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Sharpen Your Soft Skills to Get Ahead in Today’s Workforce

Many job seekers believe that hard skills – measurable knowledge – will give them value as they advance on a career path, while soft skills, on the other hand, are nice to have, but not necessarily important in the eyes of a potential employer.

The idea is not entirely without merit. Hard skills are important and necessary as they represent definable requirements to get a job done, whether it’s knowing the languages required to design software or how to balance a business’ books. These days, however, employers are putting a premium on candidates who know how to engage, collaborate, communicate and otherwise practice the behaviors that go beyond just doing the job.

Whether you’re an experienced pro or fresh out of school looking for entry-level work, you’ll need to have the soft skills to do well in a variety of environments.

According to an article from the Huffington Post, 77% of HR professionals interviewed in a 2014 survey from CareerBuilder said that soft skills are just as important as hard skills.

Fast forward to a LinkedIn study in 2016 that found a severe misalignment between the supply and demand of soft skills. Fifty-nine percent of 291 U.S. hiring managers surveyed said candidates with soft skills were hard to find, and 58% said they were paying the price in limits on their organizations’ productivity.

So what are the most sought-after soft skills? LinkedIn identified the top five as communication, organization, teamwork, punctuality and critical thinking. The five least valued were business planning, cross-functional team leadership, emotional intelligence, team building and coaching.

There are a number of reasons why these skills are in demand by employers. Those who are able to communicate effectively with others up and down the corporate ladder set the tone for a positive and productive work environment. That speaks well for an organization and makes it easier to attract other like-minded people.

Moreover, it takes soft skills to grow a business. People buy from companies they like. Individuals who are engaging, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their employers’ products and services are most able to sway customers as they are the best personification of the brand.

Recognizing the importance of soft skills is one thing, but developing them is another. If you are currently seeking a new job, here are some suggestions to help you impress potential employers with your soft skills:

  • Read – The fine art of communication (engagement, collaboration, etc.) isn’t necessarily going to be learned from a book or an article, but both can be a starting point for learning best practices and everyday tips.
  • Assess current soft skills – To understand your strengths and weaknesses, you can do self-assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, get feedback from your peers or through a 360-degree feedback tool. At the same time, undertake an honest self-evaluation of how well you interact with others and where you can improve naturally.
  • Set goals – Take what you’ve learned from your readings, evaluations and feedback to develop tangible goals for yourself. Share those goals with co-workers and others in your work environment so they can keep you apprised on any changes they see as you progress with your skills.
  • Practice – Communication, the top-ranked soft skill, includes writing, speaking (public and conversational), body language and eye contact. But it also involves the development of active listening, which requires focus, self-discipline and respect. The nuances of communication can only be learned by practice and paying attention to cues that emerge in the process.
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