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Soft Skill Clinic – The 10 Major Soft Skills for Success!

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Understand and Employ Soft Skills for Job Success

May 20, 2019
silly puddy as an abstraction of soft skills

Introduction

Hiring managers are always in search of the ‘correct blend’ of hard and soft skills.  Axelerate’s article “Project Manager Maturity the Easy Way” discusses gauging this mix for PMs.  While soft skills can make or break us in both our current roles and future employability – questions abound.  Why are soft skills so important?  What soft skills do I need?  How do I understand my own soft skill set?  And really, what is a soft skill anyway?  We’ll explore these questions along with the top 10 soft skills that are considered most deficient among modern workers.

What is a Soft Skill?

Soft skills are character attributes and interpersonal skills that characterize a person's relationship with other people or things.  In the workplace, soft skills have traditionally been considered to be complementary to hard skills (quantifiable knowledge and occupational talents).  More recently, soft skills are considered as or more important than hard skills.  

Soft Skills; Traits; and Emotional Intelligence

If you become a workplace web scholar – you will be subjected to a 3-noun virtual assault consisting of ‘soft skills,’ ‘traits,’ and ‘emotional intelligence.’  They are used often and interchangeably.  They are used as categorical differentiators, but so inconsistently that it defies logic.  You will also find emotional intelligence listed as a soft skill in some references.  Here’s what you need to know –

For our purposes here soft skills are learned behaviors.  Traits are personality characteristics that you are born with, live with, and die with – period.  The two are related such that a certain trait – let’s say being extroverted – might facilitate mastering the learned soft skills related to being a communicator more so than being introverted.  

I say might here because a person who prefers solitude could very well be the foremost communicator in the world.  This is an illustrative example only – demonstrating extroversion / introversion as inherent traits, distinct from the learned soft skill of communication.  

Emotional intelligence is a learned ability to identify, experience, understand, and express human emotions in healthy and productive ways.  The components of emotional intelligence form the building blocks of soft skills.  Here is a great article on the topic entitled “Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence.”

Soft skills, traits, and emotional intelligence are related but distinct categories of human characteristics.  

Why are Soft Skills so Important?

A Monster.com article cited the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2017 Survey that found 82.9% of the hiring managers who answered the survey want employees who can work well as part of a team and work with a variety of personality types.

Just as many managers (yes, a tie with teamwork), 82.9%, look for employees who can think critically. Other soft skills managers listed included:

  • Writing proficiency – 80.3%
  • Leadership – 72.6%
  • Strong work ethic – 68.4%

A May 2016 Forbes article reported similar results, but focused on skills hiring managers reported lacking among potential employees.

  • 60% said new employees in their organization struggled with critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • 56% said employees didn't demonstrate enough attention to detail.
  • 46% said new workers need improved communication skills.
  • 44% said employees lacked leadership ability.
  • 36% said improvement was needed in teamwork skills.

In other words, soft skills are important because hiring professionals and their executive bosses have identified them as a major gap in the workforce.  The ability to demonstrate competency with the soft skills we’ll discuss here will give you a decided advantage in the job market and in your professional performance.

Highlighting and Demonstrating Soft Skills

Highlighting soft skills is a little more difficult than affirming hard skills.  Hard skills are easily correlated with experience, qualifications, and education.  You’ll need to carefully consider your strengths in terms of soft skills and indicate them clearly in your resume.  Be prepared to discuss them – with examples – during an interview.   Soft skills are non-technical but that does not mean they can’t be worked into measurable accomplishments.  Combine your soft skills with accomplishments and measurable results.

According to Forbes, 94% of recruiters believe that top-notch soft skills outweigh experience when it comes to promotion to leadership positions – that’s the writing on the wall

How can you demonstrate soft skills?  First, your resume.  Proofread it ad nausea and remove any and all mistakes.  This shows good communication and attention to detail.  Second, an interview is a major opportunity to show off interpersonal skills.  Your dress, willingness to make eye contact, hand-shake, and ability to listen closely to questions and answer them enthusiastically and fully.  In summary these small measures will go a long way to demonstrating characteristics like enthusiasm, professionalism, intellectual curiosity, and self-motivation.

The top mistakes recruiters’ site during interviews is dressing inappropriately; arriving late; playing with your cell phone, poor company research, and not paying attention.  Each one of these detract from the interviewer’s soft skill assessment.

Assessing Your Soft Skills

Measuring soft skills is an area that recruiters have indicated they want to learn more about and become more effective at.  No wonder, the entire industry is giving testimonial to the fact that they consider soft skills on a par with hard skills.  Nevertheless, soft skills remain difficult to measure.  If you’re interested in what types of advice potential employers are getting with regards to soft skill assessment, checkout this LinkedIn article “12 Effective Ways to Assess Candidates' Soft Skills.”

If you would like to assess your own soft skill inventory, try the fairly robust (and free) Soft Skills Assessment.  This is an online self-assessment from Biz Library – it measures your soft skill proficiency across 10 different skill dimensions.

List of Top 10 Soft Skills with Examples

Our list of the top 10 soft skills are listed below.  Each of these will serve you well today and in the future.  A description as well as several associated soft skills are supplied for clarity.

1.  Communication

Modern, able professionals not only communicate across various channels, but they can adjust their tone and style according to their audience, situation and medium.  They can abstract complex issues to collections of simple ideas for colleagues and clients alike. Communication is also an important aspect of leadership, since leaders must be able to delegate clearly and comprehensibly.

Characteristics of Communicators:

  • Verbal Communication
  • Non-verbal Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Listening
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Respect

2.  Leadership

Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.  It’s a soft skill you can show even if you’re not directly managing others. Leadership can easily be thought of as the most highly evolved of the soft skills.

Characteristics of Leaders:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Decision Making
  • Problem-Solving
  • Empowerment
  • Empathy
  • Selflessness
  • Agility
  • Listening
  • Trust

3.  Problem-Solving / Critical Thinking

No matter what the job, employers want candidates who can analyze situations and make informed decisions. Recruiters are especially interested in problem-solvers who can demonstrate solutions under the constraints of what they already have to work with – or very close to it.  

Characteristics of Problem-Solvers:

  • Analysis
  • Logical Thinking
  • Lateral Thinking
  • Brainstorming
  • Observation
  • Initiative

4.  Adaptability / Flexibility

People are necessarily anxious about leaving their comfort zone.  Adaptability and flexibility are analogous skills which describe a person who not only embraces change but thrives on it.  These are particularly important when working in fast-pace or constantly changing work environments – like those found in modern project and adaptive organizations.  

Characteristics of Adapters:

  • Open-Minded
  • Optimist
  • Self-Confident
  • Motivated
  • Confidence
  • Calm
  • Organization
  • Analysis

5.  Teamwork

Teamwork skills allow you to operate well in a workplace group setting – quickly and effectively accomplishing tasks.  Hiring managers want to know that you play well with others.  Negotiating, influencing and building teams with others and appreciating diversity in a team are keys to teamwork.  People who excel at teamwork can both accept and deliver feedback.

Characteristics of Team Workers:

  • Collaborative
  • Empathetic
  • Influential
  • Networking
  • Selling Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Self-Awareness
  • Team Building

6.  Work Ethic

Employers love candidates with a strong work ethic. This means people who come to work on time, complete tasks in a timely manner, stay focused, and stay organized.  They are able to budget their time and complete their work thoroughly. And they do this while no one is watching.

Characteristics of those imbued by good work-ethics:

  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Discipline
  • Initiative
  • Dependability
  • Commitment
  • Organization
  • Teamwork
  • Time-Management

7.  Creativity

According to LinkedIn, this is the number 1 soft skill to have in 2019.  When most people think of creativity, they think of artists, graphic designers, writers, painters, etc.  When we speak of creativity as a soft skill we are talking specifically about a solutions to problems – that solution being both novel and relevant in some way.  Novelty and Relevancy are the attributes of solutions formulated by creative people.  This is similar but not the same as problem-solving.

Characteristics of Creators:

  • Problem Solver
  • Imagination
  • Insight
  • Innovation
  • Questioning
  • Design
  • Divergent Thinking

8.  Time Management

Time management skills demonstrate your ability to work efficiently and effectively by using your time wisely.  It’s the age-old desire for the most productivity for the least cost.  Most every employer appreciates this soft skill, but it’s crucial if you’re an IT project manager.

Characteristics of Time-Managers:

  • Goal Setting
  • Prioritizing
  • Planning
  • Focus
  • Delegation
  • Coping
  • Organization
  • Self-Starter

9.  Attention to Detail

Attention to detail indicates that you are both thorough and accurate in your work.

Characteristics of people with Attention to Detail:

  • Critical Observation
  • Listening
  • Organization
  • Scheduling
  • Analysis
  • Introspection
  • Questioning
  • Acuity
  • Recall

10.  Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are those that you use constantly as you interact and communicate with co-workers and management.

Characteristics of people with good Interpersonal Skills:

  • Empathy
  • Humor
  • Mentoring
  • Sensitivity
  • Patience
  • Tolerance
  • Diplomacy
  • Positive Reinforcement

Conclusion

It should be apparent from this article that your command of the soft skill inventory presented here will be the most important factor in your professional success now and in the future.  According to Forbes, 94% of recruiters believe that top-notch soft skills outweigh experience for promotions to leadership positions – that’s the writing on the wall.  Given technological advancements and automation, soft skills become an even more important differentiator in hiring and promotions.  To excel in the arena of soft skills, it will be necessary to make it part and parcel of your ongoing professional development.

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Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL

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