A recent LinkedIn article talked about the importance of soft skills in the job market. The phrase “soft skills” is misleading. Look up the word soft in the Thesaurus and you’ll find synonyms like lenient, lax, weak, even spineless. Talk about giving soft skills a bad rap.
The reality is, while solid academic performance and technical skills are critical, employers value soft skills just as much and in some cases even more. According to a Job Outlook 2013 report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), soft skills make graduates stand out among their competitors in the job search. It’s great that you earned a high grade point average, but how well did you do working in teams on class projects? Your knowledge of Excel, PowerPoint and other computer programs is important, but so are your interpersonal skills.
Here’s a checklist of soft skills employers look for when recruiting job candidates:
Communication skills (listening, verbal and written): Employers need employees who can effectively explain an idea through conversation or in writing. It’s also equally important that an employee listen to other colleagues’ ideas and points of view.
Interpersonal Abilities: Can you relate well to your coworkers? Are you good at building relationships? Bottom line, can you positively interact with others for the work day?
Planning/Organizing: An effective employee designs, plans and executes a project in a specific amount of time. Planning and organizing involves paying attention to details and knowing how to use your time wisely and effectively.
Teamwork: It’s tough to find a job that doesn’t involve interacting with others on some level. Can you work with other professional to achieve a common goal?
Flexibility/Adaptability: How well do you handle changes? Work assignments and conditions don’t always go according to plans and employers want employees who can easily adapt to these changes.
Problem Solving/Creativity: How creative are you at figuring out new approaches? If there’s a problem to solve, how do you go about doing it? Can you use available resources to offer solutions?
Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness: This is perhaps one of the most critical soft skills as the world of work continues to diversify. Do you have an awareness of and sensitivity to other people and cultures?
If you’re concerned that you lack some of the soft skills employers seek, think of ways to begin developing them:
1. Identify the soft skills that need fine tuning. Ask friends, family and peers what areas they think you could improve. Use a skills checklist to evaluate.
2. Take some classes that could help you develop your soft skills. A public speaking course can help you improve your presentation skills. Look for leadership focused courses that develop teamwork skills or classes where you’ll polish your writing abilities.
3. Get involved in student groups where you can develop soft skills in a fun environment.
4. Volunteer with an organization or group where you’ll develop skills, meet others and get involved with your community.