When applying for jobs, most of us focus heavily on hard skills. These are the skills that are quantifiable and measurable, like having a certain qualification, increasing sales by X% in your last job, or being able to speak a foreign language.
While these hard skills are important, soft skills, also known as ‘people skills’, are often just as valuable.
Consider this scenario: You’ve been hired by a company because you’re a skilled computer programmer with a range of qualifications and a great track record. However, you can’t take criticism without getting angry and lashing out at coworkers. Will you last long in the job? Probably not.
Now imagine a programmer who isn’t quite as skilled as you, but is calm, polite, responds well to criticism and solves problems without a fuss. Even though their hard skills aren’t quite as good as yours, they’re much more likely to have a successful career with this company.
Soft skills matter. Find out how to improve yours below.
The ability to manage conflicts skilfully
Managing conflict is a really important soft skill, particularly if you work in a customer-facing role. Whether you’re dealing with an angry co-worker or an irritated customer, the principles are the same. Stay calm, listen to what the person has to say, show that you understand their point of view, and then propose a solution. Be prepared to compromise if necessary, but don’t let others intimidate you.
Problem solving abilities
Problems are a fact of life, and being able to solve them makes you extremely valuable to your employer. You can improve your problem solving skills by recalling problems you’ve encountered in the past and reflecting on how you dealt with them. Take the positive things you did and try to repeat them next time something goes wrong. Stay vigilant against recurring issues, like getting overwhelmed by small things or feeling angry when you can’t fix something straight away.
A lot of communication skills
Every job involves communication, so it’s worth taking some time to get this one right. Here are some key communication skills that will help you no matter what your role is:
- Active listening. Pay full attention to the person speaking to you, making eye contact, facing towards them, and asking thoughtful questions to show that you’re engaged.
- Express ideas clearly. Plan carefully before you explain an idea to someone, and try to be as concise as possible. Don’t ramble or include irrelevant information. This is important whether you’re speaking on the phone, face-to-face or via email.
- Be open-minded. You won’t agree with everyone you meet at work, and that’s okay. Try to stay open and understanding of others at all times to avoid unnecessary conflict or misunderstandings.
- Confidence. If you believe in what you’re saying, other people will too. Try using positive affirmations, practicing your public speaking on friends and family, and recalling past successes to increase your confidence.
Being able to critically evaluate information is an essential soft skill. It’s the difference between an employee who reports a problem to their boss and then forgets all about it, and an employee who sees an issue and immediately starts looking for solutions. Looking critically at successes is important too – they could give you ideas on how to grow and improve even further.
Ability to deal with and adapt to changes
Nothing stays the same forever. Be prepared to deal with workplace changes and life will feel much easier. Try to view all change in a positive light, no matter how bad it seems. Maybe being fired will lead to a great new job? Or making a big mistake might show you how you can improve your skills for the future? Every cloud has a silver lining.
Don’t get so caught up in qualifications and experience that you forget to hone your soft skills. These transferable skills will be helpful no matter where your career takes you.