Every occupation requires a set of technical skills to do the job well.
Car mechanics need to know how to repair and maintain engines. Administration assistants are expected to know how to use computer software. These technical or ‘hard skills’ help us to deliver the core aspects of our roles.
If these are ‘hard skills’, then what are ‘soft skills’?
Soft skills are those things that help us work with others, and to navigate our environment. We can build soft skills at work and in our everyday lives. Our soft skills can be transferred from workplace to workplace, which makes them really important for job seekers.
Soft skills are a mix of transferrable, interpersonal, and professional skills.
We’ve pulled together some of the soft skills that our employers value the most. Use this list to start reflecting on your strengths and the areas you might be able to develop. Knowing your own capabilities can help you in job interviews and in the workplace.
Key soft skills for employees
Strong work ethic
No matter your role or industry, having a strong work ethic is extremely valuable. Employers want to hire people that will work to the best of their abilities. This isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being dependable and professional, and respecting your colleagues and workplace.
There are many ways to demonstrate respectfulness in the workplace. Showing up on time, following through on tasks you said you’ll do, treating colleagues as you would like to be treated, and adhering to workplace standards are just a few examples. If you’re applying or interviewing for jobs, you can show respect by carefully following the application criteria, being punctual, dressing appropriately, and being professional and polite at all times.
A positive approach helps us feel motivated and be productive. And what’s more, positivity is contagious. When an employee approaches a challenge with a ‘can do’ attitude, it’s hard for their team mates to be negative. Positivity gets things done; negativity slams on the breaks.
Collaboration is a skill needed in many workplaces, even if you don’t directly work alongside others. When we are able to work in a team, we show that we respect the opinions of others, and can negotiate to reach an outcome. Being a team player means you recognise that everyone has a valuable contribution to make.
To be a team player, we need to communicate. This might take the form of verbal, written, or non-verbal communication. Some communication methods are outside of our skill set, and that’s ok. Using the communication skills we have to engage with others in an honest and constructive way is what counts.
Active listening is a big part of being a good communicator. Active listening means we give our full attention to what someone is saying or writing to us. When in conversation, we can show we’re listening through our body language, such as making good eye contact, nodding, and repeating things back.
Active listening helps us understand the other person’s perspectives and what we need to do, whether it be answering a customer’s query or following instructions from our manager.
Empathy refers to trying to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. We can have empathy without sharing the experiences or circumstances of others. When we ‘put ourselves in another’s shoes’ – or try to imagine things from another’s point of view – we’re demonstrating empathy. Empathy helps us to communicate better and build trust with our colleagues.
Sometimes it can be hard to feel confident when we’re going for interviews or starting a new job. Being out of employment can also affect our self-belief. Know that you’re not alone in feeling that way; confidence is something we all have to work on regularly.
Keep in mind that small actions can add up to a more confident you. Practice using positive language when talking about your skills. For example, instead of saying, “I think I’m good at customer service”, say “I’m good at customer service, and this is why.” Highlight your skills and abilities, and don’t be held back by the attributes you’re still working on. Self-improvement is a lifelong process.
For many people with disability, problem solving is a part of everyday life. These skills are developed from living in a world not often designed with diverse needs in mind.
Reflect on how you’ve overcome societal and environmental hurdles. How did you adapt your approach to achieve results? Don’t underestimate how transferrable these problem solving skills are to the workplace.
While it’s important to demonstrate your existing skills, it is also essential to approach new jobs and opportunities with an open mind. Having a ‘growth mindset’ means you’re willing to learn new things, adapt your processes, and build on your skills. Recognise that learning happens every day, and every person we meet can be a teacher to us.
Emphasise your soft skills
It’s important to cover both your hard (technical) and soft (transferrable) skills at each stage in the job seeking process.
Think about how to describe these skills in your written application, and practice talking about them before your interview. Use real examples of how you’ve applied your soft skills to give your future employer a better sense of your attributes and abilities.
Remember that you bring much more than just technical skills to the workplace. Employers value soft skills, as they are a reflection of your personality and attitude. It’s a part of what makes you, you!