Recently, LinkedIn released a report, The Skills Companies Need Most in 2019 — and the ones that made the list may surprise you.
It turns out, employers are looking for soft skills in their potential hires. So if you want to land the job of your dreams — or move up the ladder at your current employer — you might want to brush up on those non-technical skills.
What Exactly Is a “Soft Skill”?
Hard skills can include specific training that you completed for your job type, like coding, accounting, or graphic design. Soft skills are harder to measure, but essential for working with others and achieving goals as a team. They speak to the way in which we perform tasks at work. Soft skills can include anything from time management to communication or even problem solving.
While hard skills are necessary, they often change from job to job, or level to level, with more advanced hard skills being required to do more advanced work. Soft skills, however, are used throughout our working lives.
Soft Skills Are in Demand in 2019
LinkedIn’s skills report includes the top soft skills that companies are looking for right now:
- Creativity: Robots don’t dream (at least not yet). Your creative abilities help differentiate you from the robots.
- Persuasion: Not just for salespeople, persuasion skills can be a matter of convincing others that your methods and ideas are worth taking risks for.
- Collaboration: How well do you play with others? Mentoring, professional organizations and even the occasional team-building activity can be a place to start.
- Adaptability: What do you do when the goal of a project suddenly shifts? Or the budget gets slashed? Or the deadline is moved up by months?
- Time Management: Time is always limited, so being able to effectively manage time, juggle projects and still come out the other side in one piece is a great accomplishment.
“Strengthening a soft skill is one of the best investments you can make in your career, as they never go out of style,” writes Paul Petrone, LinkedIn Learning editor. “Plus, the rise of AI is only making soft skills increasingly important, as they are precisely the type of skills robots can’t automate.”
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Why Soft Skills Are Important for Any Job
Soft skills can take time to develop. While you may have graduated with a degree in architecture (which involved learning hard skills), your ability to collaborate with a group (a soft skill) might evolve over time. Experience plays a part in your level of soft skill proficiency, but it isn’t necessarily a result of working for a long time. To put it simply: you have to work at your soft skills.
Employers like an employee to have certain soft skills, depending on the work environment. If you’re tasked with working remotely, for example, then being good at working independently and communicating clearly are great soft skills to have. If you’re going to lead a group, you should have strong soft skills like collaboration and teamwork.
Companies also like to bring in employees who not only can do the work, but grow with the company and be good additions to the workforce. If you don’t have good soft skills — e.g., you don’t communicate well, aren’t able to get projects done with groups, or can’t stick to a budget — you won’t last too long.
How to Develop Your Soft Skills
So how can you make sure your soft skills are developing well? There are lots of ways to get there.
While your more formal education helps you develop hard skills for your career, you can still benefit from educational opportunities to advance your soft skills, too. Think about what you’d like to work on, and look for opportunities that will feed those skills. That might look like:
- A business class where you will develop a group project (collaboration) and make a presentation (public speaking). Look for local classes, or even online courses (LinkedIn has some, or try a few in your field of choice). You might even find education opportunities at your job, with courses that the company already offers for free as staff development.
- Remember, soft skills are about lifetime learning. You may need to brush up on things as you grow, change jobs, encounter new coworkers, or have new experiences that are challenging.
- After you take a course, think about ways you can practice your skills, or develop them more fully.
Volunteering can also be a great way to add to your soft skills experiences, and shows employers you have motivation and show initiative. You might volunteer for activities such as:
- Helping a youth group fund-raise (persuasion) or advertise a sale (creativity).
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen to distribute a meal each week to the needy (budget and time management).
- Offer to lead a scout troop or club at your child’s school (leadership).
If you’re into freelancing, make sure that your gig work does more than just help pay the bills. Soft skills you develop might include:
- Holding meetings with clients (business etiquette) and create project plans (problem solving).
- Turn projects around for a freelance client with tight deadlines (time management).
- Start a small home business (budgeting) and advertise it online with a website you make yourself (creativity).
At work, you can create new opportunities to work on your own soft skills and impress your boss and the powers that be at the same time:
- Offer to do a “stretch assignment” that will grow your experiences as a regular employee, like doing a research project (working independently) or holding brainstorming sessions (meeting facilitation, emotional intelligence) and then present your findings (presentations and public speaking).
- “Although it’s important to explore the parts of the organization you know best, the most meaningful stretch assignments are the ones that push you not just into more responsibility but into more cross-cultural collaboration (whether it’s working across units, functions or geographies),” writes Claudio Fernández-Aráoz in the Harvard Business Review.
How to Show Employers You Have What It Takes
No matter what path (or paths) you choose to develop your skills, the benefits will last you a lifetime. If you’re looking to make a move up, you can document each of these soft skills developments on your annual review or regular boss check-ins. Showing that you’re always growing and improving your soft skills is a great way to stay engaged in your career.
If you’re looking for a new job, soft skills can be the difference between getting your foot in the door and being labeled as “just another with the same background as all the rest.”
Ever heard of “show vs. tell”? It’s about talking (or writing) about a topic in a way that engages and illustrates your point, rather than just stating it outright. When it comes to soft skills, you shouldn’t just say, “I communicate well,” because that’s not persuasive. Instead, think about ways you can talk about your achievements and use your soft skill experience to show how you got there.
- I lead a small group of employees from different departments in a successful project planning session.
- I revised a project budget and timeline when a deadline changed, and was able to deliver the final report on time and without extra cost.
- When a prospective client arrived early for a meeting, I gathered my team and quickly presented the plan to great success.
- I led a team project and resolved conflict between several team members who were not getting along.
Show Off Your Skills in Your Resume
You can do a lot of things to promote your skills when you’re applying for a new job, and the first is to polish your resume. When you’re looking at the job description, try noting all the soft skills that they’re asking for. They may not spell them out, but you can certainly address the ones you have experience with.
Remember: it’s important to customize your resume for each job. This isn’t to say you lie on your resume (you never should do that), but you can adjust your experiences to promote soft skills that match the job requirements.
- Think about using keywords that match up with soft skills. This can help you get past applicant tracking systems that will be looking for those same keywords.
- Write experience descriptions that show how you’ve developed the same soft skills that employers are looking for, with concrete examples of how you utilized each skill.
- Consider a separate “skills” section to list appropriate soft skills you excel at.
Plan To Talk Up Skills in an Interview
Congratulations! You made it past the first hurdle and you have an interview. It’s time to think about how you can further discuss the soft skills that the company is looking for. Practice your answers to common questions and incorporate anecdotes about your experiences with keywords and skills.
When you’re in the room or on the phone for an interview, don’t forget that initial job listing, and all the skills (hard and soft) that the company is looking for. With your practiced responses fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to tailor the conversation to hit skills keywords one after another. This will leave the interviewer with a clear impression that you’re the right person for the job.
You can also put those skills into physical practice at the interview itself:
- Show up on time (time management and punctuality)
- Maintain eye contact and ask careful questions (active listening and body language)
- Clearly respond to questions (communication)
- Have several copies of a typo-free resume available (work ethic)
- Dress appropriately (professionalism)
The benefits of soft skills will last you throughout your career. If you tap into the strengths that soft skills promote, then you might see a few promotions, yourself.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
What soft skills will you focus on this year? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.