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Soft Skills

What They Are and Why You Need Them

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Business people talking in office
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Most occupations require that those who work in it have certain abilities that allow them to do their jobs. For example, photographers must understand how different camera settings and lighting affect the pictures they take, teachers must be able to use certain techniques to teach math and reading, and computer programmers need to know how to use programming languages. These abilities are known as hard or technical skills and to learn them one usually enrolls in some sort of educational program where he or she receives classroom instruction and often practical training as well. To work in any occupation you also need what are referred to as soft skills.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are the personal character traits or qualities each of us has. They make up who we are, generally encompassing our attitudes, habits and how we interact with other people. They are much less tangible than hard or technical skills, and unlike them, you do not learn soft skills by enrolling in a training program. You can, however, acquire them through educational, work and life experiences but it will take a concerted effort on your part. Let's say for example, you are terrible at managing your time but find yourself enrolled in a class that requires you to complete numerous projects. If you want to do well you will have to improve your time management skills in order to meet your deadlines. You can learn how to better manage your time by seeking advice from faculty and fellow students or reading helpful articles.

Examples of Soft Skills

  • Communication Skills: People with good communication skills have the ability to convey information to others either orally or in writing.

  • Interpersonal Skills: Having good interpersonal skills means that one has not only the ability to communicate with others, but is willing to listen to people without judging them, share ideas and pitch in when co-workers need help.

  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: Problem solving is the ability to identify a problem and then come up with possible solutions. Critical thinking skills allow you to evaluate each possible solution, using logic and reasoning, to determine which one is most likely to be successful.

  • Active Listening Skills: Good listeners make an effort to understand what others are saying, interrupting only when appropriate to ask questions that will help clarify the information being shared.

  • Active Learning Skills: Active learners are willing and able to acquire knowledge and then apply it to their jobs.

  • Time Management Skills: Those who are good at managing their time know how to schedule their tasks in order to complete projects according to deadlines. They are good at prioritizing their work.

  • Team Player: Those who are team players are cooperative and can be leaders or participants, as necessitated by the situation at hand. They are willing to share responsibility with other team members, whether that means taking credit for successes or responsibility for failures.

  • Professionalism: This characteristic is hard to define, but it's very apparent when someone is lacking it. It's probably the one trait that every employer desires, regardless of what you do or where you work. Professionalism encompasses many things including showing up on time, being polite, being generally pleasant and helpful, dressing appropriately and taking responsibility for your own actions.

  • Reading Comprehension Skills: Individuals with strong reading comprehension skills have little difficulty understanding the content of written materials.

  • Flexibility and Adaptability: People who are flexible and adaptable react well to changes in their jobs and work environments. They have a positive can-do attitude about anything that gets thrown their way.

Why Do You Need Soft Skills?

Soft skills help us do our jobs. They allow us to effectively and efficiently use our technical skills and knowledge. They improve the way we interact with our bosses, co-workers and customers. They permit us to get our work done on time. They influence how we feel about our jobs and how others perceive us.

Every single occupation you can think of demands that you have specific character traits, whether you're a doctor who needs to be an excellent communicator in order to convey information to her patients, a janitor who must have good interpersonal skills so that he can get along with his co-workers or an actor who must be persistent in spite of facing rejection over and over. An important thing to note is that soft skills are transferable between occupations. While you may have to go back to school to learn new technical skills if you change careers, you can always take your soft skills with you since they are valued in a variety of fields.

In addition to what is required by your occupation, employers also expect you to have certain character traits. Just look at any job announcement and you will see a laundry list of qualifications that includes not only the technical skills you need to do the job, but qualities like "excellent communication skills," "strong organizational skill," "team player," and "strong listening ability" listed there as well. Even if you have the technical skills required for a job, if you can't demonstrate that you have the specified traits you probably won't get the job. Make sure your resume lists accomplishments that demonstrate the desired soft skills and that you also find ways to discuss them during your job interview.

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