You have all the experience, great references, everything you think you need for your dream job, but could something else be holding you back? A sometimes-overlooked set of skills known as soft skills is also essential for success in business and life.
Soft skills cover important but hard-to-measure keys to success. The most common soft skills often show up in job descriptions, and being able to show you possess them could make the difference in landing a job you’ll love, or being more successful in the job you already have.
What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?
Hard skills are things that are quantifiable and measurable; you either have them or you don’t. A master’s degree in business is a hard skill. The ability to speak Spanish is a hard skill; you either can or you can’t.
Many specific qualifications for a job are hard skills, such as years of work experience or proficiency with particular computer programs.
Soft skills are harder to define and quantify. They can’t be measured. You don’t get a certificate for mastering flexibility in the workplace (but maybe you should!).
They are the sorts of skills that are important, but hard to define when you have them or not. They’re traits that you can work on for a lifetime, and that you use in different degrees and in different ways from day to day.
Soft skills are also somewhat like personality traits in that they are something you bring with you to any job or life experience you have.
What Are the Most Common Soft Skills?
Soft skills covers a wide range of characteristics, but some of the most common — and most necessary for success — include being a:
- good listener
- problem solver
- adaptable to new situations
- strong communicator
- team player
It’s also helpful if you can:
- accept feedback
- resolve conflicts with others
- deal with difficult people
- delegate authority when needed
- be flexible
Personality Traits that Are Soft Skills
A common personality trait that might be considered a soft skill that is vital for a good working life (and life in general) is having a growth mindset.
What this means is that you see setbacks as a opportunity to learn something new or try something different rather than as roadblocks that will keep you from trying to do what you said you wanted to do.
People with a growth mindset love learning, are enthusiastic about change and are interested in self-improvement. They tend not to blame others for their problems and can be great team players and managers.
Other personality traits that might be considered soft skills include being friendly, curious, self-aware, confident, resilient and patient. Having a go-with-the-flow attitude that helps you manage stress might also be considered important, depending on the work environment.
Why Are Soft Skills Important?
Soft skills are the something extra that propels a particular person to success. They make the difference between someone who is just OK at their job and someone who is great, the person you always want on your team. They’re the difference between a fun acquaintance and your best friend.
In general, soft skills are what make you more likable and they make you seem more competent, all other skills being equal, compared to someone else.
Being a good listener, for example, is essential if you’re a therapist. Being flexible, a team player and a problem solver are all essential when dealing with deadlines.
Realtors — and many of the rest of us — have to deal with difficult, stressed-out people, and the person who can do that with a smile will get rave reviews and repeat customers.
If you can get clients but don’t retain them over the long haul, it’s probably because you’re lacking in an essential soft skill. Soft skills might also be the problem if you’re getting passed over for promotions or projects that you’re qualified to do.
How Do You Develop Soft Skills?
Soft skills are one thing that can set people apart from each other on resumes or in interviews, but if some of these traits don’t come naturally to you there are some things you can do. It is possible, for instance, to practice being more patient or being a better listener, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
You can deliberately focus on improving your soft skills by, say, reading about ways to have more confidence and trying out those methods yourself. You can take classes on things like conflict resolution or becoming a better manager. And you can use these skills at work and at home until you feel more comfortable.
Putting Soft Skills on Your Resume
Having these soft skills is not enough; you have to show hiring managers that you have them before you get to the interview stage.
But coming right out and saying, “I’m confident, great at dealing with difficult people and have a growth mindset,” on your resume or in your cover letter might not be the best way to show off those skills.
Like anything else when writing your resume, you should aim to show, not tell. Talk about ways you have used your soft skills in the workplace in a similar way to how you might need them in the future.
For instance, saying you consistently meet deadlines shows flexibility and reliability, while specifics about your managerial experience might point to your ability to delegate, communicate and be part of a team.
Understanding and developing your soft skills is an ongoing process, but just like learning a programming language or taking a continuing education course, it can be the thing that puts you over the top in your job search or in general.