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Sharpen Your Soft Skills

by Ryan Guina

Last year I interviewed with several companies. When I was going through the interview process, I realized something very important. While every employer seeks a different mix of abilities and experience from its employees, there is one common thing they all look for: soft skills.

Soft skills are the intangibles that you use every day to accomplish tasks. Communication skills, leadership skills, and teamwork are some common skills that employers screen for when interviewing job applicants. To put it simply, improving your soft skills increases your chances of being hired and keeping your job.

How to improve your soft skills

There are many different soft skills; these are just a few:

Speaking. Verbal communication is highly valued by all professional organizations. Unfortunately, many people lack strong speaking skills. The good news is that you can easily improve with just a little practice.

A great way to improve your speaking skills is to volunteer to give group presentations. Start small (within your team), then graduate to larger presentations. Another great way to enhance your speaking and presenting skills is to join Toastmasters International, which is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. They are located worldwide, so you should have an easy time locating a local chapter.

Listening. Often, the most important part of effective communication is listening. It is important to not only hear the message you are given, but to actively listen and understand the entire message. Many mistakes are made because people do not take the time to fully comprehend the message or instructions they were given.

To improve your listening skills, pay attention to the speaker’s words and actions. You can learn a lot from body language. Allow the speaker to finish before responding or judging what they have said. Take notes and review them with the speaker to ensure you received the message as it was intended. Providing feedback allows you to mentally process everything you heard.

Writing. Strong written communication skills are paramount to success. It is important to be able to concisely convey your message in multiple formats including reports, letters, e-mail, online work and more.

To improve your writing skills, take the time to proofread what you have written. Small mistakes can often be corrected with a quick review. Utilize the built in spell check and grammar functions found in many productivity software applications. Other tips to improve your written communication skills include having another person proof read documents, submitting white papers to professional publications, and reviewing grammar rules online. A good place for this is Daily Writing Tips.

Leadership. Good leaders are hard to find. Leaders needs to be aware of more than just their role within a team, but how each member in the group contributes to a common goal and how to steer the group toward that goal.

Some people say leaders are born and and they cannot be taught. I disagree. In fact, I think anyone can learn basic leadership skills, and some people may even grow to become great leaders. All it takes is exposure to leadership principles, the desire to lead, opportunity, and practice.

To improve your leadership skills, begin with reading a few books or online articles about leadership. You can also consider taking a course at a local community college or as part of an MBA program. Once you have some leadership principles ingrained, you need to practice, practice, practice. Observe leaders in your workplace, volunteer to lead small groups and team efforts, and take on additional duties if necessary. Finally, do not confuse leadership with authority. You do not have to be the high man on the totem pole to be a leader.

Teamwork. Just as good leaders are essential to accomplish tasks in the corporate environment, so are solid team members. Even if your daily role is primarily one where your work alone, you need to be aware of how your work affects others.

To improve your value as a team member, consider how your actions affect other people who are working on a related task. Do your actions help them or hinder them? Another great way to become a better team member in the workplace is to participate in group sporting events and other social activities.

There are many more soft skills

The soft skills listed above are some of the soft skills most frequently asked about during interviews. However, there are many more soft skills out there and it benefits you to recognize what they are and how to improve them.

You can further break down soft skills into Personal Qualities and Interpersonal Skills:

Personal Qualities are those which are inherent to the way you act on a day to day basis. These include personal responsibility, self-esteem, self-management, integrity, honesty, self-motivation, self-discipline, decision making, and more.

Interpersonal Skills deal with your interactions with others. Some of these include: teaching and instructing, serving client and customer needs, negotiation, persuasion, cultural awareness, conflict resolution, etiquette, and more.

Think about how you perform in the workplace. Your value to your employer is often driven not only by the degrees and certifications you hold, but how well you work and interact with others. Sharpen your soft skills. Improve your professional prospects.

This article originally appeared as a guest post on BripBlap.com, a personal finance and career journal.


Published or updated July 27, 2009.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

Nice post! These are basic skills that people take for granted, but they are the qualifications that can set you apart. I used to work with several Columbia U. graduates, two had personality and advanced and two did not and went nowhere fast . . .

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2 Ryan

I think anyone can look good on paper. It’s what you do beyond the print on your resume that distinguishes you from others in the workplace.

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3 Kristen

Interesting post. From my perspective, many of the things you listed as “soft” skills are actually the hard skills of my profession. A great deal of my job is focused on writing and public speaking. I think things like writing, public speaking and listening are considered soft skills in more technical positions like engineering, accounting, etc. Nevertheless, they are skills that are very important to have no matter what your profession.

I’ve actually run across quite a few business and technical publications over the years looking for writers. I’ve interviewed at a few of these places and was very upfront about the fact that I do not have any kind of a background in whatever the subject matter was. In all cases I was told they wanted someone who could write first, and they would train the new hire on the technical aspects of the business. I thought that was interesting. It wasn’t what I expected to hear.

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4 Ryan

Kristen, I’ve been hired under similar pretenses – though not as a writer. When I left the military I had a background that was needed, though I didn’t have some of the technical skills the job required. The military knowledge and willingness to learn got me in the door. I was hired and learned the technical skills necessary for the job (fun stuff involving databases and stats).

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5 1 Serial Entrepreneur

Nice post. Like someone else said…alot of people take these for granted, but it is absolutely essential to really focus on improving these qualities…
especially verbal.

Many people don’t look at this and fret at the idea of speaking directly to their fellow employees, let alone to a group. It’s imperative that people making verbal communication a strong part of their skill set.

After all, how else will one be heard?

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6 Shannon

I agree that a lot of people, hiring managers included, take soft skills for granted, even though they are often the determining factors of whether or not a potential hire would excel in the role and fit in with the company’s culture. That’s why I appreciate that the company I work for, OneWire, considers soft skills to be a very important aspect of a candidate’s qualifications. On OneWire, candidates create detailed profiles to be considered for opportunities. Instead of asking that they submit a typical resume, OneWire asks candidates to be as detailed as possible, and even encourages them to include as many hobbies, skills, sports, and interests in their profile as they would like, to demonstrate their set of soft skills.

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