What are soft skills and why are they important?

While experience and job-specific skills are imperative to many roles, soft skills are often incredibly important too. Soft skills can influence how individuals perform in their role, how they build relationships with colleagues, and their progression within a business.

Soft skills are also referred to as ‘transferable skills’ and can often set you apart from other candidates.

What are soft skills?

Associated with emotional intelligence, the term ‘soft skills’ is used by employers, HR teams and recruiters to describe personal attributes and interpersonal skills. Unlike hard skills that are gained through education, training and qualifications, soft skills can be hard to define and measure as they are fluid and personalised to each individual.

Essentially, soft skills characterise how individuals interact with their environment and those around them. They are driven by your personality and are becoming ever-more prevalent in the recruitment process.

Examples of soft skills include:

Communication: Adjusting tone, style and delivery to suit the audience, acknowledge communications in a timely and professional manner and be able to explain difficult issues to colleagues and clients.

Responsibility and accountability: Being self-aware is an incredibly important skill to possess. We will, of course, all make mistakes at some point, but a culture of blame can be extremely toxic. Taking accountability for our work and responsibility for our errors shows an ability to learn from mistakes and progress from them. It also gives you the opportunity to highlight solutions and ways to prevent those mistakes from being repeated.

Positive attitude: The workplace can become stressful at times and there will always be challenges to be overcome. A positive attitude can also be infectious, making the workplace a much more enjoyable environment to be a part of. A positive attitude also opens up the lines of communication, as you appear more approachable. Employers will seek out upbeat candidates.

Self-motivation: It’s critical for employees to be able to carry out their role without being supervised. Being able to complete tasks and proactively organise and prioritise your workload demonstrates that you are reliable and committed.

Flexibility: A willingness to be flexible is a wonderful attribute. Being open-minded and eager to take on new tasks and learn new skills shows an employer that you want to grow and want to be placed out of your comfort zone.

Time management: Every role will have its own deadlines and pressures to contend with. Possessing the ability to efficiently prioritise your workload and meet deadlines will not go unrecognised. It will also demonstrate your ability to work well under pressure.

Problem solving: Often associated with analytical positions, the skill of problem solving requires a creative, yet logical, frame of mind and a willingness to learn from mistakes. It also requires a confident, calm disposition as the need to problem solve often arises in stressful situations.

Can you learn soft skills?

Technically speaking, soft skills, aren’t ‘skills’ in the traditional sense of the word. ‘Skill’ is defined as the ability to do something well, or a developed aptitude.

Soft skills cannot necessarily be taught, but they can be developed, and this requires a deliberate approach.

To begin with, you need to identify the skills that you already possess and become aware of your blind spots. You can ask for help from friends, family and colleagues here. Remember – you must be receptive to the feedback without being defensive (another soft skill to work on!).

Once you have identified the areas that you would like to work on you can find books, courses and practical situations to help develop your skills.

Why are soft skills important to employers?

Soft skills bring an extra dimension to an employee and their impact on the workplace and environment.

Having the necessary experience and qualifications can only take a candidate so far. Being able to communicate with a variety of people in an engaging and genuine way, take a positive approach to solving problems and generally contribute to the business culture and environment are incredibly valuable.

Another point to consider is when it comes to developing new business and retaining clients and customers, employees that communicate well and strive to build long-lasting relationships will perform far better.

How can you inform employers of your soft skills?

In the first instance, be sure to reference your soft or transferrable skills on your CV. You can learn more about writing a modern CV here.

Throughout your interview, you have an opportunity to demonstrate some of these skills, by being enthusiastic, engaged and positive, reacting to questions and asking your own.

Preparing for the interview through research and anticipating the questions you may be asked will help you to feel confident and collected. Collate examples of when your soft skills have been used and refer to these when appropriate.

About the Author

Emma Plummer

Emma Plummer

Recruitment Partner

Emma blogs for the ACR jobseekers’ blog covering tips on how to stand out, managing the job-hunting process and more.