You may be a computer whiz, a scientific genius, or a master of mathematical theories. However, to be successful, you need more than just expertise in your given specialty. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE), when participating employers were asked to name the attributes they seek in candidates, they gave their highest scores to the following three traits:
Interestingly, technical skills (59.6%) and computer skills (55.1%), often considered among the most important skills an applicant can possess in today’s high-tech job market, ranked quite low by comparison. The results make it clear that employers are paying much closer attention to soft skills in the workplace than they did in years past. In response to the demand for employees who also possess emotional intelligence, some postsecondary schools are incorporating soft skills in scientific and technical specialties. For example, Penn State’s Engineering Department offers a career development class for junior and senior engineering students that includes such topics as team-building skills, communication skills, and leadership strategies.
Soft skills are broadly classified as a combination of personality traits, behaviors, and social attitudes that allow people to communicate effectively, collaborate, and successfully manage conflict. People with good soft skills tend to have strong situational awareness and emotional intelligence that allows them to navigate difficult working environments while still producing positive results. This is especially important for leadership positions because good leadership is more about managing people and directing their efforts toward the desired outcome rather than bringing any specific technical skills to bear.
Another benefit of soft skills in the workplace is that they help people to adapt to changing circumstances. Being able to communicate effectively during a time of uncertainty or collaborate with others when solutions aren’t immediately obvious is hugely important whether someone is in a leadership position or not. Given their many applications, it’s hardly a surprise that organizations are doing more to assess a candidate’s soft skills during the interview process.
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Companies want employees who can supervise and direct other workers. They want employees who can cultivate relationships up, down, and across the organizational chain. Leaders must not only assess, motivate, encourage, and discipline workers but also build teams, resolve conflicts, and cultivate the organization’s desired culture. Understanding how to influence people and accommodate their needs is an essential element of leadership, which all too many companies overlook when they simply place someone with the most technical expertise in a position of authority. Soft skills development is often a key component of leadership training.
Most employees are part of a team/department/division, and even those who are not on an official team need to collaborate with other employees. You may prefer to work alone, but it’s important to demonstrate that you understand and appreciate the value of joining forces and working in partnership with others to accomplish the company’s goals. This shows that you possess the soft skills necessary to engage in productive collaboration.
Successful communication involves five components. Verbal communication refers to your ability to speak clearly and concisely. Nonverbal communication includes the capacity to project positive body language and facial expressions. Written communication refers to your skillfulness in composing text messages, reports, and other types of documents. Visual communication involves your ability to relay information using pictures and other visual aids. Active listening should also be considered a key communication soft skill because it helps you listen to and actually hear what others are saying. You need to be able to listen in order to understand how to best communicate with someone. Without strong listening skills, any communication efforts will be one-way and probably ineffective.
Many applicants try to minimize problems because they don’t understand that companies hire employees to solve problems. Glitches, bumps in the road, and stumbling blocks are all part of the job and represent learning opportunities. The ability to use your knowledge to find answers to pressing problems and formulate workable solutions will demonstrate that you can handle – and excel in – your job. Discussing mistakes and what you learned from them is an important part of building a soft skills resume.
While you may have a manager, companies don’t like to spend time micromanaging employees. They expect you to be responsible and do the job that you’re getting paid to do, which includes being punctual when you arrive at work, meeting deadlines, and making sure that your work is error-free. And going the extra mile shows that you’re committed to performing your work with excellence.
In the 21st century, companies need to make rapid (and sometimes drastic) changes to remain competitive. So they want workers who can also shift gears or change direction as needed. As organizations have become less hierarchical and agile over the last decade, it’s more important than ever for employees to be able to handle many different tasks and demonstrate a willingness to take on responsibilities that might lay outside their area of expertise.
This is a broad category of “people skills” and includes the ability to build and maintain relationships, develop rapport, and use diplomacy. It also includes the ability to give and receive constructive criticism, be tolerant and respectful regarding the opinions of others, and empathize with them. Of all the soft skills examples, this is among the most important because it is central to building teams with a strong foundation of trust and accountability.
But suppose you don’t have these skills? It’s never too late to develop them. For example, you can learn a lot just by observing other people within a company who excel in these seven areas. Also, offering to take on more responsibilities at work (serving on committees, planning events, etc.) can help you gain valuable experience. In addition, consider taking online soft-skills courses. Developing emotional intelligence will make you a more valuable employee, and increase your chances of career success.
Employee assessments can also reveal areas where improvements could be made, which makes it easier to put together a development plan to address those needs. People often focus specifically on technical skills or competencies when planning their development, but neglecting soft skills can make it difficult to succeed in future positions that require a high degree of emotional intelligence and social interaction (in other words, just about any leadership position).