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Complete Guide to Soft Skills

By The ZipRecruiter Editors

Soft skills are personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social graces that make it easier for you to interact with others effectively. Despite the name, they’re no less important than technical knowledge or “hard skills.” Soft skills can have a big impact on your ability to work well with others and succeed in your work. In fact, they’re sometimes called “power skills” to reflect just how consequential they can be.

Examples of soft skills include communication skills, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills. These kinds of skills are important for success in any career.

Why Do Soft Skills Matter?

Technical skills aren’t enough to guarantee success or set you apart in the job market. Employers also want to know that you have excellent soft skills. Here are some of the biggest reasons soft skills matter in the workplace:

Better decision-making

Problem-solving and critical thinking are two of the most complex soft skills. Employers value the ability to make thoughtful and well-reasoned decisions. By solving problems with a combination of their pre-existing knowledge, asking smart questions, considering many viewpoints, and analyzing data of all kinds, employees with strong problem-solving skills can bring greater success to their organizations.

Healthier company culture

Nearly all jobs require you to work with other people. Knowing how to communicate effectively, approach others with empathy, and collaborate cooperatively will make others enjoy working with you and lead to workplace success. Soft skills help create a positive, productive, and supportive work environment that fosters collaboration, teamwork, and mutual respect.

Positive brand impact

A company’s brand is one of its most valuable intangible assets. One way to think of a brand is the way the public perceives and experiences a company. Every interaction or touchpoint a company has with people out in the world can either bolster or damage the brand. If your work has you directly or indirectly interfacing with customers, prospects, job candidates, stakeholders, partners, or the media, your employer wants to be able to trust that your soft skills will help create a positive impression for the brand.

More effective teams

Soft skills contribute to the productivity and effectiveness of teams. Clear communication, motivational leadership, and positive working relationships all come out of strong soft skills.

Glossary of Soft Skills

Now that you know what soft skills are and why they’re important in the context of work, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of soft skills that could boost your career success. Unlike technical skills, which are more specific to certain job functions, soft skills are universally valuable, both in work and in life.

Active Listening

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing what’s being said to you; it’s about listening in a participatory way to reach a shared understanding. At a baseline level, this involves fully paying attention to the speaker, making eye contact, and avoiding distractions. Active listeners show their understanding by paraphrasing what the speaker has said. They ask open-ended questions to seek more information. Active listening prevents conflict, fosters empathy, and builds rapport.

Adaptability

Being adaptable means being able to adjust to new situations and challenges as they arise. This includes being open to learning new things and being flexible in your approach to work. In an ever-changing world of work, this soft skill is more important than ever. Adaptability is related to the soft skills of flexibility and resilience.

Collaboration

Collaboration is the ability to work with others toward a common goal. With collaboration skills, people with different talents and viewpoints can work together harmoniously and produce greater work than they’d be able to do individually. Good teamwork and collaboration skills help build a culture of cooperation and support, which can lead to more efficient and effective work.

Communication

Being able to communicate effectively with others, both verbally and in writing is an important soft skill. This includes being able to listen well, speak clearly, and express yourself in a way that others can understand. Public speaking skills and writing skills fall under this category; both also have some technical aspects that might be better categorized as hard skills.

Conflict resolution

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, including those in a professional setting. Identifying conflicts and addressing them in a constructive and positive way is extremely valuable in the workplace. Sub-skills involved in conflict resolution include willingness to compromise, non-defensive communication, and a positive attitude about conflict.

Creativity

Creativity is the ability to innovate, imagine, and generate new ideas. You might think of creativity primarily in terms of the arts, but it has a place in even the most technical jobs. Creative thinkers are able to function beyond the typical or usual ways of doing things to discover brand-new tactics and methods.

Dependability

Dependability is a soft skill that involves being reliable, trustworthy, and accountable for your actions. Managers and fellow staff members value employees who are punctual, meet commitments, and follow through on tasks and responsibilities. Over time, your track record of dependability will lead to a high level of trust from your colleagues.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent people can recognize and regulate their own emotions. The soft skills of emotional regulation, emotional perception, and emotional reasoning help you respond appropriately to difficult situations. Everyone experiences emotions; handling those emotions effectively is a skill.

Empathy

Though they’re sometimes used interchangeably, sympathy and empathy are actually very different experiences. Sympathy is “feeling for” and can be more akin to pity, while empathy is “feeling with” and involves a deeper understanding of what someone else is going through. Empathy helps create a more inclusive and supportive culture, enabling employees to understand and respond to the needs and feelings of their colleagues.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are the qualities that allow you to interact with others effectively. This includes being able to work well in a team, being empathetic and understanding, and resolving conflicts peacefully.

Leadership

Leadership skills are essential to inspire, motivate, and guide others toward a common goal. This includes being able to set clear goals, delegate tasks effectively, and provide support and guidance to team members.

Negotiation

Effective negotiation skills allow you to effectively communicate and persuade others to reach mutually beneficial agreements. In the workplace, the best negotiators don’t just want to “get their way” all the time; they seek “win-win” solutions that leave every party satisfied.

Networking

Networking is the process of forming new professional relationships. It might feel intimidating to introduce yourself to strangers, exchange ideas, and seek a mutually beneficial relationship. Confident networkers know how to approach these situations without imposing on others’ boundaries. Successful networking can open new job opportunities and lead to lasting, impactful professional relationships.

Organization

Organization is a soft skill that involves the ability to effectively plan, prioritize, and manage tasks and responsibilities. Employees with solid organizational skills create systems and structures to help manage workload and ensure that tasks are completed efficiently.

Persuasion

Persuasion is a soft skill that involves the ability to convince others effectively to adopt a particular point of view or take a specific action. You must use various strategies and techniques, such as presenting logical arguments, using emotional appeals, and building rapport with the audience to move others to do what you want them to do.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving skills involve the ability to identify and analyze problems, generate potential solutions, and choose the best course of action. Problem solvers define the problem, determine its cause, develop an action plan, and then evaluate the results. In the workplace, problem-solving skills enable you to take the initiative and address potential issues head-on without being directed to.

Social skills

Social skills are the ability to navigate the unwritten social rules that govern everyday life. Sharing, respecting boundaries, showing appreciation, and basic listening are all examples of social skills. While these may sound simple or self-evident, we’ve all experienced what happens when people leave their social skills at the door of the workplace.

Time management

Time management skills involve being able to effectively plan and prioritize tasks and make the most of your time. This includes being able to set goals, create a schedule, and stay organized.

Soft Skills for Job Seekers

Job seekers should be aware that soft skills are increasingly important to employers, as they are related to the way an employee interacts with others and handles interpersonal relationships. In many cases, soft skills are just as important as technical skills and can be the deciding factor in whether a candidate is offered a job.

Here are some of the ways job seekers should incorporate soft skills into their strategies for landing a job:

  1. Highlight your soft skills in your resume and cover letter: In addition to listing your technical skills and qualifications, be sure to highlight your soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.

  2. Prepare to discuss your soft skills in an interview: Be ready to provide examples of how you have used your soft skills in previous jobs or in other situations.

  3. Emphasize the value of your soft skills: In addition to discussing specific examples of how you have used your soft skills, be sure to explain how they can benefit the employer.

Improving Your Soft Skills

Although soft skills are less tangible and readily measurable than technical skills, they can still be improved and built upon. You can develop your soft skills through a combination of independent work, interpersonal work, and traditional learning formats.

Independently Working On Your Soft Skills

  1. Step out of your comfort zone: Like hard skills, soft skills grow when they’re put to the test. You can think of them as a muscle that needs to be flexed and worked out. When you take on new responsibilities, including ones that aren’t necessarily in your wheelhouse, you put your soft skills to the test.

  2. Keep your eyes peeled: Observing others is an effective way to assess your own soft skills. Watch people who are well-liked, persuasive, or successful. What are they doing well? How do they win others over? What are their habits? In what ways do they behave similarly to you, and in what ways are they different? Which of these differences could be valuable for you to emulate?

  3. Practice: Every moment is a chance to practice your soft skills. Take opportunities to pause in your everyday work and attempt a new approach or give extra attention to the soft skills involved.

Interpersonal Support for Your Soft Skills

When it comes to developing your soft skills, you’re not entirely on your own. Here are some ways to proactively gain support from others for your soft skills:

  1. Seek feedback: Seeking feedback from others can help you to identify areas for improvement and receive guidance on how to develop your skills. You can ask for feedback from colleagues, supervisors, or even friends and family.

  2. Join a professional organization or networking group: Joining a professional organization, or networking group can provide you with opportunities to learn from and connect with others who can offer support and guidance.

  3. Find a mentor: Having a mentor can be a valuable resource for learning and development. A mentor can provide guidance, support, and encouragement as you work to improve your skills.

Learning Soft Skills

There are many resources available to help you improve your soft skills, such as books, online courses, and workshops. Ways to pursue these resources include:

  1. Online learning platforms: There are many online learning platforms, such as Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning, that offer courses on a wide range of topics, including soft skills. These platforms often have a variety of options to choose from, ranging from short, self-paced courses to longer, more intensive programs.

  2. Universities and colleges: Many universities and colleges offer courses or programs on soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving. You can check with your local institution or search online to find options in your area to enroll as a part-time student or audit a course.

  3. Books: There are many books available on soft skills, including self-help books, business books, and academic texts. You can find these books at your local library, bookstore, or online.

  4. Websites and blogs: There are many websites and blogs that offer tips, resources, and advice on developing soft skills. You can search online to find articles, videos, and other resources that can help you improve your skills.

The ZipRecruiter Editors

At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn!

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