To do your job effectively, you need what are called ‘hard skills’: technical knowledge and specific knowledge about the area you are responsible for.
But in an ever-changing world of work, “soft skills“less promoted can be just as important, if not more crucial.
These skills are more nuanced, even low-key: think about the personal characteristics and behaviors that make a strong leader or a good team member.
Especially amid the normalization of remote work, where collaboration and ways to innovate have changed, companies are beginning to realize the importance of these intangibles. by building diverse and successful teams.
As a result, employers are increasingly considering a candidate’s soft skills as much as their experience and explicit technical specialties, experts say.
Some of these soft skills may be innate: there are personality traits that make someone a a good natural communicator or an analytical thinker.
Those who do not have them can develop and perfect them, as well as learn to display them.
And that, experts say, is something we should all be doing.
What are they?
There is no definitive list of soft skills, but the term essentially refers to skills beyond techniques.
Confidence with certain software, for example, is a hard skill; Knowing how to analyze different software packages to figure out what a company should be using requires critical thinking – a soft skill.
Another important area of soft skills is the communication.
Effective communication with colleagues, clients, and management requires skill and emotional intelligence. Empathy, teamwork and compassion they are also skills that fall under that same umbrella.
The term ‘soft skills’ itself is just jargon, says Eric Frazer, author of “The Psychology of Top Talent” and an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University School of Medicine.
“From a behavioral science point of view, it really refers to a number of mindsets and behaviors.
“Some examples of soft skills mindsets might be someone who is a continual learner or someone who is very resilient. Many behaviors (critical thinking, active listening, imaginative problem solving, to name a few) are also interpersonal skills.
The same skills that allow workers to operate successfully within the company hierarchy and rise to the top also lead to successful interpersonal relationships.
In essence, he continues, the term is just another way of saying ‘interpersonal skills’.
“It’s about a person’s sense of identity and how they relate to others.”
Many soft skills are very practical, such as efficiency, prioritisation, organization and time managementall features that are becoming increasingly critical for remote and hybrid workers.
“High performers have the discipline to structure their day and be highly effective within a set time frame,” says Frazer.
And soft skills are not only useful on the job, are usually invaluable.
A noticeable change
As many of the highly technical parts of the job become increasingly automated or replaced by technological tools, companies are looking for employees who can solve problems, juggle increased responsibilities and work well with others.
The current labor shortage is also causing organizations to focus on longevity: Employees who have the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to rise to leadership positions offer much more value.
Also, soft skills have become even more important in the post-pandemic job landscape and largely remote.
For example: Communication tends to be much more nuanced and complex when workers don’t see each other face-to-face with their colleagues. Adaptability is also a soft skill, and the last two years have required a lot of it.
As a result, employers are actively looking for candidates who have these intangibles.
And across all job openings, of the 10 most in-demand skills, 7 were ‘soft’, including communication, problem solving and planning.
The same report showed that certain job types prioritize soft skills even more: they were the most desired qualifications for the 91% of management positions, 86% of business operations positions and the 81% of engineering positions, a fact that may come as a surprise, as it is a field generally considered highly technical.
“When we look at today’s workforce,” Frazer says, “there’s definitely been a shift toward demanding more of what I would call ‘tacit knowledge’ and ‘tacit skills’…meaning you’re good at what you do.” I mean, if you’re an engineer, you’re expected to be good at coding or design, or if you work in finance, at numerical data analysis.”
The change, he says, is that “there is a deeper understanding that people comes first, before performance“.
Not to say that technical skills have been forgotten, he adds, but companies have increasingly realized that emphasizing the soft skills that hold organizations together is what “drives big results.”
Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook global job site revealed that soft skills like collaboration, reliability, and flexibility are among the skills employers most appreciate in workers.
However, executives report that they have Difficulty finding candidates who have well-developed soft skill setsAnd have had them for years.
Part of that, Frazer says, is that skills like imagination and flexibility are hard to quantify.
“Inventories and questionnaires don’t really capture these attributes very accurately,” he says. And candidates don’t necessarily highlight those skills on their CVs or LinkedIn pages, though perhaps, he adds, they should.
Articulating your mindset
This growing emphasis on soft skills can be disconcerting to some workers, especially those who aren’t natural communicators or “born leaders,” as Frazer puts it.
But he adds that these are skills that they can be learned.
“Those who want to get better at their jobs, or be better employees, or have a better work-life balance understand and appreciate the value of constantly fine-tuning these mindsets and behaviors.”
We tend to be aware of our strengths, but to hone interpersonal skills you have to start by requesting feedback to identify weaknesses and blind spots.
Improving them may mean forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. If you want to improve your imaginative thinking or problem solving, for example, try participating in brainstorming sessions with the company’s creatives.
Emotional intelligence can also be increased by developing social awareness, learning to regulate your feelings and being empathetic.
As well as improving job prospects, that has additional benefits: Research shows that people with high emotional intelligence are less likely to experience stress and anxiety.
Hiring managers looking for these intangibles, meanwhile, can tailor their interview questions to uncover a candidate’s soft skill set, with questions like “give me an example of a time when you were resilient in your professional life” or “tell me a story that highlights your open mindFraser says.
To better prepare for situations like these, candidates should identify their strongest soft skills beforehand and be ready to show them off, he adds.
Technical skills and experience on your CV will always be important, but not enough: you have to convince recruiters that you have the softer skills that will help you succeed.
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