Specialized digital skills are becoming increasingly important and yet jobs are not becoming hypertechnical. Instead, they are becoming increasingly hybrid, mixing human and technical skills—and employers and workers alike are still struggling to keep up. For example, job postings are cropping up with qualifications in data analytics, project management and critical thinking. But those same postings are also requiring excellent communication skills, problem solving and time management. How do you balance the hard with the soft?
You need to have strong soft skills—that is, emotional intelligence (EI), interpersonal skills, social communication skills, however you wish to describe them—to work well with colleagues and potentially open doors.
But why exactly would you need to develop or enhance your soft skills when you’ve spent so much time perfecting your technical prowess either in school or on the job? Well, for starters, if you are thinking about a career change to a new field of interest, hard skills might not help you as much as “soft” ones.
When choosing between two seemingly equal candidates, organizations are now prioritizing soft skills as the key differentiator, according to a peoplescout.com article.
Empathy—Good for the Employee, Good for the Employer
Soft skills help people navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well and achieve their goals by complementing their hard skills.
While there are many different soft skills a person can have, an all-important thread is empathy. It is not only important for you to have as a job candidate or someone looking for a promotion, but empathy is also important for companies to practice in order to attract and retain great employees.
That 2020 Global Trends LinkedIn article goes on to say that companies must realize that the company needs to work for the employees and not just the other way around. To have a welcoming work environment, they must consider empathy in their employee experience, people analytics and internal recruiting, and celebrate everyone’s strengths in a multicultural, multigenerational workforce: “The 2020s will be all about putting people first.”
10 Soft Skills to Have No Matter Your Role
While these skills are all important, their relative weight to each other depends on who’s asking.
According to a 2019 Global Trends LinkedIn article, “Employees expect more transparency, flexibility and accountability from the companies” and companies need employees “to think creatively, collaborate effectively and adapt quickly”—especially in these times of AI and automation.
Soft skills matter in developing new, innovative ideas and for tasks where machines can’t play a major role to complete the job. Your hard skills—even those that mean masterfully manipulating software, hardware or machinery—might get your foot in the door, but it is your mastery of soft skills that will throw it open wide.
“Soft skills are absolutely crucial for job seekers, especially those who are at the beginning of a new career or a career shift and who are looking to secure internships or entry-level roles,” affirms Heather J. Mason, a program specialist on our Career Services team.
“Soft skills are important in helping people articulate why they are good candidates and good fits with a company. No technical skills experience for a role? Not an issue if you know how to speak about your transferable skills! In the four years I’ve worked with the Professional Internship Program, I’ve seen companies select interns who are less technically skilled than other candidates time and time again. When I ask managers why, they always give me the same types of answers: ‘This person seemed coachable,’ ‘I liked their attitude/approach toward learning new skills,’ ‘It seems like we could teach them,’ ‘I just felt like they would get a lot out of working with our team.’”
Surprisingly, these are the top five soft skills that companies are having a hard time finding in job candidates, based on LinkedIn data:
“Technical skills of course are important, but they are just part of the story,” Mason says, “and when it comes down to it, they are seemingly not as important as being coachable and willing to learn. Technology changes frequently, and technical skills can be taught on the job. Supervisors know that they can rely on training to fill many technical skills gaps, but soft skills are seemingly not as easy to come by. This is probably because soft skills are often viewed as personality traits gained through attitude or experience.
“Don’t worry though, soft skills can be learned! This is exactly what we’re here to help with.”
Shine Bright Like a Star
As a job candidate, showcase your hard and soft skills with specific stories from your past experience that directly relate to this potential new position. Make sure you’re using the STAR technique.
STAR: Situation, Task, Action and Result
Begin your story by “presenting the situation, describe the task at hand, explain the actions you took and end with the result you achieved.”
Here are some examples of STAR questions that can help you prepare for this interview scenario:
Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve it?
If you ever had to make a hard or an unpopular decision at work, how did you handle it?
Explain a situation where you used data or logic to make a recommendation.
Describe a time when you disagreed with your boss or a coworker. How did you resolve it?
Tell me about a time you worked with other departments to complete a project.
Share an example of a time when you failed. What did you learn from the experience?
Have you ever had to motivate others? How did you do it?
Ways to Build Your Soft Skills
According to business leaders interviewed by the Department of Labor, “While the three ‘R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) are still fundamental to every employee’s ability to do the job, employers view soft skills as even more important to work readiness.”
In Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook, employers cited “dependability, teamwork and collaboration, flexibility and problem solving” as the top skills they want in employees.
Your response in emails, your involvement in team meetings, and your attitude and mindset when issues arise are all soft skills that managers are on the lookout for. They give you “career durability,” says Alexandra Levit, a workforce futurist and author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future (Kogan Page, 2018).
But you don’t need to worry if you think you haven’t been the most engaged team member in the past. There is always time and room for improvement.
“Self-assessments and 360-degree feedback reports can be used in combination to prioritize the soft skills employees need to work on,” says Di Ann Sanchez, SHRM-SCP, founder of DAS HR Consulting LLC in Hurst, Texas.
“The lowest score in my 360 was always communication, which shocked me because I think I’m a great communicator.”
In Kate Rockwood’s SHRM.org article, she cites another type of situation where an employee may have lacked opportunity to grow previously. “Sometimes an employee is deficient in a certain soft skill because of a lack of experience or a previous situation. (Abby) White cites the example of one of her employees who appeared unable to solve problems independently. But it wasn’t because the employee lacked the ability to make decisions. It was because she had previously worked for a micromanaging supervisor who never allowed her to offer solutions. White encouraged the employee to come up with a potential solution or two when an issue arose before bringing the problem to her attention.”
Utilizing the STAR technique can be not only effective in initial interview scenarios, but also in scheduled job and performance reviews. In order for all parties to work toward empathy, it’s important that both managers and employees get soft-skills training and professional-development opportunities.
Take the Next Step
So if you’re looking to fill your soft skills toolbox, we offer numerous courses to fill that gap. Are you looking to invest in your employees? Peruse these courses, share them with your staff and consider a tuition-reimbursement program.