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Beyond the Job Description – The Importance of Soft Skills in the Workplace

26 Oct 2020 |

By Samantha Daniels

Softer Skills

In such a competitive market, CVs can get a little lost in the crowd. The average job posting is now receiving anywhere from 250 – 700 applicants in the first few days, and between 1000 – 2000 overall. Hiring managers therefore need to be a little more selective in who they are inviting for interviews, which often means that there are key words, phrases or responsibilities that are specifically sought in the CV selection process.

Just one common example of this is found for individuals looking for their first role as a Personal or Team Assistant. Although some administrative experience in any capacity is often the key requirement, sometimes some experience in the core functions of the PA – managing at least one diary or booking corporate international travel – is essential.

However, the requirements or skills required for a role are only one side of the coin and employers will be looking for a wider set of softer skills that candidates can bring to the role. What is the role of a PA without meticulous organisational skills and a problem-solving mindset? How can a salesperson negotiate a deal or know when to end a hard sales call without emotional intelligence? How can a Project Coordinator / Manager be effective if they are not able to prioritise and have the ability to remain calm when juggling a number of deadlines?

What are soft skills, and how can I identify mine?

Your soft skills are the kinds of skills you have developed or had from a young age, and / or through your academic and work experiences to date- such as strong communication skills enabling you to stand up in front of your class and give a presentation at school, becoming a student ambassador at university and leading discussions in the workplace, for example. They are not the kind of skills that you will need a qualification for, and not skills that are easy to learn either.

Some examples of soft skills are:

Communication - do you communicate effectively with the people around you? Does your communication style change and adapt depending on who you are communicating with?

  • Performing under pressure - does your role require you to work to tight deadlines or high volumes of work? Do you juggle multiple tasks without compromising on quality?
  • Creativity - are you often the one who comes up with new ideas or implements new processes for the team?
  • Computer skills - do you understand and learn new systems and processes easily? Have your previous roles exposed you to a range of database and software systems?
  • Listening - Do you take information on board when someone is speaking to you? Do you routinely practice active listening in interviews and meetings?
  • Teamwork - Do you work with those around you to achieve common goals? Do you offer assistance if others around you are swamped with work?
  • Initiative - Do you take on essential tasks without being asked to by your boss? Are you proactive in planning what tasks need to be completed prior to a deadline?
  • Emotional intelligence - Do you exercise judgement in your daily activities based on those around you? Are you able to control your emotions to what is most appropriate for the situation that you are in? Are you able to tell your boss’ or colleagues’ emotions based on their communication style?
  • Adaptability - Do you change your working style when your work environment changes? Do you thrive on changing situations and variety?
  • Organisation - do you have specific systems and processes in place for keeping track of what you need to do on a daily basis- both at work and at home? Do you write the next day’s to do list before leaving the office in the evening?

Try thinking about your daily tasks - both at work and in your personal life - and which soft skills you are demonstrating. Now imagine doing your daily tasks without these skills - is your role still possible?

Open-minded employers have been known to employ staff whose soft skills match the requirements, even if they have not specifically held relevant roles in the past. It is therefore important for all of us – whatever stage of our careers we are in – to be vocal and demonstrate our soft skills by evidencing these through our work experience. It is human nature for us to be quiet about our strengths, but it is vital we demonstrate these skills, particularly in the highly competitive job market we have seen in the past seven months.

Demonstrating Soft Skills

The first place to be evidencing soft skills is at the first stage of the job-seeking process - the CV. There are several ways to demonstrate soft skills on a CV and no right or wrong answer - particularly effective methods include:

  • Weaving soft skills into the responsibilities section of our current and previous roles – being explicit about the skills you are demonstrating in your role. For example, dealing with customer complaints could indicate communication skills, an ability to handle pressure and a problem-solving mindset.
  • Many candidates choose to create a personal profile at the top of their CVs to provide a little colour on their past experience and skill set. This can be a brief paragraph and is a great way to tell the hiring manager a little bit more about your skillset, while also displaying some of your personality. Remember to keep this paragraph as concise and engaging as you can- it should not be a shopping list or an essay.
  • Another way of incorporating your soft skills into your CV is to add a ‘Skills’ section and bullet point all skills, whether soft or otherwise. This is a good way of labelling your skills outright but doesn’t provide any further information or examples as to where you have demonstrated these skills.

Perhaps the most effective way of demonstrating soft skills comes through the interview process, as this allows you to go into greater detail about your soft skills, including giving detailed examples. Identify and remember your soft skills prior to an interview and be prepared to use these in any examples you give – although you can never guarantee what questions will be asked (and trying to shoehorn in examples that you want to use but aren’t specifically relevant are not encouraged), it’s good to have a general idea of your core competencies and skills as these are likely to come up in an interview. Identify your skills and think of at least one example you can use for each, so you are prepared to evidence these as and when appropriate during your interview.

We hope you enjoy getting to know your soft skills!

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