Like many people, I think it’s easier to tackle concrete things. However, getting a new job is rarely easy. While employers want measurable concrete or hard skills, they also want the more abstract soft skills. Let’s dig in to learn about soft skills, and how to improve and highlight them during the interview process.
Concrete or hard skills can be defined, measured and taught. Hard skills are things like typing, math or building. Soft skills are things like time management, creative thinking, problem-solving, flexibility, teamwork, conflict resolution and networking. Soft skills can be much harder to measure, improve and showcase.
Recognizing soft skills
People can be trained or taught on how to make a product, use software or move objects. It’s trickier to train or teach a person to be more flexible or how to use critical thinking. Employers want people who already have these soft skills.
Soft skills often demonstrate a person’s ability to interact in a relationship with another person. That relationship could be as simple as how you interact with the cashier at the grocery store or the receptionist at your potential workplace. A more complicated relationship is how you interact with your coworkers and boss.
There are lots of ways to recognize your strengths and improve your weaker areas in soft skills. You’re actually probably more aware of the soft skills you have than you realize. You just aren’t putting them in the skills frame. Are you often the person in a group who starts making a list of next steps and asks who’s going to do what? Great! You’re using your teamwork and leadership skills. Do you look at a situation and think of suggestions for how to improve it? Excellent, that’s critical thinking. Do you talk to a coworker calmly when there’s a problem or disagreement? That’s conflict resolution.
It can be a little harder to notice the areas you need to improve. However, once you start looking at yourself and thinking about the skills, you’ll probably be able to identify areas that need some work. Do you thrive on consistency and routine? Do you feel frustrated when things change on a dime or you need to quickly switch directions? If so, you may need to work on your flexibility. Perhaps you are often re-explaining something to a boss or coworker when you swear you just told them the same thing. This could be a sign you need to work on your communication skills.
Improving soft skills
Identifying the soft skills you rock at and what you want to improve will help guide you toward the best resource to move forward. Are the skills you need to improve ones that require individual work or practice with others? I recommend finding a trusted mentor in your field who can give you feedback. As your friendly Business and Career Librarian, I always recommend diving into a good book to help learn about these skills. There’s also one of my favorite learning resources you can access for free with your library card, Lynda.com. On Lynda search “soft skills” and you’ll see lots of options including “Soft Skills for Sales Professionals,” “Assessing soft skills” and “Master In-Demand Professional Soft Skills.” You can also search Lynda for the specific skill you want to improve.
It’s helpful to be find a good place to start improving a soft skill. If you know you need to work on communication skills, don’t tackle the entire broad topic immediately. Pick a piece of it – maybe try being a more present listener or reading a person’s body language. Developing and finessing these skills takes some time and work, so be patient with yourself.
Showcasing soft skills
Soft skills can help you stand out as an all-star job candidate on your job application, resume and cover letter. Make sure you list your soft skills where applicable. If you’re a great critical thinker and quick on your feet, include that! If you’re great at navigating conflict, make sure you mention that.
Resumes, cover letters and even standard job applications all have places that are perfect to highlight your soft skills. Make sure your wording reflects back to the job description. This will help the employer see you have the skills they want, that you read the job description, and you thought about your skill set and how it relates to that job. Be prepared to give some examples during an interview of times you have used these skills.
Check out these great books on polishing your soft skills.