Job Advice

Stand Out from the Crowd with Soft Skills

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November 11, 2015
If you are a job seeker, you know that having hard skills—education, training, special certifications, technical ability, and experience—is essential. But as a staffing specialist, I know that hard skills will only get you so far in the employment market.

I often talk with local employers who emphasize they need staff with soft skills. And, while many job-seekers think soft skills are “people” skills, in reality they go much deeper.

So, what are the top soft skills employers seek?

  • Communication, both written and verbal, tops the list. Employers want people who can present ideas and stand behind them with clear, concise explanations. Whether talking with a customer, giving a presentation during a staff meeting, or preparing written reports and documents, good communication is key.
  • Strategic thinking and creative problem-solving are a close second because candidates with these skills help employers find new ways to achieve business goals. Employees who move beyond the “business as usual” mindset are valuable because they offer ideas that can improve customer service, increase efficiency, and reduce costs.
  • Leadership skills are also important. Retired four-star U.S. Army General Colin Powell said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” Having the confidence, clarity, and vision to propose innovative ideas or solutions are leadership qualities employers appreciate. Being a good collaborator, having a solid work ethic and positive attitude, and a passion for excellence are also key factors.

When I screen potential job candidates, I always ask them to tell me about projects and work assignments that required them to play a leadership role. I also ask for examples of work that required them to develop a new strategy to solve a specific problem or challenge. For some candidates, these questions are stumbling blocks and they struggle to communicate clear answers.

So before your next interview, think about the types of soft skill questions a hiring manager is likely to ask. Write out the answers to clarify your thoughts. Practice your responses so they come to you naturally without sounding memorized or rehearsed.

Developing your soft skills will help you stand out from other applicants, land the job, and be more competitive for promotions and new opportunities.