What are soft skills and how to develop them

What are soft skills

Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you did not get along with.

How do you prioritise your work?

Do you prefer working alone or with a team?

These are some of the most commonly asked interview questions, even though they aren’t related to any in-demand technical skills. So what makes them such a favourite amongst recruiters? Through these questions, the interviewers are able to assess your soft skills.

What are soft skills? What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?

Soft skills are personality-related skills that help you in performing well at a job. For example, time management, creative thinking, teamwork, etc. Hard skills, on the other hand, are quantifiable skills that you have learned through schooling, training, or internships. For example, graphic design, data analysis, teaching, etc. 

Why are soft skills important?

Although hard skills make you eligible for a job, soft skills determine if you will thrive in a workplace. Therefore, you need different types of soft skills to fit in at various jobs. 

For example, if you want to be hired as a UX designer, empathy and communication are highly valued soft skills. A UX designer is tasked with creating user-friendly experiences. If they can empathise with the user, they will be able to create solutions that genuinely help the user. In order to do this, they often have to conduct user research which needs communication skills. Additionally, they need to communicate their ideas to other stakeholders.

Unlike hard skills, soft skills can be harder to teach, so the interviewers aim to hire candidates who exhibit these traits. Soft skills can also help with determining which candidates would be good cultural fits. This assessment increases the possibility of a candidate staying at a company for a longer duration. 

Moreover, soft skills are transferable across jobs in different industries. For example, if you developed collaboration skills during your programming career, you can use this skill while applying for a role where collaboration is important, such as marketing.

What are the types of soft skills?

Here’s a list of soft skills which are important for employers:

1. Communication

Even the most solitary jobs will need you to communicate in some way. Communication skills include the ability to convey information and active listening. It can take on various forms such as written communication, verbal communication, body language, and listening skills.

Apart from conveying essential information, employees should be able to work with colleagues they do not get along with and coordinate with other departments and clients. Other communication skills that employers value include the ability to accept feedback and to disagree politely.

2. Creativity

According to a LinkedIn report, creativity has been the most in-demand soft skill in the years 2020, 2019, and 2018. Creativity as a soft skill does not strictly refer to artistic endeavors; it refers to the creative approach to solving problems, thinking of new ideas, and making processes more efficient. So, each job today requires a certain degree of creativity. 

3. Adaptability

With the constant evolution of the workplace and the job market, employers are looking for individuals who can adapt to changing situations without disrupting work. For example, COVID-19 outbreak transformed the workplace. Work from home became the new norm and employees had to learn how to adapt.

4. Teamwork/collaboration

Even if you are not applying for a team-oriented position, you may still need to work on certain tasks together. 

Collaboration includes communicating, giving and receiving feedback, asking questions, being flexible about your ideas and opinions, empathising, and managing time efficiently to meet collective goals.

5. Emotional intelligence (EQ)

EQ refers to being aware of not only your own emotions but also of those around you. In addition to recognizing emotions, you should be able to manage and regulate your emotions according to the environment. For example, dealing with an upset customer may cause you to feel stressed, however, you would need to stay calm in the situation and address the issue effectively.

6. Time management

Time management is an essential skill in today’s fast-paced workplace and will often be a part of most job descriptions. To manage your time, you should be able to organise, prioritise tasks, and manage expectations. Besides turning in your work on time, this soft skill also refers to punctuality, which is observed strictly in most organisations.

7. Persuasion

Persuasion is the ability to convince someone else about your idea. Although persuasion may be most closely associated with sales and marketing, it is also frequently used by other professionals. For example, if you have a new idea to improve the workflow of your team, you need to be persuasive enough for the other team members to be on board with it.

8. Attention to detail

Detail-oriented employees are less likely to commit mistakes, which makes them an asset for the team. Jobs that need you to deal with complex information will often need someone who shows attention to detail.

9. Decision-making

Although we are used to making decisions every day, decision making can look very different in the workplace. It consists of identifying the problem, considering the different viewpoints, analysing the effectiveness of each option, implementing the solution, and learning from the result. 

Even though this may seem more relevant for leadership roles or analytical roles, each employee makes many decisions each day, therefore they must possess the ability to think critically.

Furthermore, the term self-starter has started cropping up in various descriptions, needs autonomy and decision-making.

How can you include soft skills in your resume?

While some job descriptions may explicitly state some soft skills, others may not do so. In this case, you can get in touch with the professionals already working in the industry. Once you know which skills are needed, make a list of the soft skills that you possess, and select two-three from amongst them. Next, mention them in your resume along with former experiences. Here’s an example of how you can demonstrate your organisational and teamwork skills:

Planned and executed a marketing campaign by coordinating with five interns via virtual meetings.  

If you can support them with numbers, that’s even better! 

Besides resume, you can include the soft skills in your cover letter. Choose one to two soft skills that you want to focus on and illustrate them through examples. For example:

During my stint as a content writer, I was responsible for writing articles and proofreading documents. This experience helped me in developing an attention to detail.

How to showcase your soft skills in an interview?

While hard skills can be measured through direct questions, this is not the case for soft skills, which are difficult to quantify. So, employers may use behavioural or hypothetical questions to analyse your soft skills. For example:

1. Tell me about a time when you handled a conflict at work.

2. If you have to manage multiple projects at the same time, how would you do it?

3. Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without help from your manager.

The above-mentioned questions can be answered with the help of the SOAR framework

In this technique, you can begin by giving the context of the situation. For example, you were working as a graphic designer for a start-up. Next, you describe the obstacle that you faced. For instance, you felt a little overwhelmed with the number of projects because you were new to the job and had difficulty in managing them. This step will be followed by the action you took. In this case, you could say that you suggested a system where the team members could mention the priority of their requirements; this change would allow you to organise better. Lastly, you mention the result of your action. In this example, you could share how this helped you in delivering your projects on time 

Simply put, you should be prepared to come up with examples relating to the most important soft skills for the job. 

Besides putting forth questions, interviewers may also observe your body language and your behaviour during the interview. For example, are you an active listener who recalls information from the interview? 

How to develop soft skills?

Now that you know about the importance of soft skills in the workplace, let’s learn how you can develop or enhance them.

1. Identify the soft skills you need and work on them consistently

Once you know which soft skills you want to learn, you can come up with a plan to work on them regularly. For example, if you would like to work on your time management skill, you can start by learning how to prioritise tasks. Once you have decided on the course of action, record your progress. 

2. Seek constructive feedback from colleagues and friends

You can actively seek feedback on your progress from your classmates, friends, teachers, and fellow interns. For example, if you worked on a project, you could ask for feedback on improvement areas. 

3. Get out of your comfort zone

After you know which skill(s) you want to work on, find different ways to challenge yourself. For example, if you are trying to improve your verbal communication, volunteer for a presentation or an event.

4. Enroll in an online training

You can find online classes relating to the skill, which can challenge you in unexpected ways and give you a concrete idea of your progress.

Internshala’s Business Communication Skills training aims to help students with their workplace skills such as written communication, verbal communication, active listening, and empathy. If you want to give it a go, you can use BLOG10 to get a discount of 10%.

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