By DeVry University
In today’s business world, it’s important that employees possess soft skills – not just the ability to perform tasks professionally but also to be able to interact well with others while doing so.
Employers generally value soft skills as much as hard skills – and for good reason. Employees can be more valuable to a company if they can effectively navigate circumstances, such as communicating with people who have different personality types than themselves, as this can contribute to a better work environment.
You may be asking yourself: how can I improve my soft skills? Let’s begin by understanding what soft skills are.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are non-technical skills linked to personality and character traits. In the workplace, these traits determine how well you get along with coworkers, how you adapt to changes and how quickly you can think on your feet.
Entry-level candidates are often evaluated on their soft skills. Which is why having most, if not all, of the hard skills required for a job doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. For example, suppose a job candidate fulfills most of the job description’s technical requirements, but struggles with collaborating in a team setting? The failure to partner with team members could lead to poor quality work, missing project deadlines and potentially employee dismissals.
Hard vs. Soft Skills
Employers tend to seek candidates with a balance of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are measurable traits and learned abilities that you'd get from advancing your education or completing training programs. You’ll need to have learned skills to find a job in a specific industry. For example, if you’re interested in an accounting job, you’d be expected to have an understanding of accounting best practices, budgeting software and planning techniques.
Soft skills, however, aren’t acquired through education alone. Many of these traits, such as communication and critical thinking, are developed through practice and are generally transferrable throughout your career.
Types of Soft Skills
Soft skills may help employees perform better at their jobs and provide the necessary traits to pursue their goals. Here are a just a few that are frequently sought-after by skilled professionals:
Creativity is the ability to think outside of established boundaries. It allows people to find new ways that are more effective or innovative than what has been done before. For example, creative individuals tend to be curious and open-minded. They may also possess artistic abilities.
Here are a couple of ways you can improve your creativity:
- Learn about new topics. By educating yourself on an unfamiliar topic, it can help foster new ideas and promote divergent thinking.
- Record new ideas. When you have an idea, even a sliver of one, be sure to jot it down. Some of the best ideas have been written on the backs of cocktail napkins.
Persuasion involves convincing others to adjust their point of view. People who are persuasive are helpful because they can create change in a company. For example, they may use their persuasion skills to land a contract with an important client or increase sales.
Here’s how you can improve your persuasion skills:
- Establish a common ground. By connecting with your audience through a shared interest, you become more relatable and your audience may be more willing to listen to you.
- Appear confident. It’s the age-old saying “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if you don’t feel 100% confident, by modeling verbal and non-verbal behavior that reads as confident you come off as more persuasive.
Having a collaborative mindset can help you and your colleagues work more effectively, increase productivity and create healthy relationships. When disagreements and roadblocks arise, collaborative professionals seek out ways to resolve the situation and get the project back on track.
Try these tactics to help improve your collaboration skills:
- Listen and learn to compromise. Teamwork requires listening to your colleagues’ ideas and responding respectfully. The key to a successful collaboration is compromising.
- Be open-minded. It’s essential to be open to new and differing opinions and acknowledge your colleagues’ contributions without judgment.
Adaptability is being able to quickly learn new behaviors in the face of changing circumstances. It also helps you to shift focus and learn new skills to support growth within your role and company. Adaptable people tend to be optimistic, flexible and have a growth mindset.
Here’s what you can do to improve your adaptability skills:
- Alter your thought process. Look at change as an opportunity to grow, learn and improve. Train yourself to let go of thoughts that hinder you and embrace uncertainty as something positive.
- Take risks. Forcing yourself to take risks is one step toward being more adaptable. Risk can be scary, but slowly embracing it can build up your adaptability skills.
Importance of Soft Skills
Refining your soft skills can help give you an edge as you move forward in your career. If an employer has two applicants with similar backgrounds, the applicant with more soft skills may have an advantage. In fact, a report by iCIMS Hiring Insights found that 75% of recruiters have cut an interview short because a candidate didn't have the required soft skills for the position.
How to Identify and Improve Soft Skills
Compared to hard skills, soft skills are considered more challenging to learn, measure and evaluate. You may have already developed some traits through school, job experience or naturally possess them due to your personality. However, if you lack experience or are just entering the job market, here are ways you can improve:
- Apply for internships
- Take online classes
- Join student or professional clubs
- Seek out in-job training programs
Advance Your Soft Skills Through Education
At DeVry, our degree programs are designed to help you hone your soft skills as you advance your hard skills in your chosen area of study. Classes start every 8 weeks – contact us to learn more.