When writing a CV, we tend to focus on our “hard skills”. These relate to qualifications, work experience and technical know-how etc., but actually, many of us forget to include our “soft skills” in resume building and they’re important too! So, what exactly are soft skills, why are they important and why do you need them in the workplace?
Soft skills relate to our behaviour, work style and interpersonal relationships (more information on these later). All of these are necessary for us to succeed in our careers, but the good news is we don’t need to learn them from scratch. Most of us use them without even thinking about it, to shape interactions with other people, solve our personal problems and improve our quality of life. The characteristics and behaviour that affects our personal lives is relevant to our work lives too, all the way from first-time interviews to succeeding on our career paths.
We use soft skills automatically most of the time, reflected through our behaviour and personal characteristics, but we don’t normally stop to think about these skills objectively when we are solving everyday problems. Analysing our soft skills helps us to better understand how we approach work, leading to increased self-awareness and more control over improving our behaviour in a professional environment.
We can start thinking about our existing soft skills by considering our personalities, relationships and general well-being. This gives us an idea of which soft skills we have experience using and where our natural strengths are. If you’re not sure where to start ask a trusted friend or family member to write down what they think best describes your personality and use this as a basis for thinking about your soft skills and areas where you can improve.
While there is no definitive list of soft skills, they can be broadly categorised as being related to our behaviour, work style and interpersonal relationships. The following list describes five main groups of soft skills that employers look for:
There are many subcategories within these skillsets and there is no fixed way of defining which soft skills are the most important, as they vary depending on the job role. However, one thing to bear in mind is that soft skills are transferable. This means that whenever you develop your soft skills you are making yourself generally more employable, as opposed to learning knowledge for a specific job role.
To start breaking down the five categories above into individual skills, think of examples that apply to each group. Brainstorming with a burst diagram (see below) is a quick and easy way to test your current soft skills knowledge and is worth following up by looking at online articles that list soft skills so you can expand on your own list.
Another way to start thinking about soft skills is to put yourself in an imaginary work scenario. Situational judgement questions are often used by interviewers to find out if you have the soft skills they are looking for. For example, “How would you deal with a customer complaint?” This is a classic question for those applying for roles in customer service. In this situation you might respond with “Listening to the customer,” and “Being friendly.” which falls under emotional intelligence and communication.
Once you know where your strengths are you can start adding soft skills to your CV with examples of when you have used them. Progressive employers, SME’s and large corporations are increasingly focused on soft skills when considering applications and promoting employees. Developing soft skills is an ongoing process and you will be challenged to build on them throughout your career. Anyone who is an effective manager, leader or CEO will know how important it is to continuously learn and develop soft skills, so whichever direction you want to go in, soft skills will always be essential for your progress.
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