Soft skills: what are they and why are they important?

Career Advice
20 March 2017 | Career Advice | Guest Author
Soft skills, often known as people skills, are personality traits that help you interact well with others. They include effective listening, leadership, conflict resolution, accountability and the ability to collaborate. A high proportion of employee turnover has its’ roots in poor soft skills, so graduate recruiters place great importance on them during the application process. 
Not everybody understands the importance of being on-time or proper office etiquette. New graduates spend years honing their technical abilities, whilst skills like customer service and time management are woefully ignored. The result is difficulty getting a job, being promoted or retaining clients. Across all industries, soft skills are of ever increasing importance. 
So, what are the most important soft skills to develop if you want to succeed?
 
Empathy
When you empathise with your co-workers, clients, or even disgruntled customers, you put yourself in their shoes. You actively listen to what they say, show concern and ask insightful questions. When there is a problem you pursue a ‘positive sum game’.
 
Networking
Creating a solid network will help you get your first job and accelerate your career progression. Real relationships are built on reciprocity, so be generous with your time, advice and help. You will naturally build up a network of people whose skills and recommendations you can count on.
 
Leadership 
Managers manage people: leaders inspire and coach their team. They discover what motivates their individual team members, assign tasks according to strengths and help them to overcome weaknesses. They take responsibility for the performance of their team, demonstrating ownership over their work.
 
Time management
Learning to create and implement a detailed schedule will keep your work focused and support a healthy work-life balance. Good time management helps you to avoid overextending, meet deadlines, and to improve your productivity. The keys to effective time management include having realistic, detailed goals and a plan on how you will accomplish them. Remember that a goal without a plan is just a wish!
 
Stress management
Things go wrong. When it happens, can you think on your feet and make sound decisions? Effective stress management is not just about how you handle a crisis, it is about all of the routines you set in place to manage your daily stresses. 
 
Integrity
Being fair, honest, polite and assertive are necessary for business success. Can you handle constructive criticism? Do you invite others to hold you accountable? Can you be impartial when resolving conflicts? Do you flake off on your commitments? Integrity is the set of practices and ethics that you use when dealing with others. 
 
Public speaking.
Learning to craft an interesting story, being comfortable when observed, and presenting when your visual aids fail are important skills. Whether it’s an elevator pitch or a project briefing, learning how to engage your audience and leave a lasting impression is essential to success. 
An interviewer will never ask you if you have a soft skill, they will ask you to demonstrate them. Taking the time to think about and develop your soft skills will ensure that when you are asked an open-ended interview question, you have the confidence and necessary examples to give an impressive answer. 
BOX 
 
Jameka Neil is the director of communications at Alexander Partners. For further advice visit www.alexanderpartners.org.uk
 
 
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