BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
A soft skill is a personal attribute that supports situational awareness and enhances an individual's ability to get a job done. The term soft skills is often used as a synonym for people skills or emotional intelligence. Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical ability to perform a specifically-defined task, soft skills are broadly applicable across job titles and industries. It's often said that while hard skills might get someone an interview, soft skills will help that person get (and keep) the job.
Business executives and leaders are making soft skills more of a priority when hiring, as they are often essential for workers to succeed in modern organizations. In 2018, LinkedIn listed leadership, communication, collaboration and time management as the top four most in-demand soft skills. Technology company iCIMS Inc., which develops recruiting and other employee management-related software, analyzed its proprietary data and found that problem-solving, adaptability and time management were the top three soft skills that recruiters sought in candidates. Other important soft skills include adaptability and the ability to be diplomatic and respectful, even during disagreements.
Soft skills that are in demand
When an employee with a high level of emotional intelligence has good communication skills and interpersonal skills, they are more likely to be able to clearly articulate goals and lead a team in a positive manner. This is especially important for multimember, multidisciplinary teams that are geographically and/or cultural dispersed.
For businesses that have a customer service/relations component, strong soft skills are a way to ensure a positive relationship between customer and company without providing extensive training. Here are several other examples of soft skills that company leaders value:
- appropriate use of humor
- honesty and integrity
- ability to manage time effectively
- good manners
- positive attitude
- good listening skills
- attention to detail
- ability to grasp the big picture
- common sense
- ability to make good decisions
- empathy for others
- communication skills
- willingness to see a difficult job through to the end
- willingness to change direction when something isn't working
- ability to negotiate
- ability to deal with conflict gracefully
Why are soft skills important?
Business projects often require employees to work as a team, making employees' abilities to have positive interactions with others just as valuable as the technical tasks they're asked to accomplish. As a result, business leaders are seeking workers who possess team work, collaboration, communication, problem-solving skills, and other emotional and cognitive capabilities to work in multimember, multidisciplinary teams that are geographically and/or cultural dispersed.
Soft skills training
Businesses and individuals can help close the soft skills gap through training. Individuals should start by asking family and trusted colleagues for feedback, which can help individual employees to identify the soft skills which require improvement.
Individuals can also improve their soft skills through mentoring and classes, as well as by simply observing and emulating how others successfully interact with peers and handle difficult interpersonal situations.
Working with a professional coach and reading self-help books and articles can assist in this process, as well as self-assessment tools like the Myers-Briggs personality profile test.