Today’s industries require more specialized professionals than ever before. Many people attend colleges and universities for between two to eight years to gain the “hard” or technical skills they will need in their careers; however, aspiring professionals in all industries also need to develop “soft” skills. While hard skills relate directly to people’s individual professions — such as familiarity with a specific tool or computer program — soft skills pertain to your overall social abilities.
Soft skills are so important to employers today that if competition for a job comes down to two finalists, the one with the most polished soft skills will almost always win out.
What Are Soft Skills?
The best way to illustrate soft skills is to describe their absence. Imagine an employee who consistently comes in late. He is rarely in a good mood and never seems to actually want to do any work. He is always flustered by juggling multiple projects at one time, and he can never solve problems without the help of a colleague or supervisor. This person also hates change. When the boss admonishes this employee for a less-than-stellar performance, he takes it personally.
In short, this is the exact opposite of a model employee.
Soft skills are what professionals bring to the workplace without thinking about it. This includes emotional intelligence, time management, work ethic, problem-solving skills, self-confidence, perspective and adaptability.
Top-performing employees are always working to improve their soft skills. By sharpening their social acumen and deepening their sense of empathy for coworkers and managers, these employees are maintaining a skill set that they can use in any industry or at any company, should the need arise.
Why Are Soft Skills Important?
Soft skills are essential at every level in almost every industry. As heavy machinery continues to automate menial tasks, the jobs that remain require more and more worker responsibility. Regardless which skills you need to perform a specific task, you must rely on them efficiently — which is where soft skills come into play.
The shift in the nature of available jobs is making soft skills more valuable to employers — finding employees with well-developed soft skills is not terribly easy. When a single position becomes available at an organization, hundreds — possibly thousands — of qualified individuals will submit their resumes. While college degrees and other qualifications may be enough to get a foot in the door, applicants who lack the necessary soft skills will almost certainly be passed over. You are expected to use soft skills without being told to do so. If you cannot, you will not be a good fit within any company.
If you are already working within an organization, your soft skills are what will set you apart from your colleagues when it comes time for a promotion. Chances are, your colleagues have the same set of hard skills that you do; you all work in similar capacities and have similar duties, so it stands to reason they are just as qualified “on paper” as you are for a higher-level position. However, they may lack the leadership, time-management or overall work ethic that you embody every day. If this is the case, you have an incredible advantage over your colleagues when vying for a promotion.
Assessing Soft Skills
To assess your soft skills, you need to be honest with yourself. Take a long look at your work ethic and abilities, and take note of any improvements you can make to your overall performance.
There are many ways to improve your soft skills, from professional development to self-help literature. If you are looking to truly improve your worth as a professional, consider an online MBA program, which can teach you the hard and soft skills you will need to succeed long-term in any business-related career.
Learn about the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online MBA program.