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The term soft skills refers to the personal traits, characteristics and competencies that inform to how an individual relates to others and is often used as a synonym for people skills or interpersonal skills.
The term describes those personal attributes that indicate a high level of emotional intelligence. These skills can include empathy, analytical thinking and etiquette. Soft skills are attributes that are impossible to quantify but play an important factor in many business settings.
Why are soft skills important?
Unlike hard skills, which describe a person's technical skills and abilities to perform specifically defined tasks, soft skills are broadly applicable across job titles and industries. It's often said that hard skills will get you an interview, but you need soft skills to get -- and keep -- the job, as well as to successfully lead and influence others.
Examples of soft skills
An employee with a high level of emotional intelligence has good communication skills and interpersonal skills. They can clearly articulate goals and can work in a team with a positive attitude.
There are several examples of soft skills that company leaders value:
- self-management skills
- friendliness and manners
- enthusiasm and optimism
- common sense
- situational awareness
Another important soft skill is adaptability. The ability to be diplomatic and respectful, even during disagreements, is a key soft skill. This skill requires the employee to maintain a professional tone and demeanor even when frustrated. 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 are the top three soft skills that recruiters seek in candidates.
They also seek candidates who are ambitious, confident, friendly, charismatic, articulate, enthusiastic, determined, easygoing, efficient and focused, according to findings publicized by iCIMS on its website in 2018.
Why are soft skills important?
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.
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.
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.
Soft skills training
Businesses and individuals can 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.