SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 24 July 2020Soft Skills: Why They are Harder Than You Think and How You Can Acquire Them
Name. Education. Experience. Achievements. References.
These are just some of the things you may put on a job application or resume. All of which are very important, but what’s missing might be even more important; soft skills.
What are soft skills and how can you build them?
Also known as behavioral or interpersonal, soft skills are basically “people” skills range that from your ability to communicate effectively with others to critical thinking. They can include your ability to plan, organize or stay on top of your responsibilities. It is a very broad term, encompassing many attributes, but too often applicants, and even companies forget them in their resumes and interviews. Why?
When applying and hiring, people often believe that the most important items to include are the Ivy League school attended, or the double engineering major (both of which are HIGHLY impressive and definitely worth putting on your resume). However, when it comes down to it- sometimes those achievements only look good on paper.
Companies want and need people that can communicate effectively with their co-workers, know how to be a team player, can step up as leader and much more.
Maybe you’re thinking “but what about my 2 years of interning?” or “I can speak 3 languages!” These are great attributes and accomplishments, but after you nail that interview, what really comes into play are your soft skills.
Let’s backtrack. Close your eyes and pretend that you are a recent college graduate. You are applying and applying and applying to jobs...and you finally nail that interview and get the job. Congrats! (I mean you are a college grad, with internship experience at big name companies and you speak two languages. Who wouldn’t hire you?) Naturally, you roll into the office like the big shot you (think you) are and walk into the Monday morning meeting.
Your boss- “We want you to schedule the weekly meetings with your team, outreach to 7 different companies, have the campaign slideshow ready on Thursday afternoon, and be ready to present to the team on Friday”.
Your jaw drops. In your internship (for that big company) you were the coffee runner! You never outreached to companies, you just know who ordered the fat-free cinnamon latte. You’ve never presented in front of a group like that before...and in 4 days?!
What did you miss? Why did they hire you?
This is where those “soft skills” come in handy.
Using Soft Skills
Work relations are one of the most important soft skills to have in a job. You need to schedule the meetings? That means you have to be organized and ready to deal with people having different schedules. Maybe Steve only has time for Monday mornings, but Nancy has meetings then. You need to be ready and able to work with others in a proficient and professional manner, which often requires a lot of patience!
You need to be able to problem solve and adapt to learning new things. When you are first beginning your career, you won’t know everything. You might not know how to outreach to companies, or where to even begin. Don’t panic. You have team members, maybe mentors, and even the internet to help you out. Never be afraid to ask for help- odds are, the person you ask has been in the same position as you. Also, don’t be afraid to learn new things. Maybe you’ve been assigned something totally new and different from what you’re used to. Use it as a learning experience and have fun with it!
Having the ability to effectively manage your time and multitask are also incredibly important soft skills. The slideshow is due Thursday afternoon? That means your personal deadline is Wednesday night. Tell yourself you HAVE to be done before the real deadline, that way you’ll feel pressured to get it done early, and have more time to edit! You’re presenting on Friday? That means while you’re getting the slideshow ready, you’re also brainstorming ways to present the ideas and points to your coworkers and bosses confidently.
Even something as simple as having confidence is a soft skill. A lot of times, new hires haven’t had experience presenting in front of larger groups. Being able to maintain your confidence during a presentation or meeting is crucial! The more you believe in yourself and what you are presenting, the more everyone else will believe you.
Now that you know what soft skills are and why they are so important, the next step is learning how to build them up.
Building Soft Skills
A lot of times, people don’t recognize the soft skills they already have. The job or internship you’re applying to requires that you have experience meeting new, diverse people and that you feel confident starting conversations with them. Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to have a job like that before. Maybe you’ve only been a babysitter. Does that mean you’re not qualified?
Of course not.
Think. Have you ever been part of a team of club that recruited on campus? The fact that you had to go up to strangers, introduce yourself, and meet them, means that you have this skill. Maybe it’s not the BEST experience to have with particular applications, but having that experience can go a LONG way in helping you interact with others.
Don’t think you have any experience with something? No teamwork? Have never presented in front of a group? Well there are plenty of opportunities for you to gain some skills:
- Join a Club
Be active on your campus! Sign up for a club sport, join Greek life, or try something totally different. Adding something extra to your calendar can benefit you in many ways. It can help you practice multi-tasking. School, work, internships, clubs. Any and all of these may make you feel overwhelmed, but having experience juggling multiple responsibilities will help you to become a productive worker!
Maybe you can’t find a job or a paid internship to gain your soft skills. Don’t fear! Volunteering might be even more valuable, and companies love to see volunteer experience on resumes. Sure you could just show up, clock-out, and head home. But if you’re already spending time there, you should want to get as much from the experience as possible. Keep yourself motivated, talk to new people, try something you’ve never done before, and stay positive. Sometimes volunteering can seem like a waste of your time, but it can make you stand out to employers!
Yes, travel. People that have studied abroad or even just spent a summer in a different city, have gained skills that are otherwise difficult to gain. Being able to say that you have experienced a completely different culture means so much to an employer. They know that you are someone that can handle working with people that have different viewpoints. This can correspond to being a good listener, having patience, and being adaptable; all virtues that a potential employer looks for.
- Learn from your Courses
Research classes that your college offers in Communications, Psychology, Sociology, etc. Classes within these departments can teach you many soft skills; dealing with criticism, conflict, different cultures, and even having a sense of humor! Perhaps you want to work with a company that has partners overseas. Learning about a different culture's’ norms and expectations would be highly important in working for a company like this.
Another great class to take in college is public speaking. For some, this class is their worst nightmare. If that’s the case for you, it’s even more important that you take it. Getting over this fear, and being able to stand in front of an audience while speaking confidently, is SUCH an important skill. Check it out if your school offers public speaking and sign up!
Don’t want to learn in a classroom? Take a look at these ProSky's training courses! Some of the courses include (but are not limited to) Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Sales, and Paid Advertising. Don’t want to end up as a coffee runner again? Then take these courses and get trained in real skills that can help you land your dream job!
Soft skills are becoming much more influential in the hiring process and as a potential employee, it is essential to know which skills you have, and what you need to work on.
Companies and employers may invite you to an interview after seeing your education accomplishments, or the big name company you interned at, but at that interview they will want (and maybe even expect) to see your soft skills come into play. Can you communicate effectively with them? Do you sound confident? Are you on time and dressed appropriately? A lot goes into being hired and employers want it all.
Although this post is about soft skills- don’t forget about those hard skills. Not sure what those are or how to improve yours? Make sure to check out part 2 of our 3 part series where we discuss the importance of developing your hard skills!
Thank you for reading, and if you can think of anything we missed comment below!