Critical thinking. Communication. Problem-solving. Organization. You’ve heard these buzzwords and probably possess many of the traits. Known collectively as soft skills, these often intangible abilities can get you far in your career—and in life.
So, what exactly are soft skills, and which ones matter the most for building and thriving in your career?
What are soft skills?
In contrast to hard skills, which are the measurable, teachable abilities that often require training and specific know-how to use, soft skills are difficult to define. They often concern your personality and ways of interacting with others and approaching your work.
These skills can often mean the difference between doing your job competently and rising to the top. For example, your adaptability will shine through when you’re able to quickly change course on a project that encounters speed bumps. Your willingness to work with others—and ability to listen to your coworkers’ perspectives—will allow you to get more done and cause your boss to take notice.
Soft skills are transferable skills that are important no matter what your job or industry is. In fact, a Wall Street Journal survey found that 92% of executives said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. Despite the need for professionals with soft skills, employers struggle to find candidates who possess the qualities they seek.
Although soft skills can’t be taught in the way a technical skill can be, people can develop and hone them, as well as receive guidance and coaching from others to help them improve them.
Soft skills to include on a resume
According to an iCIMS survey, the soft skills recruiters value most are problem-solving, adaptability, and time management. The survey also found that in some industries, such as customer service, human resources, and sales and marketing, soft skills are deemed more important than hard skills.
So, which soft skills do you include on your resume? You probably possess plenty of soft skills, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily list every one. When deciding what to include and what to leave off your resume, consider:
• Your industry
Certain soft skills may matter in some industries over others. For example, in sales and marketing positions, communication is a must-have. Meanwhile, many technology positions require strong problem-solving skills. Highlight the soft skills that are critical for doing your job well.
• The data you have to back them up
Be prepared to back up any skills you list with examples and data. If you list conflict resolution, for example, make sure you can describe an instance when you helped de-escalate a dispute. If you can’t back up your soft skills with evidence, then you probably shouldn’t include them.
• Courses you’ve taken to build your skills
If you’ve taken classes or gained certifications in soft skills, be sure to mention them on your resume. For example, that management course you’ve taken will certainly get you far in your interview for a leadership position.
• Skills mentioned in the job description
Many job descriptions will mention particular skills they want candidates to have, such as strong communication skills. If a particular soft skill is included in the job ad, highlight it on the resume you submit for that position, assuming it’s one of your strengths. (Of course, you’re tailoring your resume to the job description anyway. Right??)
• Your major accomplishments
Consider your past achievements. What soft skills enabled you to achieve that success? Did your strong critical thinking skills allow you to develop a new approach? Did your problem-solving skills enable you to change course and overcome a challenge? The soft skills that helped you realize the accomplishments that make you proud are ones to highlight on your resume.
For more tips on what soft skills to include on your resume, read You Need to Add These Skills to Your Resume.
Soft skills for your career level
Soft skills can bolster your career. While the below soft skills are ones you should really strive to master at every stage of your career, some are particularly well-suited to certain seniority levels.
For college resumes
You’ve probably collaborated on assignments and projects with your classmates. Being able to collaborate and work with others is something you’ll need to do throughout your career and life. You’ll work on projects with colleagues regularly, so make sure you develop a good attitude about it now. “I could just do this better on my own” isn’t something that will fly in the real world.
Your ability to interact well with others is important at every stage of career, but when you’re just starting out, it’s critical to landing new opportunities. Do you hold eye contact in internship interviews? Are you polite and engaging? Could you keep the conversation flowing? Do you listen and ask the interviewer questions that are relevant to the discussion? These qualities matter and can land you opportunities.
You will encounter setbacks both personally and professionally, as will your department, company, and projects. Your determination to succeed will help you persevere and eventually overcome them. Now more than ever, when you’re just starting out, your determination to succeed will influence the trajectory of your career.
• Desire to learn
Some people thrive on gaining new knowledge. Your eagerness to learn new information and ways of performing work make you a strong student and eventual job candidate. Employers seek out those with a thirst for knowledge because their desire to learn will help them both adapt to the work environment and improve as workers.
For entry-level professionals
• Work ethic
Employees who are professional, show up, do their job, and go above and beyond what’s required are people who will go far. Simply displaying a commitment to your work demonstrates that you are a valuable employee.
• Time management
Time management encompasses your ability to work within time constraints, prioritize, and meet deadlines. People who have time management capabilities are always aware of their responsibilities and on top of what they need to do to get their work done.
Your ability to articulate yourself both in writing and verbally will help you land that critical first job and thrive in it. No matter what your industry, you’ll be communicating regularly, so make sure it’s in your skill set.
• Critical thinking
Critical thinking enables you to develop new ideas. Your ability to come up with new ways of tackling problems and solving issues will make you a successful innovator and employee.
As an employee, your job is to produce. What you’re producing depends on your job and industry, but productivity always matters. You’ll be able to accomplish more in less time if you use your time wisely.
Many things don’t go as planned in all aspects of your life. Your willingness to change course and find new solutions can mean the difference between success and failure.
For managers and leaders
• Empathy/emotional intelligence
Your ability to connect with and inspire your employees will help you gain their trust and thrive as a leader. You need to understand what your employees are feeling because that will help you connect with them. Everyone does her job better when there is an environment of understanding and trust.
• Conflict resolution
As a manager, part of your job is accounting for the different personalities on your team and finding solutions that work well for everyone. Sometimes, conflicts arise, and you may need to step in and mediate. Ensuring that everyone feels their voices are being heard and coming to a resolution is are important responsibilities of a leader.
• Decision making
You’re often the one making the important decisions, and you won’t always please everyone. Taking into account the information available and being able to reach a decision that makes the most sense is a strength that will help you go far as a manager.
Coaching others, even informally, can benefit both you and the mentee. Helping others do their jobs better enables you to become a better teach and even see new perspectives yourself.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will make you a better professional and manager. It will help you connect with others and recognize how and why your behavior is affecting. It will also allow you to see other points of view and recognize when there might be a better or more effective way of doing something.
Making the most of your soft skills
Just because soft skills can’t be taught the way technical skills can be doesn’t mean you can’t work to improve them.
Spend some time reflecting on what your strengths are and which soft skills will help you in your career. Then look for ways to develop them. Do you want to become a better communicator? Take the time to read your emails several times and edit them to ensure that they reflect what you want to express. Do you hope to be a better team player? Volunteer your help to a colleague who appears to be struggling before she asks.
Soft skills will get you far in the career world, so it’s worth taking the time to hone them. You likely encounter opportunities to learn and grow on a daily basis, so take advantage of them.