Soft skills are intangible skills – they exist, but they’re difficult to demonstrate. In your job searches, you’ll have probably come across countless people with specifications listing “strong communication skills”, “ability to work as part of a team” etc as attributes essential to the position being advertised.
If you’re new to the job market (a recent graduate, for instance) and/or don’t have a great deal of work experience, you may initially feel a pleasant sense of relief when you encounter an ad prioritising soft skills. Let’s say an employer’s looking for a good communicator. “Great,” you think, “I’ve got excellent communication skills.” But when it comes to proving it, you’re not sure you really can – it’s just who you are.
But that’s precisely why soft skills are so desirable to employers: they reveal what sort of person you are in a way a degree in English Literature or a weekend job as a receptionist don’t.
In August 2016, LinkedIn published a list of the ten soft skills that employers appear to find most attractive in US job candidates, based on data collected and analysed by the site. Candidates who listed these skills on their profiles (and presumably demonstrated them to employers) were the ones securing new jobs, LinkedIn found. It’s noteworthy that many of the skills in LinkedIn’s top ten align with those identified as desirable in recent graduates by the US National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016, which surveyed 201 employers.
The top ten soft skills given by LinkedIn are listed below, along with some suggestions on how to showcase them to employers.
In broad terms, there are two types of communication: written and spoken.
Demonstrating your skill with the written word isn’t too difficult. A lucid, well structured covering letter will go some way towards proving your aptitude for written communication.
If you’re a graduate, chances are you’ll have had to put your point across in writing again and again in the form of essays and research papers, and you should make this clear in your covering letter. Also be sure to highlight any experience you may have with non-academic writing – maybe you’ve contributed to a student newspaper, newsletter, blog or website; you might even have helped design lesson plans or other teaching materials. Any experience of two-way written communication (eg moderating a social media page) is great, as it shows you’re able to interact in writing. This is especially important in a customer service or human resources role.
Proving that you’re a friendly person who can communicate effectively face-to-face is tough at the pre-interview stage. Teaching experience and participation in debating clubs indicate to employers that you’re able to express yourself well through speech. But employers can only really get a true idea of how friendly you are by talking to you. Give yourself that opportunity by showcasing your other soft skills in your CV and covering letter, and securing an interview.
Showing you’re a team player isn’t going to be too much of a problem for those who have worked alongside others in a previous job. Those who haven’t should think back and identify any instance in which they had to cooperate and effectively communicate with others in order to achieve a goal. Have you participated in a team sport, theatre group, band or choir, group project or presentation, laboratory work – even a gardening club? Involvement in any of these can help demonstrate to an employer that you’re a team player.
However – and this also goes for those who have experience of teamwork in a professional setting – it’s important to recognise that just having been part of a team is not in itself evidence of your team spirit. In your covering letter and at the interview, you should explain your role within the team, and give examples of how you supported other team-members.
These aren’t too difficult to prove. When we become adults, we have to start managing our own schedules. There must have been a period of time in which you successfully juggled several responsibilities; tell employers how it was that you were able to keep all those balls in the air.
These skills are about thinking for yourself and doing so in a careful, rational manner. Employers don’t want a loose cannon, but they do want someone with their own (reasoned) opinions and (realistic) ideas.
It’s not just executives that make final decisions in a workplace – all roles at all levels involve some degree of initiative, even if that extends only to how the stationery cupboard should be arranged. You also need to be prepared to respect the decisions over which you have no control, even when they upset your working methods. An employer needs to know that you can be resourceful and adapt. Workplaces evolve, and you should be able to roll with the changes.
Employers are looking for someone who can view a problem as an opportunity (adaptability), come up with solutions (creativity), and weigh up the pros and cons of each potential course of action in order to make a judgment on which is the best (critical thinking), dealing with any issues with implementation as they arise (adaptability again).
You’ll have done this in the past, in an academic/professional setting or otherwise. Human beings are resourceful creatures, and we’ve all figured out our own ‘life hacks’. Draw on these to show an employer that you can think on your feet.
Just because something’s intangible doesn’t mean you can’t get a grip on it. There are plenty of ways to show employers that your soft skills are hard facts.
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