What are soft skills and why should you develop yours?

By Hannah Kingston

Friday September 25, 2020

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Soft skills are the ways in which you work outside of your technical skills, like how you interact with your co-workers, your time management, ability to show empathy, ability to listen, how you solve problems and manage your workload and how well you can work in a team.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the non-technical skills that you learn through experiences.

Generally speaking, soft skills aren’t something you learn formally at school or university, rather they are developed over time and are shaped by experiences. Soft skills are also known as interpersonal skills, non-cognitive skills and essential skills.

Soft skills include:

  • How well you communicate with others
  • Your ability to think critically and creatively
  • How well you manage your workload
  • Your ability to adapt to new situations
  • How well you manage your time
  • Your ability to solve problems
  • How self-motivated you are
  • Your ability to work within a team, as well as independently
  • How well you can manage conflict resolution
  • Your work ethic and positivity
  • How dependable you are

Soft skills aren’t as easy to measure as “hard skills” or technical skills, because you can’t ask someone how many years they have been practising empathy, not in the same way that you could ask someone how long they have been working in the health sector.

The good news is that everyone has soft skills in some shape or form. They develop from adolescence onwards, as you face new social settings, solve different problems and adapt to new situations.

While employers may never ask you directly about soft skills, they value them, and they may ask you behavioural or situational questions to gauge of how you would work within a team.

Why should you develop your soft skills?

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, soft skills including critical thinking, creativity, people management, emotional intelligence, and complex problem solving will be among the most valued assets in employees in 2020.

It is expected that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will continue to bring us developments within artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, genomics, advanced robotics and autonomous transport. This means that some jobs will no longer be viable but others will be created. The workforce will need to move with these developments to continue to thrive on their career paths.

According to the report, every five years, 35% of the most valued skills in today’s workforce will once again have changed. Here’s an example of the most coveted skills in 2015 vs. 2020.

soft skills 2015 vs 2020

 

 

One of the best ways to develop your soft skills is to get involved in group activities, whether that be at university, at work or on a volunteering basis. This helps you to work on the interpersonal side of the coin by gaining more experience with new groups of people, it develops your ability to network, act as a leader (where possible) and manage workloads.

Non-technical skills develop organically as you gain more experience in the workplace. When it comes to applying for jobs, you should pick out 2-3 of your top skills and cross-check them with the job spec. Ensure that you scatter them throughout your cover letter and CV.

It is common for an employer’s interview questions  to revolve your experiences as they offer better insight into not just who you are but how you work, such as “Can you describe a challenge you faced at work and how you dealt with it?” or “Can you remember a time when you lead a team?” or “Tell us about a project you are proud of.”

You can showcase your interpersonal skills to an employer by being friendly and conversational, but it’s also important to naturally drop in some of your personality traits with examples to back them up, so you can show them that you would be a great fit for the organisation.

Keep reading: 10 ways to upskill in your current role 

Keep reading: 9 job skills to develop for a post COVID world 

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