A Guide to Developing Soft Skills to Advance Your Career
We’ve all heard what an asset it is in the job market to know data analysis, be able to code in C++, and speak fluent Spanish. But what about being able to listen well, to manage your time like a boss, and to lead a team meeting that leaves everybody smiling afterward? While more difficult to measure and quantify, these types of skills – soft skills – are the glue that hold together any workplace.
Being able to identify your soft skills and give examples of them is a critical part of any job interview. Many people choose to list soft skills on their resume. If you’re having trouble identifying your soft skills – or know what soft skills you have, but want to develop them more – you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you single out and grow your soft skills – which will ultimately lead to more successes in interviews and on the job.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are character traits, personal attributes, and other non-technical abilities that help you work and communicate with other people. Some soft skills you might have to study and learn, and others might come to you naturally. Listening, communication and delegation are all examples of soft skills.
The opposite of soft skills are hard skills, which are technical abilities like knowing how to code in python, make a graph on excel, or speak a foreign language. While hard skills can be more easily defined and measured, soft skills are more difficult to measure. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less important – in fact, if you’re not a good communicator, you’ll have a difficult time even getting past the first interview!
“Soft skills do play an important role in hiring. Employers aren’t looking for robots that can only execute on a job description,” says Anish Majumdar, a professional resume writer. “They need people who can positively impact the culture and see what’s around the corner- people with depth (this goes triple for executives btw). Soft skills are a way to address this.”
How to identify your soft skills
At many points during your education or career, you’ve probably worked on a team. But are you good at teamwork? Are you so good at teamwork that you would include it on the skills section of your resume? Not sure? Let’s talk about identifying your soft skills.
Finding what soft skills you excel at starts with looking within. To find your soft skills, Nicole Wood, the CEO of Ama La Vida told Glassdoor, “first, gain self-awareness of your strengths and improvement opportunities. Then you can begin to truly harness your strengths and develop your blind spots.” She continued that “things like showing empathy, having a strong presence, expressing gratitude, communicating effectively, and managing stress are all critical skills to develop [in order] to get promoted and to be an effective leader.”
Identifying your soft skills isn’t necessarily something you can do alone, either. Ask friends, colleagues, and even former employers which soft skills come to mind when they think of you. You can also ask them to bring up specific examples of when you used that soft skill well. You might even discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before. For example, if you think you’re disorganized, but everyone you talk to points to your organizational skills as somewhere you excel, you might want to consider changing that perception of yourself – and including it on your resume!
Here is a list of soft skills. Do you identify with any of them? Can you point to examples in your career where you used them to accomplish something?
- Time management
- Ability to perform under pressure
- Work ethic
How to show soft skills on a resume
Now that you have a list of your soft skills, it’s time to showcase them. “Soft skills are like dessert – quality is more important than quantity!” writes Majumdar. Quality has two requirements: first that you actually possess the soft skills, and second, that they match up to the soft skills the employer is looking for. When applying for jobs, you might consider making a list of soft skills described on each job listing, or if none are listed, qualities you think it might be helpful to have in the job. You can then match this list with the soft skills you know you have – these will be the skills you present on your resume.
Many resume writers suggest highlighting numerical metrics showing how you succeeded in previous positions, like “increased sales by 17%” or “doubled average daily website traffic in three months”. But just as important is showing how your soft skills led to successes on the job. “unless you are a robot, you didn’t just bulldoze your way in and mechanically drive results. Instead, you began by applying softer skills in order to achieve more concrete outcomes,” says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, professional resume writer and Glassdoor contributor. “Incorporating soft skills articulately means describing how you helped tame heated meetings and how your ability to communicate orally or in writing helped forge alliances, influence solidarity and/or move projects so they steamed ahead and achieved bottom-line goals,” she continues.
Bonus tip? If you include soft skills in your “skills” section, make sure they match up (at least for the most part!) with the examples of how you used soft skills in your “experience” section. The listed skills will be flagged by the applicant tracking system, and the examples you give will tell the memorable story to whoever’s eyes end up on your resume.
How to improve your soft skills
- Take an online course. You can teach yourself practically anything online today, from hard skills like Photoshop and network engineering to soft skills like project management and negotiation. Popular websites that offer courses to learn soft skills include Coursera, Lynda.com, Udemy, and edX.
- Get feedback from others. “The best way to achieve these skills is to gain awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, ask for feedback, observe and listen to those who have an exemplary rapport with others, and practice the skill development in all relationships,” told Katherine Daniel, Director of HR & Marketing for N2 Publishing, Inc. to Glassdoor.
- Get a coach. A coach can help you develop certain soft skills quickly and effectively because they tailor the learning and practicing process directly to you. “Partnering with a coach can have an invaluable impact on your success as a leader,” says Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of uniquelyHR. However, Kiner strongly recommends finding the right coach for your time and budget so it’s worth it.
- Practice with a friend. Let’s say you want to get better at negotiating. Sit down with a friend and practice asking for what it is you want – whether it’s a salary raise, a promotion, or a better benefits package. Have your friend play the role of your boss, and then give you feedback about your proposal.
These further resources will help you identify, polish, and perfect your soft skills – and also make them look great on a resume!