Soft skills create a mental roadblock for many jobseekers. In comparison to hard skills, which are easy to demonstrate during a job search, these intangible proficiencies can be difficult to communicate. By researching the abilities that are most important to employers and comparing them with your own strengths, you can create a more powerful job application.
Soft skills are the abilities and character traits that enable you to do your job. Common examples include leadership, time management and interpersonal communication. Although these skills are difficult to define and quantify, they are essential for high-performing professionals. Collaboration is essential for a team-oriented environment, for example, and active listening helps you get to the heart of a client's needs.
In the office, an employee's soft skills can be a make-it-or-break-it factor. An employer might be wowed by a graphic designer's spectacular illustrations and impeccable taste, but if that person manages time poorly, it can lead to printing delays, production bottlenecks and missed client deadlines. If you don't have the appropriate soft skills, your most impressive hard skills can be rendered useless.
When you're embarking on a job search, it's important to take an inventory of your soft abilities. Start with a list of the items that are crucial across all industries, including professionalism, organization, adaptability, problem solving and emotional intelligence. Then, consider the traits that are particularly important for your industry and target position. If you want to be an engineering team leader, for example, you must have well-developed project management skills and verbal communication.
Once you have a comprehensive list, rank the entries in order of priority. Compare each item to your own abilities, taking care to be brutally honest. This process benefits you in several ways. In the short term, the list helps identify your best professional assets so you know what to highlight in a resume and cover letter. In the long term, the list makes it easier to spot opportunities for growth and select professional development activities.
One of the biggest challenges for jobseekers is finding ways to demonstrate soft skills to employers. In most cases, it's better to show rather than tell. Instead of a bullet on your resume that reads "Leadership experience," try something more specific, such as "Took over project management for a six-person team and increased sales by 25 percent." This strategy lets employers know you can lead a team, organize a project and communicate effectively, all without losing sight of the end goal. For skills that require more explanation, use your cover letter and come up with anecdotes to tell in job interviews.
Soft skills are vital to employees in nearly all professional positions. When you understand how your abilities measure up to industry standards, you can demonstrate them to employers and create a more marketable set of job-hunting materials.
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