important issues with people in all levels of a business. From external partners and agencies, to senior leaders and executives, as well as people who are less experienced juniors and interns.

Problem solving skills:

Things go wrong in business, pretty much all the time. It’s part of the territory. Whether it’s a new product that doesn’t work or sell, an ad campaign that flops, a share price that dips, technology that doesn’t work or is hacked, and on and on.

The important thing is to be able to reason your way through it. Part of it is being open minded and solution oriented, and brainstorming possible fixes with others. Part of it is also being cool headed, and not overreacting.

Ability to handle stress:

Every job comes with its own levels of stress, and it can come in many forms. Conflict, disagreements, and miscommunications can cause stress. Adjusting to the processes and environment of a new job can cause stress. An increased workload can cause stress, as can everyday problems that arise.

The more senior you become, the more responsibility and pressure is put on you, and therefore, your ability to handle stress effectively becomes incredibly important.

Everyone reacts to and experiences stress differently. The important thing is to understand your triggers, and as you grow in your career, develop strategies for handling and relieving stress that work uniquely for you.

Now it’s your turn

What soft skills are you going to develop? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, and what else you think we should include.

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will vaughan your career mastery

Will Vaughan is the Founder & CEO of Your Career Mastery. He’s dedicated to helping young professionals discover and land the job of their dreams using a mix of proven strategies, tips, tools, and mindsets. He currently works as a Content & SEO manager for a 100 million dollar tech company in Melbourne, Australia.

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