Soft skills are broadly defined as “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.” Soft skills tend to be a very important complement to the hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.
Recent research has found that companies are placing increasing focus and investment to develop these “people skills” in leaders/managers and those folks in particular that have a strong technical orientation rather that on people. In other words, it remains important for professionals to know what must be done and the technical aspects of how to get it done, but they must also be able to communicate this effectively and to motivate others in order to achieve excellent results.
Some of the most common soft skills employers seek include:
- Strong Work Ethic—motivation and dedication to getting the job done, no matter what. The desire is for people who will be conscientious and do their best work.
- Positive Attitude—optimism and an upbeat attitude. Good energy and good will tend to be contagious in an organization.
- Good Communication Skills—abilities to be both verbally articulate and a good listener. Professionals need to be able to express observations, interpretations, ideas, and even feelings in a way that builds bridges with colleagues, customers and vendors.
- Spoken communication is important, in all of its forms—face-to-face, presentations, team settings and more.
- Written communication has become super critical, as most groups are very dependent on email and other written forms of information within and outside of the organization. Every time we hit “send,” we are sending an image of our companies.
- Time Management Abilities—prioritization of tasks and work, often on a number of different projects at once. Time is a precious resource that must be used wisely.
- Problem-Solving Skills—resourceful and creative resolution of problems. Professionals are desired to take ownership of problems rather than leave them for someone else.
- Team Play—excellence of work in groups and teams. You can’t do it alone in today’s organizations. Professionals are desired that create and lead a cooperative environment.
- Self-Confidence—belief in one’s ability to get the job done. Pressure is a reality in most organizations. Leaders that project a sense of calm can inspire confidence in others.
- Ability to Accept and Learn from Criticism—the capacity to handle criticism. Receiving coaching well can create opportunities to learning and growth, both as a person and as a professional.
- Flexibility/Adaptability—adaptability to new situations and challenges. Change happens in most organizations at a pace never before seen in business. Professionals and leaders are needed who will embrace change and new ideas as paths to opportunities.
- Working Well Under Pressure—handling the stress that accompanies deadlines and crises. Pressure and stress can both motivate or harm an organization. People who perform with excellence, even doing their best work under pressure, are highly prized in today’s workforce.
The list above is not exhaustive. Here are a few other categories that we often see hiring groups focus on when interviewing candidates. In a hiring or interview context, techniques that utilize “open-ended questions” engage applicants in sharing from their personal experiences and past behaviors, how they utilize “soft skills” in accomplishing work.
- Decision making—using a range of options and processes to reach key decisions
- Leadership—influencing others
- Organizational skill
- Managing change—not just adapting to change, but being able to lead change
- Valuing diversity
This has become so important for organizations that ATC is now developing a soft skills assessment approach that can help you evaluate the GAP between where you are now and where you desire the organization to be. A paper-and-pencil survey is not always the path for evaluating these critical skills.
Stay tuned for updates on this important topic.
Best wishes for a successful 2010,