To make the most of your career you need some kind of combination of hard and soft skills. But what are soft skills and why do you need them? How many do you have?
Hard skills are formal skills related to the industry or profession you are in and remain the same regardless of the company you are working in, for example car mechanics, computer coding, financial management,plumbing, law, medicine. You can demonstrate these skills in a job application fairly easily as they usually require formal qualifications and certificates.
Soft skills are basically Emotional Intelligence, EQ rather than IQ. They are how you manage and conduct yourself and how you work and interact with other people. Soft skills can be learned too but often happen “on the job” or unconsciously. Depending on the career you have, these skills can be even more important than the hard skills. At most schools we are taught mainly hard skills with less emphasis on learning through doing group projects,etc. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Self management skills
Organization: getting to work on time, having the correct equipment, time management (being able to successfully complete prioritized tasks and workload - a whole category on its own!), being prepared in advance for meetings or tasks.
Presentation: dressing appropriately for the job or occasion, being clean and tidy, presenting work clearly and efficiently.
Self confidence: believing that you can achieve what you want, that you are qualified and able. Not to be confused with Impostor Syndrome!
Resilience: being able to stay strong in the face of adversity. If setbacks or obstacles occur you must be able to calmly consider how to get round them and not get defeatist or too downhearted. You have to be able to “forgive and forget” and move on.
Adaptability: ever more essential in the modern workplace with the changing nature of work practices and technological advancement. Not many people find change so easy, but you must be able to deal with it - from getting to grips with a new database you need to use when you think the one you currently use is just fine, to working with a new boss.
Perseverance: related to Resilience: being able to keep going in the face of adversity. If doing something one way doesn’t work, look for an alternative solution.
Emotional management: being able to stay calm and not lose your temper, show too much frustration or embarrassment, even when you are feeling it, so you can think clearly and be able to act rationally and not undermine yourself.
Patience: be able accept that you may not achieve what you want to straight away, and be able to calmly evaluate a situation that may be stressful or have time constraints. Also able to deal patiently with someone who you feel may be “too slow” or unclear.
Decision making: gathering and considering all the relevant information about a situation before using it to the best of your ability, along with the bravery and self confidence to take action, and be responsible for its consequences. Or is it..? I dont know.
People management skills
Communication skills: not just being able to write and speak well, but understanding other people, their style and their needs and being able to adapt in order to get your message across as well as learning from them
Teamwork:everyone says they are a team player but is it true? You need to know when to lead, when to follow, be able to listen and follow through with your role in the team, meeting deadlines and completing your tasks. A very interesting and useful exercise, used in MBA curricula is Belbin’s Team Roles Which kind of role in a team do you normally take?
Persuading skills: basically knowing how to get what you want. You need to understand the motivations of the person you are trying to persuade and be able to influence them, make a good argument for a course of action while making them think it is they who are taking the decision. No bulldozing!
Negotiating skills: again you should examine the motivations and needs of the person you are negotiating with. The best deals are where both sides win - how can you get there? The win-win outcome makes everyone feel good and will build a longer term business relationship - if you set out to “beat” the person you are negotiating with there is a good chance they won’t come back.
Managing difficult people and relationships: everyone has had a difficult colleague or classmate to deal with. It can become overpowering and debilitating if you can’t manage it. You must be able to perform you work despite a bad relationship.
Leadership: a great leader sets the vision for the team or company and inspires the others to carry out that vision in a successful way.
Who excels in all of these? Not many could be said to be perfect, but think about which of these skills you could prioritize and work on them, depending on your situation and how you want to progress in your career. For example, if you feel dejected that nobody acts on your ideas at work, you could focus on persuading skills. Or if you get upset very easily, concentrate on emotional management. Even the self realization that you need to do better in some of these areas is a start, and excellence in these types of behaviour can help you in all aspects of life, not just work.
In another post we will look at how to demonstrate these skills in a job application.