What are Soft Skills?
A soft skill is a personal attribute that supports situational awareness and enhances an individual’s ability to get a job done. Whereas hard skills are the tangible and technical skills easily demonstrated by a candidate’s qualifications and specific professional experiences, soft skill is a term used by employers to refer to the more intangible and non-technical abilities that are sought from candidates.
What are the Most Important Soft Skills?
It is hard to say which soft skills are most important because they will vary by situation.
However, this list is broadly what employers mean when they talk about ‘good soft skills’. They are, therefore, the skills that are most likely to enable you to build constructive working relationships with others or to be a constructive and helpful employee.
- Communication Skills
Communication skills are almost always high on the ‘essential skills’ list in any job advertisement.
People with strong communication skills can build relationships (from the initial rapport-building through to a longer-term relationship). They can listen well and vary their communication to suit the circumstances. They avoid misunderstandings, and in general make any workplace work better.
If you spend time on nothing else, work on your communication skills.
- Making Decisions
Being able to make decisions is valued by employers for many reasons, and also essential to getting on in life more generally.
We all have to make decisions every day, from what we have for breakfast, to more important decisions like whether to apply for a new job or when to get married. Sometimes the actual decision doesn’t even matter; what matters is that you have made one and moved on.
Being able to make good decisions can also help with problem-solving because it enables you to choose between possible solutions.
People who are self-motivated get on by themselves.
They do not need close supervision. They are good to work with because they are generally positive about life and can be counted upon to keep going, even when times are hard. Two skills that are closely linked to self-motivation are personal resilience, or the ability to bounce back when you encounter problems, and adaptability to change.
- Leadership Skills
Leadership skills are the skills required to take the lead when necessary.
They include the ability to manage and motivate others, and to delegate work. These are the set of soft skills that we least expect someone to develop by themselves. Employers understand that it is hard to develop skills without being able to practice them every day. It is likely to come to a point, however, when you may need to step up to a leadership position for the first time.
There are therefore many leadership training courses available and much has been written about how to develop your leadership skills. Our leadership skills pages describe many of the skills needed for effective leadership and how to develop your leadership style.
- Team-Working Skills
Team-working skills are broadly those required to work effectively with other people.
They are, therefore, basically interpersonal skills. There is plenty of thinking to suggest that good communication skills, particularly good listening skills, together with an ability to build rapport will go a long way to support your ability to work well in a team.
There are, however, some specific skills and areas of expertise that may be helpful if you need to work closely with other people. It is, for example, useful to understand about Belbin’s Team Roles, and the distinction between ‘tasks’- and ‘process’-focused skills.
- Creativity and Problem Solving Skills
Like leadership skills, creativity and problem-solving skills are highly valued because they are hard to develop.
There are many people who believe that creative thinkers are born, not made. There are certainly some people who find these skills much easier. But, like other skills, you can develop them if you work to do so and our pages on these topics will give you some ideas about how to do this.
- Time Management and the ability to work under pressure
These two areas, put together, can be summed up as the ability to get the job done in the time available. They are also sometimes described as having a ‘good work ethic’.
Many would say that these two skills, which often go hand-in-hand, are more an attitude than a skill. The precise words you use, though, probably do not matter nearly as much as working on these areas. They are highly valued by employers, but are also very useful for organizing a family or a team, and making sure that the job gets done at work or at home.
- Positive attitude
Positive thinking is the idea that you can improve your life, and the lives of those around you, by taking a positive attitude.
This is not in the least ‘fluffy’. Nobody can deny that it is pleasant to work with someone who is enthusiastic, friendly, and has a can-do attitude. It is also quite depressing to work with someone who always sees the downside of everything. Employers look for people with a positive attitude because they help everyone to feel better about themselves. They also achieve more.