Soft Skills Determine the ‘Fit’ that Impacts Careers
Soft skills are those personal qualities, habits, characteristics, traits and attitudes that are not traditionally taught in schools or even on the job. Many successful people have developed their own well-used set of unique skills that allow them to outperform their peers, their managers and their colleagues.
Soft skills improve personal results and enhance an individual’s effectiveness in any variety of situations. Examples – working with others, solving problems, mending relationships, winning business, developing careers and supporting the higher performance of others – just to name a few.
Soft or “non-technical” skills are interpersonal and broadly applicable. They significantly contribute to one’s ability to be successful in management and leadership roles. The existence of developed soft skills ultimately separates ‘potential leaders’ from regular contributors and can make the difference between being promoted remaining status quo. Soft skills are ‘the’ ticket to achieving the greatest personal success.
It has been said “If the fit is right, you can teach what’s missing”
The most inherent difference between technical and transferable skills is the scope of their usefulness.
Soft Skills Impact on the Job
Wouldn’t it be ideal if all employees had solid soft skills? Of course, a mixed bag of both hard and soft skills would be best – that way all bases would be covered. Being able to recognize, identify and understand the presence of soft skills are critically important when choosing and hiring candidates. Using these same techniques also helps when determining wise investments – in either training and/or selecting the future leaders in the business.
When the going gets tough, the soft skills get going.
There is an endless list of what are considered to be soft skills. Many of these may not always be obvious as they may be deeply intertwined with others. These lists may seem daunting, but, in reality, most people never innately have all of these skills. For a lucky few, early soft skill development may happen by interacting and observing effective role models such as grandparents, parents, teachers, coaches, etc. Unfortunately, if soft skills are ‘underappreciatied’ or not viewed as valuable (by people of influence), young people may never be exposed to situations where they can acquire skills by demonstration, modelling or presentation.
One could write a separate blog on each highly prized soft skill. Note: identified below is a list – not an exhaustive list – of skills I have created for my own purposes. These skills most definitely make the difference when applied in the workplace.
Sadly, it is surprising how many hiring managers continue to focus interviews and hiring decisions on hard skills alone. When candidates have a good mix of hard and soft skills, hire them for full time employees. If great hard skills are all that is required (short term need) contractors are a great solution.
Transferable skills are generally more recession-proof than technical skills.
The following is a list that I consider to be the six most highly valuable and sought after skills. The first 6 are what I would refer to as core soft skills. Ideally look for these six in new recruits. Confirm these skills for more senior roles as they are absolutely mandatory when hiring and promoting management positions.
1. Communication skills
Purposely developed communication skills are the bedrock of any great hire. The ability to actively listen, articulate ideas in a clear and concise manner, build rapport, pace a conversation and be tactful and diplomatic in any situation – personal and business – should never be overlooked. It is critical that a message can be understood in verbal, written or presented format. The best communicators have the ability to read their audience, be appropriate, engage and change their style of communication to suit the people and/or task in hand. Communication should never be a monologue.
2. Teamwork skills
No one is an island. A strong team player has the group’s objectives clear in their own mind and works with others to achieve them. The best team players are open and honest, enlist the support of others, offer constructive suggestions and listen to their colleagues. Effective teamwork skills, build trust, collaboration and ensure the inclusion of all. Most importantly, people with good teamwork skills find common ground with others who may have different skill sets, personalities, work styles, and motivation levels.
3. Adaptability and flexibility skills
Having the ability to ‘change with the times’ – adapt to changing business surroundings, models, direction, leadership, etc. significantly contributes to overall personal success. When one is flexible enough to manage multiple tasks, pick up on new technologies and be willing to step outside of a comfort zone, it will be noticed. Adaptable personalities are eager to try something unfamiliar. This trait is highly desirable in any employee, at any level.
4. Creative problem solving skills
Creative problem solving is a mental process used to discover new, original and novel approaches to finding a solution to a problem. This is generally a solution that is not obvious at the onset. Identifying the problem is the first step. Being creative and innovative in developing the solution follows. Creative problem solving involves a certain amount of calculated risk and the capacity to determine what will be the risk if nothing is done.
5. Critical Thinking/Observation/ Big Picture Focus
This skill is almost a mindset. Critical thinking considers all aspects, potential opportunities, threats and contingencies. It is the ability to think clearly and rationally while engaging in reflective thought and independent thinking. Critical thinking works best when one sets aside time to come up with ideas either independently or when leading a brainstorming session. This skill requires the ability to remove personal mental limits.
6. Conflict Resolution
Interpersonal conflict is a fact of life, and particularly in an organized life. Learning how to deal with conflict—rather than avoid it—is crucial. It creates the opportunity for growth. To effectively resolve conflict, four core elements, sub skills, are used.
- Ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment
- Ability to remain comfortable with emotions and react in constructive ways
- Capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person
- Use of a benevolent ego – readiness to forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding resentments or anger
Below is my list of what additional highly valued soft skills – some of these are a subset of the above six – or they are at least closely related. I’d also recommend that reviewing this list, may be a good exercise in self-evaluation. The objective being – choose a skill, then practice to make it a habit.
It has been said “Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life”.
According to the Mitchell Communications Group, communication is reported to be one of the most deficient skills in the workforce. Productivity losses resulting from mis-communication cost companies up to $37B or about $26,000 per employee, per year, in the US and UK alone.
Yes, there is one major soft skill obviously missing. The reason? The subject is too massive to cover in this context because it would be viewed as a ‘strategic’ combination, variation or perspective on many of these soft skills. I will leave Emotional Intelligence (sometimes called Emotional Quotient – as in Intelligence Quotient) for another blog. At a high level, EI / EQ relates to social skills, social awareness and self-management abilities.
When asked what employers plan to do about difficulty finding technically skilled employees, 6 out of 10 say they would hire someone with soft skills who is a good fit and provide some training. The same survey showed that just under 3 out of 10 would keep searching until they found someone with the right technical skills. The final 1 out of 10 said they are ‘unsure or it depends’.
In the IT sector, the ability to teach new applications to users (communication/coaching/ability to read people/multicultural awareness, empathy, sense of humor) is viewed as being invaluable in project rollouts as well as a significatnt asset in teaching internal IT. Working side by side to provide mentorship and support to others is the “real” IT learning on the job – and in the trenches.
Soft skills like leadership, decision-making, conflict resolution, negotiation, communication, creativity and presentation skills are essential ingredients in making hiring decisions. A positive attitude, and strong communication skills, top the list and is most often the most valued by employers. Many companies complain about having a difficult time finding employees with the right set of soft skills – skills that ensure an employee can make long term contributions to a business.
Infographic – 10 most popular soft skills employers say they look for when hiring
“I have learned people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou, multi-talented and acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, autobiographer, dancer, actress and singer
Last week’s blog – All about that Base (Hard & Soft Skills)
Stay tuned for the final in this three part series of Soft & Hard Skills