The Most In-Demand Skills: Why Soft Skills Are Rising to the Top

scale balancing two women with different skillsets 

Everyone has natural gifts and talents, but if you’re like a lot of people, it’s easy to underestimate how valuable these abilities are. When your aunt Judy compliments you on how well you organized the family reunion? You brush it off as just doing what you needed to do to make it happen. Your friend thanks you for being such a good listener? You say that’s what anyone would have done.

Believe it or not, these characteristics that you’ve never paid much attention to are exactly what many employers are seeking. They’re called soft skills, and they’re in short supply.

A recent survey from Cengage listed soft skills like attention to detail, effective communication and critical thinking as the most in-demand skills in job candidates.1 Yet 73 percent of surveyed employers reported having trouble finding qualified candidates.1

Hiring managers are scrambling to find high-quality employees with the necessary soft skills to succeed in the workplace. What are soft skills, and how can you find out whether you have these in-demand skills employers are looking for? We spoke with hiring managers across industries to reveal what you need to know about the most in-demand skills in the workforce!

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are attributes and behaviors that are a natural part of your character, like the ability to listen and show empathy, think outside the box or solve problems. They’re the opposite of “hard” technical skills that are learned, like the ability to code an app or take a patient’s blood pressure.

Technical skills usually only apply to a specific industry, but soft skills are a benefit across many different types of careers. “Every soft skill that you develop will be something you will eventually draw on in your career,” says Abby Guthrie, communications team leader at FindCourses.com.

Everyone possess a few soft skills that come naturally to them, and they can hone others that may not come as easily. The versatility of soft skills and the advantage they can give you in your career are just part of what puts these transferrable skills in high demand.

Why are soft skills in demand?

Your career depends on more than your ability to buckle down and do your work. You also need to get along well with others, collaborate with teammates, generate creative ideas and communicate with those around you.

“If you don’t know how to be productive and manage your time effectively or know how to problem solve or make decisions, you aren’t going to be effective in your job,” says Thomas R. Harris, owner of Radiant Hope, LLC and founder of The Exceptional Skills.

Soft skills also “allow employers to determine your fit within the company and how you can rise through the ranks over time,” says Mike Sheety, director at ThatShirt.com. Employees who are a good fit for their job benefit the company as a whole, as well as making greater strides in their individual careers.

Despite the importance of these skills, there’s a shortage of qualified job candidates who have the soft skills employers need. “The importance of these skills is widely acknowledged, yet they are not taught with consistency or given prioritization,” according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.2 The report adds that although 77 percent of employers find soft skills to be as important as cognitive skills like math and reading, 89 percent said they have a somewhat or very difficult time finding employees with these skills.2

Thanks to this gap, job candidates who possess strong soft skills and know how to showcase them could have an advantage on the job hunt.

Which soft skills are the most in demand?

All soft skills are valuable, but there are a handful that stand out to employers in nearly every industry as they search for the right employees to hire.

Creativity: You don’t have to be an artist to be creative! This in-demand soft skill keeps companies from becoming stagnant. “No matter what industry you are in, it is constantly changing,” Sheety says. “You need creative employees who can think outside the box, who bring new and exciting ideas to the table.”

Communication: The ability to clearly express yourself both verbally and through writing is essential in any workplace. “If you are able to communicate effectively, I know we will be able to work through issues, problems and ideas, and that you can do the same with others,” Harris says.

Leadership: Companies of all types need strong leaders to provide direction as they navigate their business goals. “Being a leader doesn’t come naturally to all. When I hire someone, I look at their possible career progression, and a lot of the time that will include some sort of leadership role,” Sheety says.

Problem-solving: Employees in any work environment will run into obstacles, whether it’s a disagreement with a client or figuring out how to accomplish a project with a tight budget. “You need to have people that can problem solve effectively and efficiently,” Sheety says. “These individuals can allow company progression and growth.”

How can you show off your soft skills to employers?

Soft skills are difficult to measure. There’s no multiple-choice test that proves that you have what it takes to succeed in the workplace. That’s why employers rely on interviews to determine which candidates have the soft skills they’re looking for.

“Interviews are the real opportunity to showcase your soft skills,” Guthrie says. Interviewers might ask hypothetical questions to see how you would behave in a certain situation, or they could ask you to recall an incident where you demonstrated strong soft skills in the past.

“It is absolutely not enough to say ‘I have great communication skills,’” Guthrie says. “I seek out real examples where candidates can clearly demonstrate the skills I’m looking for.” Candidates who come to the interview prepared with examples of their soft skills could have an advantage in the interview process.

Asking questions is the most common way employers determine a candidate’s soft skills, but it can be tricky for employers to gain a true sense of a candidate’s soft skills during a short interview. Talking to a candidate’s references can also help employers make a decision. “Talking to former coworkers or employers can also help you see what skills a person has or doesn’t have,” Harris says.

Standing out with soft skills

Soft skills are some of the most in-demand skills in any workplace. Now that you have a basic understanding of what soft skills are and how you can use them to land a job, it’s time to focus on making a good impression during the interview process.

If you’re looking for tips and advice for improving your job interview ability, you’ll want to check out our article “7 Types of Job Interviews (And How to Ace Them).”

1Cengage, Uniquely Human Skills in the Workplace, [accessed June 2019] https://news.cengage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Employability-PR-graphic.pdf
2U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How Business and Education Sectors Are Partnering to Prepare Students for the 21st Century Workforce, [accessed June 2019] https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Closing%20the%20Soft%20Skills%20Gap.pdf

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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