What Are Soft Skills? Hiring Managers Reveal Their True Thoughts
Every career has a job description. Employers like to make clear the experience, education and skills they look for in an employee, so they can ensure a good fit. But in addition to “hard skills” that come from your education and work experience, employers want to know if you have the personality and character it takes to do well in the workplace and in your specific role. These less-technical skills are called “soft skills.”
So what are soft skills?
Unlike other parts of your job duties, soft skills are traits that aren’t trained, according to hiring and onboarding coach, Jen Teague.
Human resources consultant, Laura MacLeod, says soft skills are interpersonal skills like communication, empathy, collaboration, problem solving and conflict resolution.
“These skills are all essential for employees in any organization,” MacLeod says. “We all work with people in a variety of ways, and teams are the norm in almost every company. Hiring professionals and supervisors need to know you will get along with, support and effectively connect and collaborate with co-workers to complete tasks.”
Why are soft skills important?
Simply put, hard skills may get you an interview, but soft skills can help you get the job and keep it. The soft skills that set you apart from others may also lead to future incentives or promotions.
Soft skills are an excellent way for you to differentiate yourself in a job search. If your technical skill is on par with other candidates, your ability to communicate and build a connection with hiring managers can be a tiebreaker of sorts.
You’re probably wondering which soft skills will set you apart from other applicants. Most hiring managers agree that communication skills are at the top of their list. While you don’t have to be an amazing speech-deliverer, employers want to know that you can handle conflict, portray ideas in presentations or conversations and write coherently.
Like MacLeod mentioned, conflict resolution and collaboration are other key areas hiring managers value. But don’t be fooled—working well with others isn’t just about keeping a calm office. The ability to develop relationships that benefit both parties is a big part of becoming an influential and effective employee.
While it’s true that many of these traits are “built in,” don’t worry too much if these don’t come naturally to you. There are plenty of ways to learn and grow as you prepare for a job. If you’re interested in developing your soft skills, courses in leadership or public speaking may help. Additionally, a mentor can help you identify blind spots in your abilities and push you to improve.
How can I make my soft skills stand out?
Though any hiring manager would agree on the importance of soft skills, they can be hard to quantify. “These skills are tough to share on a resume,” said Laura MacLeod. “How do you list empathy? And who can vouch for it? Even in the interview, soft skills are not so easy to prove or demonstrate.”
But showing your soft skills isn’t impossible. It just takes a little work. MacLeod recommends not only emphasizing your soft skills in interviews, but sharing specific examples to illustrate how you apply them in your life and on the job. Giving employers an idea of how your personality comes to life when you’re working with a team can also help you avoid clichés, like “I’m a team player,” or “I’m good with people.”
For example, MacLeod says to recall times when you’ve worked on a team project where members had conflicting views and share how you handled it.
“Were you the leader who made sure all voices were heard, and then helped mediate and resolve the conflict? Maybe you were one of the team and you took the role of helping evaluate each view and coming to consensus. Maybe you were the one to support the person whose idea was not used,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod says these are all examples that can be highly relevant to employers making hiring decisions.
When it comes to your resume, leveraging your soft skills may sound tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, how you communicate on your resume and cover letter are great examples of your soft skills. Start by making sure your resume and cover letter are typo-free and grammatically sound.
Remember to show, and not just tell. Saying you’re an excellent communicator has much less impact than giving concrete examples of times where your communication ability was excellent. Anyone can say they’re amazing—it’s up to you to prove it.
Put your skills to work
No matter what unique combination of soft and hard skills you bring to the table, rest assured that both your experience and character will come through in your interview. Learn more about the various types of interviews—and what it takes to succeed in them—in our article, "7 Types of Job Interviews (And How to Ace Them)."