Today’s employers are, more than ever, seeking certain soft skills or personal characteristics that they believe will be signs of an excellent employee. What are the top soft skills in the workplace and what can you do to improve your performance in these areas? Here we’ll take a look both at what the research says and what career experts point to as the most important soft skills in the workplace.
Top Soft Skills in the Workplace
LinkedIn, a popular social media site that emerged primarily to serve the needs of recruiters and job seekers, conducted research last year to determine what soft skills business leaders felt were most important for their employees. They identified the following:
- Time management
It’s a good list and it parallels what career consultants, recruiters and hiring managers have to say about the soft skills that are most important to them.
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Soft Skills Examples
Even those in independent contributor positions need to have leadership skills. Leadership entails the ability to get work done with, and through, other people—to influence others toward some mutual goal. Sometimes leaders will be in formal positions of authority which provide them with the “power” to do this. Arguably more important, though, is the ability to influence (or lead) others when you don’t have formal authority.
Zach Montroy, SPHR, is vice president of people, team and organizational strategy at Navigate the Journey. Interpersonal communications are crucial, says Montroy. “Almost no jobs exist where you can really thrive and be terrible with people,” he says. “The problem is a lot of people have never worked to develop their interpersonal relationships and realized the value of being phenomenal with people in the workplace.” Montroy advises forward-looking career professionals to take the time to assess their own emotional intelligence to see where their interpersonal relationships might be improved to help them become better communicators.
Collaboration (or Teamwork)
Carrie-Anne McGrath is a partner at talent acquisition firm WinterWyman. Having a team mentality is one of three soft skills that employers are looking for, says McGrath. (The other two are flexibility and commitment, and vision, which we’ll discuss later.)
It’s hard to think of a job today that doesn’t involve working with others to achieve some desired outcome. The ability to work effectively as part of a team is, therefore, critical. But, says McGrath: “It’s not enough to robotically say ‘I’m a team player.’ Focus on your work with teams and the important role you play.” Chances are hiring managers and recruiters will be looking for evidence of times when you’ve worked effectively as part of a team—not just positive examples, either. Employers know that teamwork can sometimes be challenging, and they know that most applicants will have experienced challenges. Sharing challenges doesn’t come across as a negative, though, if you’re also able to share what you learned from those situations and how that will change your approach in the future.
The ability to effectively work with others is closely tied to the idea that time management is an important soft skill for employees. At the most foundational level, employees exist to get things done! The more efficient and effective they can be at getting things done, the more productive—and successful—organizations will be.
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Additional Key Soft Skills in the Workplace
In addition to the key soft skills requirements identified through LinkedIn’s research, business leaders also point to some additional soft skills in the workplace that they look for in employees.
It’s a broad category, but it’s one that’s (still) frequently pointed to as an important “must have” soft skill—emotional intelligence. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term “emotional intelligence” back in 1990. It was later popularized as a business topic by Daniel Goleman, who wrote the book Emotional Intelligence. Three decades later it’s a concept that remains relevant. As Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, says: “One of the most important soft skills, in my opinion, is emotional intelligence. This is the opposite of traditional intelligence, IQ, and is often referred to as EQ.” Emotionally intelligent individuals, says Sweeney, have traits that include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. They are, she says, “said to be the smartest in the room.”
The good news with emotional intelligence, says Sweeney, is that it can be nurtured and improved over time. “Employees can increase their emotional intelligence by reflecting on their actions, asking others for their perspectives, and being more empathic towards their peers, family members, and coworkers,” she says.
Flexibility is another trait that McGrath calls out as a “must have” but today’s business professionals. The 21st-century business environment is fast-paced and constantly changing in many ways, driven by a variety of factors including changing markets, changing economies and changing technology. Employers will want to see some evidence that you can navigate this changing terrain. These are traits that can be difficult to convey, says McGrath, but it’s important to show that you have them. For instance, maybe you can demonstrate your flexibility talking about a project that was changed just before a due date. Or, a time when an assignment required a great deal of time and lasted longer than anticipated. How did you handle these situations, what were the outcomes and how might you change your approach in the future?
Mikaila Turman, VP of people at GoodHire, also stresses the importance of being flexible and easily able to adapt to change in this fast-changing technological landscape. “Candidates who are looking to hone their adaptability skills should look for opportunities to take on new, business-critical tasks when urgency is key,” she says. “People who are working on this skill need to be able to accept surprises, be ready to suggest new or alternative solutions, remain cool and collected, and also try to be helpful. When facing setbacks, try to maintain a positive attitude and look for ways to make changes work rather than disagreeing with new suggestions.”
McGrath’s final choice for most important soft skills in the workplace is vision. “At some point in an interview, you’ll likely be asked about your personal goals and how they fit in with those of the company,” says McGrath. That fit is important, and you don’t want to fake it! After all, you don’t want to take on a role in an environment that isn’t supportive of your own personal values.
Here, says McGrath: “The key is to demonstrate you have seriously thought about your future as well as the future of the company and how you can make a positive impact within that organization.”
While hard skills (e.g. the specific competencies required to perform some task) are certainly required in any position, soft skills are increasingly being pointed to as important traits for business professionals in any field. This can encompass a wide range of traits as illustrated here. The good news? They are traits can be nurtured and developed to help job seekers effectively position themselves for career success.
Beyond having these soft skills, it’s important that you’re able to convey them to recruiters and hiring managers during the interview process. This blog post provides some tips on how to do that.
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