Our hard skills are the stepping stone to our profession, but soft skills are the ladder to it

For people who pursue any profession, the need to complement their core skills with other behavioral skills is paramount. The complementary skills that complete and round up the technical or other core skills go by a collective term: soft skills.

In the highly competitive world we are living in, even an extremely gifted professional cannot get away with just core skills. Even the best talent can go unnoticed unless it is given the right outlet. The most powerful means to doing this is through soft skills.

In this blog, let us get down to exploring this vital skillset and try to understand why mastering it matters in any profession.

We will be traversing the following areas:

  • What are soft skills?
  • Soft skills vs. hard skills
  • Why do soft skills matter?
  • Why are soft skills essential for career growth and why do organizations value them?
  • What does research say about the importance of soft skills?
  • Can soft skills be learnt?
  • How to list your soft skills on your resume
  • How to effectively measure soft skills
  • 11 soft skills employers look for

So, let’s get going!

What are soft skills?

One can understand soft skills as a combination of many personality-related skills, such as marketing, customer service, emotional intelligence, smartness, ability to control aggression, and related ones. A few people like to include other qualities such as patience, interpersonal skills, verbal and written presentation, listening, articulation, time management, and such others.

Soft skills vs. hard skills

So, if these are soft skills, what are hard skills, and how are the two different from each other? Hard skills are those that are specific to a profession and are gained through often intense learning. Knowledge of medicine is integral to a physician, and thus is a hard or core skill for this profession. Similarly, one can think of all kinds of skills that are essential to their respective professions.

While these are the skills that define a profession and are gained by learning and going through training; soft skills are those that add value to these hard skills by balancing and lending substance to them. Core skills are only a part of a well-rounded personality. Soft skills are the ideal counterpart to core skills.

Some have argued that it is a misnomer to consider these skills as soft, because they are as important, sometimes even more, than one’s regular skills. Anyway, let us leave that debate aside for now and join the crowd in calling them by what they are popularly known!

Why do soft skills matter? Why are soft skills essential for career growth and why do organizations value them?

For a person in any profession or area of work, soft skills are as important in endearing herself to her constituency as much as the hard skills, because many a time, there is a major mismatch between what is taught at our degrees and what the real world requires. It is through soft skills that a professional learns the trade in a way that goes down well with their stakeholders.

Moreover, hard skills in themselves don’t complete the professional’s personality. As an example, a teacher may possess all the knowledge needed for teaching, but unless her presentation and articulation skills are good, the students are not likely to like her much.

The clearest means to understanding the importance of soft skills for our career growth is best illustrated in this blog:

While hard skills are only for one’s profession, soft skills are for one’s life

Organizations value soft skills among their employees very dearly for a number of reasons. These are some of them:

  • Employees with soft skills are better equipped to handle their customers, which in turn gives the organization a good reputation with its market
  • Employees who are proficient at soft skills such as team work are definitely better at peer relations and hence cause fewer conflicts at the workplace
  • A soft skill such as emotional intelligence means a workplace with smarter and more intuitive employees who can better solve problems on their own instead of rushing to management for these.

What does research say about the importance of soft skills?

Research has consistently shown that soft skills are very important and highly valued in organizations.

  • The 2019 Global Talent Trends research carried out by LinkedIn reveals that as much as 92% of hiring managers rated soft skills as being as important or perhaps even a notch higher than core skills
  • An almost equal number said that one standout quality among bad hires was their lack of soft skills
  • Most respondents of this research rated creativity, persuasion and collaboration as the most valued soft skills among employees.

Can soft skills be learnt?

This is an oft-asked question in this topic. This question comes up because soft skills are not taught in institutions in the traditional method in which degrees are taught. For example, how does one get trained in an cultivating an attitude like self-esteem?

So, in this narrow sense, technically, soft skills are not taught, but they certainly can be learnt. In other words, one may not earn degrees in soft skills, but there is no limit to the learning one gains in the course of one’s profession.

However, you can opt for online courses in soft skills, which are gaining in popularity of late. Agreed, these are not regular classroom courses, but that doesn’t diminish their value.

How to list your soft skills on your resume

This is often tricky. The weightage you should give to your hard and soft skills on your resume is often a balancing act. It mostly depends on the position you apply for. The resumes of a few highly technical positions are not expected to highlight soft skills, not because they are not considered as important, but simply because their possession is a given. Ideally, in such situations, one should show, rather than tell about such skills.

There are other positions, such as say, teaching or counseling, where soft skills are given greater importance. It definitely makes sense to highlight the soft skills areas in such resumes.

How to effectively measure soft skills

Organizations usually go about measuring soft skills using self-assessment tools such as peer reporting, self-reporting, 360° feedback, employee engagement surveys, and setting standards and rewards for exhibiting soft skills.

The result of doing this is obvious: research has suggested that employees’ skills have measured a clear improvement of between 14.5 and 27.9% in various parameters following the acquisition of soft skills of different kinds. Soft skills are considered essential for survival in a position.

11 soft skills employers look for

Ah, now, the crux of this blog: which are the 11 soft skills employers look for? This is a list we have made and is not set out in any particular order of importance.

Let us list these and then get down to dissecting their contents:

What is it?

Simple: managing one’s time efficiently.

Example of the skill:

Not only coming to the workplace or meeting on time; it is also about completing major tasks and projects on time

Why does it matter?

It gives both the employee and the organization a great reputation as those who deliver on time

How to develop it?

Discipline is the key to time management. Employees should understand that not following time has its consequences.

  • Communication skills

What is it?

Being able to put across a point or argument with consistency and clarity. An often overlooked aspect of communication is the ability to listen. Each complements the other.

Example of the skill:

A presentation about a project or a product or discussing important aspects of work with colleagues or the management can be examples of communication skills.

Why does it matter?

Being able to express a viewpoint or something about the company can have a great effect on the customers or stakeholders.

How to develop it?

Practice is the key to communication. One learns it with time. You can talk to the walls to hone this skill, literally. Or, you can also take up a few online courses on communications skills, which can help tremendously.

  • Self-Motivation

What is it?

The ability to summon one’s own abilities without being nudged, and the willpower to motivate oneself to perform.

Example of the skill:

An employee who works longer hours for the fun of learning new things without being asked to can be an example of self-motivation.

Why does it matter?

A self-motivated employee is an asset for an organization. When the employee doesn’t need to be told what to do and how to do it well, the organization saves on training costs, on self-improvement and a lot more!

How to develop it?

The urge to improve is at the root of self-motivation.

  • Critical Thinking

What is it?

Thinking critically is essentially about applying logical ability to solve problems.

Example of the skill:

Core management activities call for critical thinking. Making market forecasts, for instance, require a heavy dose of critical thinking.

Why does it matter?

An employee who thinks critically can size the organization’s performance and prospects with precision. It helps the organization to stay grounded.

How to develop it?

One needs to think objectively and realistically to develop critical thinking. When considering a situation, vital questions about it need to be asked to hone critical thinking.

  • Work Ethic

What is it?

Work ethic is another name for being disciplined and scrupulous at the workplace.

Example of the skill:

Working with dedication and seriousness and showing sincerity at any work without blaming one’s colleagues for failures.

Why does it matter?

Integrity is at the root of organizations’ reputation. When employees have it, the organization is sure to earn a great name.

How to develop it?

Work ethic consists of developing a number of traits such as discipline, punctuality, humility and commitment. A combination of character and willingness is needed to develop work ethic.

  • Decision Making and Problem-Solving Skills

What is it?

Taking crucial decisions that have a bearing on the organization and resolving issues to everyone’s satisfaction without allowing them to escalate.

Example of the skill:

These can be applied to all areas of work, ranging from understanding the market to hiring or retaining an employee.

Why does it matter?

Business is all about decision-making and problem-solving, the acuity and perceptiveness of which could be the difference between average and great organizations.

How to develop it?

Decision-making can be learnt with practice and exposure. Where there is a willingness to learn, this trait can be cultivated.

  • Interpersonal skills/people skills

What is it?

Interacting satisfactorily with people in the organization and outside.

Example of the skill:

Sensitive matters such as bringing a mistake to a colleague’s notice or letting your boss know where she is going wrong can be examples of this skill.

Why does it matter?

It helps to resolve issues and develops a great sense of bonding and bonhomie among colleagues.

How to develop it?

With patience!

  • Emotional Intelligence

What is it?

The ability to handle situations tactfully and resourcefully. This is not knowledge gained by reading textbooks or other academic sources.

Example of the skill:

Handling an irate customer or handling tough questions during a presentation.

Why does it matter?

EI is regarded highly in organizations because they prefer smarter to nerdy employees.

How to develop it?

Being able to think on one’s feet with smartness, although an innate ability, can be learnt nevertheless, with practicing to face tough situations.

  • Leadership skills

What is it?

The skill of leading a set of people or an organization.

Example of the skill:

All leadership roles are examples of leadership skills.

Why does it matter?

Leadership is ABSOLUTELY critical for today’s world, because this is one of the rare abilities and is required to bring changes.

How to develop it?

Leadership is considered a natural ability, but it can be learnt with constant practice and interacting with leaders.

What is it?

The ability to handle pressure and not let it affect us.

Example of the skill:

Keeping one’s cool when a deadline is looming.

Why does it matter?

When stress is allowed to explode, it can cause a lot of bad blood in organizations and affect people’s relationship with one another.

How to develop it?

One can condition oneself to remain calm by learning to assess the consequences of not doing things right. A few stress-handling techniques can help in controlling stress.

  • Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

What is it?

Resolving problems through persuasion without having to take an aggressive stance.

Example of the skill:

Discussing and agreeing on most business contracts require a great degree of negotiation and conflict resolution skills.

Why does it matter?

Negotiation and conflict resolution skills are essential for helping to control aggressive situations. They help to calm tensions and come to mutually helpful or beneficial conclusions.

How to develop it?

Negotiations are seldom carried out in a hurry. So, developing this quality requires a lot of perseverance and patience.

Conclusion

Having read this blog on soft skills, what are your impressions? Do you think organizations are right in emphasizing the importance of soft skills, or do you think they are overrating this quality? Do you think that companies that invest on soft skills training are making high ROI investments, or are they wasting their resources?

Please let us know your thoughts! We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to chip in with your comments about this blog.

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