Whenever you look over job listings, you’ll notice that for any given position, the necessary qualifications and hard skills are numerous and well-defined. A job might require a college degree, a minimum of two years’ relevant work experience in a given field, or expert knowledge of a particular software package. By comparison, soft skills are often omitted or maybe hinted at with a vague description. One employer’s definition of qualities such as creativity or ‘being a team player’ may be different from yours or another employer’s.
Yet this lack of visibility doesn’t indicate a corresponding lack of importance. The opposite can often prove right. Soft skills might be the crucial, difference-making qualities which lead you to succeed where others with the same qualifications fall short. Here’s how you can apply them to your advantage.
Making a difference across the board
The general definition of soft skills includes interpersonal, communications, and leadership skills, as well as creativity and problem-solving ability. The emphasis tends to be on the value of these skills at work. There’s no doubt that given two candidates who possess a similar technical ability, an employer would want to choose someone who collaborates well and has a great work ethic. They may even prefer that person over someone whose skill level is superior but is challenging to manage. But if you look closely, those soft skills extend to our personal lives as well. Good empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution are all vital to making relationships work. Adaptability helps you to pursue continued learning. High emotional intelligence can help you make better financial decisions. These are qualities that you can develop and have a high payoff by improving multiple aspects of your life.
Finding what you need
People who grow up thinking that a skill is something technical, such as software proficiency or subject matter expertise, will probably have poor awareness of their soft skill levels. While every soft skill can have a positive impact outside of your career, it’s best to focus on improving the ones you need first. Every occupation could use a little more or less of specific soft skills. An excellent pediatric dentist, for instance, has specific techniques for working with children and creating a fun environment. However, a proper bedside manner is less important to a freelance designer; instead, they could use more improvements on how to collaborate with others.
Show, don’t tell
Understanding the importance of soft skills and working on them can give you an advantage. But many people also make the mistake of not correctly demonstrating their soft skills. In fiction writing, there’s a saying: show, don’t tell. Don’t merely list soft skills like qualifications or hard skills; create the right impression in the other person’s mind. Active listening and empathy, for instance, are easy to demonstrate during an actual job interview or conversation with others. Doing volunteer work or further education while also having a full-time job can showcase your flexibility, work ethic, and willingness to learn. And getting a referral from someone you met through networking can serve as a subtle endorsement of your interpersonal skills.
Most professions have a specific list of requirements. Checking all the boxes in terms of hard skills is like meeting the minimum grade. You can do the job, but will your potential colleagues want to work with you? This critical point is why soft skills are your X-factor.