By Dr. Rebecca Dowden—Who couldn’t use a “leg-up” in today’s competitive job market? And that advantage can easily come from honing our Soft Skills. Whether you are currently employed or in the market for a job, Soft Skills can set you apart.
What Are Soft Skills
Soft skills are a set of qualities/traits people possess that are the opposite of a taught task/skill, like using a spreadsheet or a piece of software. Soft Skills are personal qualities that we use to interact and work with others, and the qualities that help us to be better employees in general.
Although Soft Skills may be seen to some as things “you either have or you don’t,” employers are consistently looking for a strong set of Soft Skills, and they are, indeed, things that can be developed and strengthened. Here is a list of some of the desired Soft Skills most job postings mention:
- Good Communication
- Team Player
- Work Ethic
- Time Management
- Positive Attitude
- Critical Thinking
- Learns from and Accepts Criticism
The Importance of Soft Skills
Check out any management textbook or piece of research on the topic of “what are employers looking for in potential (and current) employees?” and you will find a laundry list of Soft Skills. Most job applicants who make the final cut of a job search possess the same “hard” skills in their profession as the other applicants or they wouldn’t have even been in the running for the job. However, at the end of the day (and the interview), Soft Skills will reign supreme in landing them the job.
How to Get Started
Developing Soft Skills is something that we can do every day. After you have reviewed the list above, honestly choose the ones you think could use a little help in your life. Once you identify those, you can set out every day to look for opportunities to strengthen them. Here are just a few ways you can do that:
- Find a mentor or someone who is willing to give you honest and helpful feedback.
- Join a club or organization that gives you opportunities to build and use your Soft Skills
- Attend an event/seminar that gives you opportunities to build and use your Soft Skills
- Keep a journal and challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone or reach weekly/daily/ monthly goals regarding one or more of the Soft Skills.
The keys to building Soft Skills are awareness and truthful self-examination. We can all improve our Soft Skills. Don’t believe for one second that “you’ve either got it or you don’t.” We are all a work in progress, and developing better Soft Skills is always a worthwhile endeavor. Not only do Soft Skills add to our professional life and give us that much desired “leg-up,” they also just make us better people!
Visiting Assistant Professor-Cameron School of Business, University of St. Thomas