When most people think of soft skills, they think of the common-sense tips commonly touted for success in a job interview: dressing appropriately, making eye contact, disengaging from tech devices, asking questions. But while creating a positive first impression on potential employers is important, job seekers should also consider the role of soft skills in making them valued employees once they’ve been hired.
It’s almost a cliché by now that most companies would rather devote time to training new hires in the “hard skills” particular to a job than inculcating the soft skills that are needed for workplace success in any field. These include practical skills, such as a grasp of basic grammar and e-mail etiquette to foster efficient communication, but also personal habits and traits that lead to a trusting work environment. For instance, as Sheena Karami observes in the Sept. 2019 issue of USA Today Magazine, having a solid understanding of personal finance is important not just for those employed in financial services but for anyone involved in work that demands budgeting and cost control. In other words, an employee who’s adept at managing her own finances will be more likely to pay careful attention to the company’s bottom line.
In the June 2020 issue of TD: Talent Development, Shaun Golston cites the top five in-demand soft skills reported in LinkedIn Learning’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report. Creativity in a new hire can lead a company to embrace new ideas and perspectives that fuel productivity and sales. Persuasiveness brings about buy-in from coworkers and draws favorable notice from management. Collaboration is essential for teamwork and the free circulation of new ideas. Adaptability – “the ability to switch gears when change happens and to keep moving without too many missteps” – has come to be seen as especially important in the Covid-19 era, when most if not all companies and organizations have had to improvise on the fly in order to continue delivering goods and services. Perhaps the most important of the five is emotional intelligence – “the ability to relate to others empathetically, control one’s emotions, and be self-aware.”
Empathy, composure, self-possession: these sorts of traits say a lot about an employee’s character. Although it may sound anachronistic or moralistic to say so, those personal qualities most sought by HR departments are things that can be improved upon, just like learning about appropriate attire, courteous behavior, and other common-sense soft skills. In his 2015 best-seller The Road to Character,New York Times columnist David Brooks writes of historical figures such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Dorothy Day and how they were able to work on their own character to reinvent themselves as the leaders they became. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that, on a more modest scale, job seekers can do something similar to polish the soft skills – really, the interpersonal skills – most valued by employers.
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