What Are Soft Skills and Why Do You Need Them?

by | Apr 3, 2017

If you’ve been in the job search realm for a while, you’ve probably stumbled across the phrase ‘soft skills’. It’s a term that’s bandied about quite regularly, and can include a wide variety of skills and attributes that employers look for in their employees. So what are these ‘soft skills’, does your industry require them, and how can you build yours?

Soft skills definition

Soft skills refer to the personal skills you develop throughout your life. These can be developed through a number of different experiences including study, work, internships, volunteering, or extracurricular activities (including sports or clubs). The term ‘soft skills’ incorporates a wide variety of skills that dictate how we relate to those around us, how we work, and our outlook on life. These skills can include: time management, organisational skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork, conflict resolution, or being self-motivated.

Industry and soft skills

Where hard skills are job-specific skills (such as being able to build a website, develop a marketing plan, or giving legal advice), soft skills are transferable – meaning they are helpful in a large variety of jobs, regardless of industry. This means that the soft skills you develop now will help you throughout your career, regardless of what job or industry you find yourself in. As such, it’s important to start developing your soft skills early so as to give yourself a great head-start on your career.

Obviously, some industries prefer a certain set of soft skills over others (eg. a job in the media industry will generally require strong written and verbal communication skills, well-developed teamwork skills, and the ability to work to a deadline), however a vast majority of soft skills will be relevant to whatever role you take on, even if they aren’t specifically mentioned in the selection criteria.

5 commonly desired soft skills

Communication

Being able to communicate your ideas effectively both in written form and verbally is a highly sought after skill. This includes being able to write well thought out emails, draft documents, conduct presentations, pitch ideas, and a huge range of other communication requirements that may change from job to job.

Teamwork

Most roles require that you work with other people, meaning you should be able to communicate ideas, actively listen to those around you, work with others to achieve a common goal, follow instructions, or provide feedback (amongst other things).

If you don’t have strong teamwork skills, you may find it difficult to talk to other people, relinquish control over projects, or share the spotlight with someone else. If this is you, it might be time to start thinking about partaking in an extracurricular activity (such as a sport, club, or society) where you can strengthen this skill in a relatively low-pressure environment.

Problem solving

As a soft skill, problem solving can mean a number of things depending on the job and industry you’re in. To talk about it in a more general sense, being able to problem solve means you can see an issue someone is having and develop a number of logical steps you can take to solve it. It also means you can look at a system or way of doing things, and come up with a simpler way to achieve the same result.

Time management

Being able to manage your time effectively means that you can complete set tasks to a particular time frame, manage priorities and schedule effectively. If you’re in a fast-paced job this is particularly important.

Work under pressure

A lot of employers want candidates who can remain calm and produce amazing results under pressure. This often means you can work confidently while completing a number of projects with competing deadlines and conflicting priorities.

A final note

An important final note about soft skills is that, when mentioning them on your resume, it’s more about showing than telling. If a job you’re applying for asks for someone with great time management skills, simply saying you have time management skills isn’t going to win you any points. Instead, mention previous experience where you’ve demonstrated these skills – maybe there was a period of time where you were studying, working part-time and taking part in notable extracurricular activities? Being able to succeed during such a busy time (ie. maintaining a good GPA, being commended at work, and doing well at your extracurricular activities) helps highlight your ability to manage your time well, and achieve results under pressure. Phrasing your soft skills in this regard – with examples to back them up – is a much more effective way of appealing to potential employers.

 

So be careful not to undervalue the soft skills you’ve developed throughout your life. While playing on a sports team or working while you study may not feel like good skill building experiences, they can definitely help you develop the abilities you need to appeal to employers.

If you’re a law student and interested in developing your soft skills, come along to UTS:Careers’ Legal Learning Lunches. This series of lunchtime workshops are designed to get you thinking about your career, and building the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in law. Plus there’s free food, which is always a bonus. Register today!

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

By Mia Casey

By Mia Casey

Copywriter

Mia is a Sydney-based copywriter and content creator, who has run the UTS Careers Blog since its conception in 2016.
 
She has experience writing both long and short-form content, as well as across social media, website copy, EDMs, newsletters, and ad hoc marketing content.
 
Her freelance work focuses on branding development and helping companies create a cohesive identity narrative tailored for each of their platforms.
 
She enjoys piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

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