The Skills You Need
While it’s most likely you have heard the term “soft skills” mentioned in today’s job market, it’s quite possible you haven’t explored exactly all it encompasses. According to the Collins English Dictionary, soft skills are the “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge, [but rather] include common sense [or] the ability to deal with people and a positive flexible attitude”. Although the official dictionary entry gives a perfect introductory explanation on the subject, to truly understand soft skills, it’s necessary to delve a little deeper.
It’s understood that without proper interpersonal social and communication skills, as well as other positive character traits and professional qualities, your hard skills – or the typical job aptitudes and competencies needed to perform within a given work environment – won’t necessarily have the same impact. In fact, soft skills can be considered the “wrapping” that holds your traditional job skills together.
Soft vs. Hard Skills: Understanding the Difference
Now that we have a clear idea of the meaning of soft skills in the workplace, what specific characteristics are generally included in this genre? The following are among those most commonly sought by employers:
- Balance of focus and flexibility
- Coaching skills
- Critical thinking
- Cultural adaptability
- Emotional Intelligence (EI)
- Forthright but accepting of feedback
- Historical creativity
- Leadership qualities
- Problem-solving skills
- Strong work ethic
- Team and collaborative effort
Most soft skills are common traits many of us are either born with or acquire, sometimes unknowingly, over a period of time. While it is definitely possible to hone in on and strive to perfect a particular soft skill that we feel we are lacking in; the hard skills, of course, are capabilities that we must take the time and effort to study and learn. These would perhaps include academic degrees in engineering or chemistry; or the ability to speak an additional language; operate machinery; or various technical and computer skills, to name just a few.
Narrowing the Choices
When an employer advertises their need to fill a position with a certain type of job candidate, they will generally identify the specific hard skills they are looking for, and they know it is likely that they will receive anywhere from a dozen to over a hundred individuals with precisely the skills they have outlined.
Given the notion that hiring managers will not typically call back applicants whose resumes do not fit the traditional hard skill requirements for the position, why then, don’t employers typically hire the first candidate they interview on the spot?
The simple reason, of course, is that hard skills only get you in the door; it’s the soft skills that close the deal. A skilled interviewer can most certainly identify candidates with the strongest soft skill sets, and recognize exactly which of those skills they possess.
Employers will pay more for candidates who can provide emotional labor (or work in an environment which requires good interpersonal skills).
It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, but if you do it with flair and a positive attitude; if you can be trusted for your emotional intelligence (a.k.a. social awareness); if you are simply a pleasure to be around, then you’re quite likely to have more earning potential, garner more job-related advantages, and be sought out as that “great person everyone wants to work with”.
There is no doubt that positive people get more work done. Those with a negative outlook more frequently feel as if they’re being taken advantage of. Positive people look for opportunities to excel; even when things go wrong, they find ways to benefit, or at least learn, from the situation.
Some of these attributes go together quite well. For example, empathy compliments most every situation. Teamwork, or the ability to collaborate and cooperate, is enhanced when individuals understand the feelings and perspectives of others. When you see a coworker is having difficulty, offering some advice or help can make all the difference.
Initiative is incredibly important, since without it, very few changes or progress would ever be made. Being able to express your ideas for change is a great benefit to the organization, particularly if you’re gracious about accepting feedback.
What Do Employers Want Most?
Naturally, this will differ for each employer, but there are a few items which are generally universal. For instance, the word xenophobia denotes fear of strangers, and while most of us don’t possess it in the clinical sense, it is human nature to seek out what or who we know. In other words, unless they’re trying to stir the pot, so to speak, employers are going to try their best to hire people who are similar to the employees they already have. This is often what employers mean when they refer to someone as being a “good fit for the job”. As you can see, it goes way beyond their just computer skills, for instance.
That is what corporate or company culture is all about. If you’re not a fit for the company culture, chances are you won’t be considered for the job. However, incidentally, you probably wouldn’t be happy there.
For jobs which require a high level of customer interaction, employers will seek individuals with great empathy and communication skills. Conversely, keep in mind this is not necessarily restricted to customers; if you have a great idea, but you don’t possess enough articulation to express it to your team leader, there will be no benefit to the company.
One of the primary questions asked in an interview is, “What sort of serious problem have you faced and solved? What made it noteworthy?” Employers ask these types of questions because they want to know about your historical creativity.
If you have been clever in the past, managers will presume that in all likelihood, you will continue to be clever in the future. Yet sometimes “cleverness” is actually tenacity, as the best ideas are often discovered through dedication to a belief or goal.
The good news is that most soft skills can be improved upon. It takes a just little practice to open up. Trying specific exercises, such as joining a book club, for example, to meet and socialize with new people; engaging in activities that may require public speaking, such as reading to children or elders who would gladly welcome something new; even trying your hand at a new activity, such as singing or artwork, can expand your horizons and inspire your confidence, social skills, and sense of empathy.
When the time comes for your next job interview, be sure to make generous eye contact, maintain a pleasant facial expression, and take a couple of seconds before you start to answer a question, which exhibits consideration and mindfulness.
For the sake of confidence, remember the “inter” part of the word interview. This is a two-way street, and although there is always the possibility you may not be a good fit for the company, it is still your responsibility to decide whether or not the company is a good fit for you. You’re not only there to seek employment; you’re there to determine if the company will make a suitable employer for you as well.
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