When looking at a job description or advert do you focus only on the job specific skills required to “get the job done”, the hard skills that demonstrate your competency and proficiency?

You’re missing a trick if you don’t look beyond those requirements.

Yes, of course, hard skills are essential, but if you want to work for an employer where team dynamics, leadership, good management, and productivity are valued or where employee engagement is baked into the culture then soft skills matter too.

Soft skills shape how you work and interact with other people and they often determine who is offered the job, particularly when these attributes differentiate you from a short-list of candidates who all have very similar levels of technical competency.

When I talk of technical competency, I’m not only referring to my Technical and Industrial area, but across our TMM Recruitment specialisms. For instance, accountants have trained, quantifiable skills that are specific to their profession, as do marketers, lawyers, software developers and contracts managers. You get the idea.

Hard and soft skills are transferable skills, they’re not necessarily industry specific, can be applied across different jobs, and empower people to shift between sectors, succeed in promoted posts and build diverse, interesting careers.

Employers value transferable skills because you can immediately apply them, enabling you to “hit the ground running”, make a positive impact more quickly in your new job and require less time to integrate with your new team. They indicate that you are adaptable and flexible – there’s two sought after soft skills right there.

I think that innovation has accentuated the importance of soft skills. Employers understand that soft skills impact the commercial success of a business. If a business is struggling to leverage its technical expertise, its differentiators or USPs, I’d argue there are many soft skills gaps.

The more innovative, technical or complex the product or service, I’d argue the greater the need for effective soft skills to overcome obstacles, solve problems, strengthen stakeholder relationships and maximise potential.

For example, consider an engineering business that has developed a pioneering product. The product may be a customer magnet, but if customers find the company difficult to work with and don’t place another order then there’s been a breakdown that’s probably based on a soft skills gap.

If this company can recruit people relatively easily because the exciting work is a candidate magnate, yet staff turnover is high, and people leave after relatively short tenure then there’s a soft skills gap.

Every day we talk with clients about the soft skills they’re looking for, these are the ones that come up most regularly across our specialisms:

  • Time management and the ability to prioritise: understand your workload and shift focus, and adapt to changing demands.
  • Proactivity and the ability to work independently: using your initiative, the confidence to ask the right questions and not sit in confusion or apprehension; know where to look for answers when you don’t know something.
  • Communication, the ability to communicate with people at all levels of the business from intern to CEO and be a good listener.
  • Ability to pick-up new systems and technology.
  • Problem solving.
  • Teamwork.
  • Emotional intelligence: empathise with people, work co-operatively with others, set healthy boundaries, and consider how other people are feeling while managing your own emotions.

When I’m talking to candidates, my experience is that they can reel off their hard skills. Soft skill strengths are much harder for them to define because they are hard to measure, intangible and, often, natural personality traits that people don’t recognise as a skill.

Here’s a comprehensive list of soft skills, you’ll recognise them all, however how do you identify the soft skills that are personal to you?

  • Try thinking about soft skills as human skills. These personal characteristics are hard to quantify but powerful because they shape how you act at work and relate to others.
  • Make time for some self-reflection. Consider your current job and make a list of the elements of it that you not only enjoy, but you consider yourself to be good at.
  • Reflect on previous jobs in the same way, listing the soft skills which helped you to succeed and complete tasks/responsibilities well.

If you’re struggling to do this yourself, there are several other sources of guidance:

  • Review your most recent workplace appraisal, this will document your successes and where you brought your skills to bear.
  • Talk to colleagues, peers and your line manager – they work with you every day and will definitely have an opinion on what they value about your working style!
  • Ask family and friends. Soft skills are often developed away from the workplace, and the people closest to you can be good sources of opinion on your personal attributes and behaviours.
  • Try an assessment tool such as Thomas PPA, we recommend this psychometric assessment because it reduces bias and provides deep insight to behaviours in the workplace.

In my final article in this short soft skills series, I’ll share ideas for highlighting your soft skills on your CV and during interviews and how to develop your soft skills for career progression.