We spend most of our time and energy focusing on the development of “hard skills” – degrees, accomplishments, certifications – never realizing that we’ve been developing an entirely different set of essential skills throughout our entire lives. While we were sharing swings on the playground, standing up to a bully in high school, and negotiating a chore chart with our college roommate, we were in fact developing “soft skills.”
Soft skills are the qualities we often take for granted while we are applying for a job or squirming in an interview. They are, however, the skills that allow us to communicate effectively, work well with others, and build professional relationships. As such, they are immensely important assets that we should be sharing with potential employers. In some cases, they may even be more influential in getting us hired than our work history and past accomplishments.
Here are some of the top soft skills employers look for:
1. Communication Skills
Communications skills are not limited to your ability to captivate a room or write the perfect email. Even more essential is your ability to exchange thoughts, ideas, and information with your team members and customers. Effective communication keeps office operations running smoothly, minimizes conflict among team members, and ensures that the customer is both satisfied and well-informed. All of which are great for business. This quality will likely be on full display during the interview process, so be sure to let this skill speak for itself through your actions and words.
2. Teamwork and Collaboration
The ability to play well with others is even more important once you leave the playground. Employers want to know that their employees can get along well, as this allows them to generate creative ideas and collaborate for the efficient and effective completion of tasks. Whether leading, following, or monitoring progress, a valuable employee will be sensitive to the needs of their colleagues and willing to contribute in a variety of ways. Be sure to emphasize the quality of your professional relationships in previous and current positions, and include examples of effective teamwork in your answers to interview questions.
Employers want to know that you are committed to the longterm success of your business and industry, and that you are willing and able to keep pace with important changes that may come your way. A passion for learning, an interest in expanding your skills and testing your wings are all important qualities that bode well for your career and your employer’s bottom line. Your résumé should tell the story of your continued growth, and you should highlight your interest in continuing this trajectory when in discussions with your potential employers.
4. Problem Solving
This one is a no-brainer. Employers are always on the lookout for employees who can think on their feet and resolve the many unanticipated problems that arise in a fast-paced work environment. When issues arise that could delay or hinder a project – just before the hard deadline, no doubt – an employer wants to be confident in their staff’s ability to rise to the challenge and handle obstacles effectively. Be sure to share your own experiences with a potential employer by clearly describing how you identified a problem, your approach to resolving that problem, and the colleagues you either included or supported through its resolution.
5. Sense of Humor
No, your employer is not interested in your extensive collection of knock-knock jokes. But they are looking for employees who can bring some levity to tough situations. One person’s light-hearted take on a setback can be extraordinarily valuable for the entire work atmosphere, and bring some much-needed positivity to otherwise negative situations. Whenever possible, showcase a lighthearted attitude in your application, cover letter, or during your interview with a bit of strategic silliness or self-deprecation. You may be surprised at how well it’s received.
When it comes to your soft skills, it’s best to show, rather than tell. Start by making sure there are no typos on your résumé or cover letter, and that your language is clear and concise. Call attention to your soft skills by demonstrating how you have used them effectively in your career. For example, instead of stating that you are a great problem solver, describe how you helped identify inefficiencies in business processes and the process by which you and your colleagues improved them, being sure to include the results of your endeavors.
Finally, be sure you’re always improving on your existing soft skills or challenging yourself to learn more. Work with a mentor, take a course, or volunteer your time to continuously improve your most essential tools for success.