What Soft Skills are and how to develop them

I remember it as if it was yesterday, out of the blue, my mobile phone started vibrating incessantly even though it was on silent mode. The torrent of messages meant my downtime flew out of the window as curiosity got the better of me. What could the matter be? I checked my mobile, to find that well-meaning friends were trying to get my attention because of a BBC2 documentary. They wanted me to watch it because it highlighted the importance of soft skills, a topic I’m very passionate about. They knew I regularly run soft skills workshops and courses for teens and never stop talking about its significance. Seeing real life examples on their screens finally brought it home to them.

The said documentary, How to Break into the Elite focused on the journey, struggles and successes of some UK graduates who were seeking careers with leading employers. It clearly showed that social and non-academic skills play a big part in a fresh graduate’s employability.

What exactly are soft skills and why do they matter?

What are Soft Skills?

Soft Skills are a blend of social, personal and non-technical skills that impact how you come across and what you do.

You probably already know that leading internship, graduate scheme and apprenticeship employers demand excellent grades from their applicants. What you may not realise however is the importance they place on candidates demonstrating emotional intelligence and other soft skills. It’s no wonder they take this position, a 2017 LSE Business Review blog stated that organisations that recruit emotionally intelligent employees will have an advantage over the competition.

In addition to academic requirements, recruiters routinely assess candidates for non-academic skills such as emotional intelligence, time management, interpersonal and communication skills amongst others.

Types of Soft Skills

I have provided a list of soft skills below. Bear in mind that people often slice and dice them differently and name them in various ways. More importantly, what the list provides is the range of skills and behaviours highly sought after by employers and institutions of learning.

Soft skills translate practically in a variety of ways. Arguably, skills like effective communication, and time management are universal. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone continuously getting away with missing deadlines or not being able to communicate.

Interpersonal skills also play a big part in the work place. Employers want candidates who enhance the chemistry within the workplace by valuing their relationships with colleagues.

Problem solving and creativity are notable skills especially when working on complex issues that require innovative solutions.

Different roles often require different success criteria, that said the commonest soft skills sought by employers include:

  • Effective Communication
  • Time Management
  • Self-Awareness
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to work within a team
  • Critical Thinking
  • Assertiveness

Should teenagers care?

“New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results.” James Clear

You do not develop soft skills overnight, it is a process and the earlier you start the process the better. If you’re currently in secondary school, now is the time to start taking the practical steps towards growth.

The first time your soft skills would be tested could be much sooner than you think. If you’re considering moving to another school for your A-levels, you may be interviewed. The same applies to sixth-formers looking to apply for university places or degree apprenticeship programmes.

Just like employers, Admissions Officers are looking for self-managing students who will work well with others and boost the profile of their institution.

Another benefit of starting to develop employability skills early is that these skills improve with practice. The earlier you start developing your interpersonal skills, for example, the less socially awkward you’d likely be in the workplace.

Why do you need Soft Skills?

“If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

-Daniel Goleman

In order to get shortlisted for an interview, you will need a set of essential technical or academic skills.

A surgeon needs to have completed two years of core surgical training in a hospital before being permitted to carry out surgeries. A dentist needs 1-2 years of postgraduate dental training, aside from their 5-year degree.

In both these examples, their technical skills provide them with the knowledge and capability to carry out their tasks. However, to be successful in these roles, you will need emotional intelligence and the ability to work well in teams.

Your extraordinary technical knowledge is unlikely to translate into a successful career as a surgeon unless you possess the soft skills that are crucial for success.

Technical skills will qualify you for the interview, but it’s your soft skills that help you get through the interview. Soft skills will facilitate success in your role and eventual career progression.

Let’s consider customer facing roles. You will need to speak clearly and succinctly to customers; listen and understand their needs; and show empathy towards them. These skills are a necessity for relationship development and client retention.

How does this impact you in the workplace?

Businesses that want to thrive are looking for candidates who demonstrate these abilities. To avoid creating unnecessary conflict within their teams, hiring managers gauge your potential fit into the organisation culture.

Assessing a candidate’s soft skills is crucial when hiring and the importance attributed to this is on the rise. Increasingly, office cohesion is viewed as a significant contributor to a workplace’s success.

Demonstrating your soft skills during an interview will surely set you apart and place you in good stead to be hired.

Let’s assume you manage to scrape through the interviews without these skills, the gap could eventually bring your career down. Without the interpersonal skills to work well with others or the ability to deliver your outputs on time, you risk hindering your career progression and could end up losing your job.

If instead, you have most of the soft skills above, you’ll be in a great position to progress your career.

Having these skills in tandem with delivering pleasing results, compels your colleagues to view you as a valuable asset. It also encourages your managers to view you as a worthy candidate for promotion when the opportunity arises.

How do you develop Soft Skills?

To facilitate continued workplace effectiveness and productivity, employers regularly run soft skills development programmes for their newbies as well as long-standing employees.

You cannot however rely solely on your future employer’s programme to develop your employability skills. Hiring managers expect you to have them before you join the organisation.

Sadly, without robust soft skills you may not get hired as you probably won’t get past the interview stage. For you to successfully transition from school, college or university into the working environment, you need to have developed the required employability skills beforehand.

Where do you go to improve?

Let me start by saying no one develops soft skills in isolation. This is one you can’t learn from a textbook only or by being cooped up in your bedroom all day.

The cheapest and easiest way to start developing these skills is through your day to day interactions. Every time you interact with someone else is an opportunity to grow your soft skills. Guess what… you have a broad range of opportunities both at home and at school.

Putting down your mobile down to make time for conversation with your family during mealtimes is a great starting point.

You also have a great opportunity at school, college and/or university. Here, projects, responsibilities or clubs that require collaboration and group work help you develop your interpersonal and communication skills.

Day-to-day settings aside, taking on the role of a volunteer in a community project can help develop your social skills. For example, whilst volunteering in a Charity Shop, you learn how to be flexible to customer demands, offer problems to their solutions and work within teams.

Another great way to develop in this area is to attend formal training. This is something we offer regularly through our Soft Skills Workshops usually held during the school holidays.

Our training sessions aren’t boring theory, you will have the opportunity to practice what you’re learning.  You will also leave with an outline plan of the steps you need to continually take to become even better.

Next steps

Let’s assume you’ve developed a range of soft skills, you’re highly employable and know how to convince a prospective employer that you are capable. Can you confidently demonstrate these capabilities in the COVID-19 era where your interviews are very likely to be virtual?

If not, this online interview readiness checklist should help you prepare for the virtual interview experience.

On the other hand, if you’re new to the importance of soft skills, why you need them, and/or how to develop them, it’s time to act!

One of the actions you can take is to register for our next Soft Skills Workshop which will be held during the half-term break.

Whatever you do, you will need to develop a range of soft skills to get ahead in life.

If you have any questions or comments, post them below or reach out to me for support in this area.

1 comment

  1. Frances

    Very informative, thank you for sharing.

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