We’ve read a tonne of reports and googled more blogs than you can shake a stick at.
With all that research combined and a dash of work experience, we’ve put together a short guide to the top soft skills employers are interested in.
What are Soft Skills
Soft skills refer to your interpersonal (people) skills. They include communication, initiative, common sense, and empathy among others. They’re pretty hard to define and evaluate, but are very highly sought after by employers.
Not to be confused with hard skills or technical skills, which are quantifiable and can be easily defined and evaluated (the skills you get through education or on-the-job training).
To read more about what soft skills are, why they’re important and tips on how to improve them, have a look at our “Why your soft skills matter” blog.
The Top 7:
- Communication skills
This is possibly the most important soft skill, we use it all the time. Good communication skills are essential for engaging with customers, clients, colleagues, management, suppliers or the general public.
Be clear, concise and honest, whether its face to face, over the phone, in writing or electronically.
You probably already know there’s way more to good communication than speaking well though.
It’s been suggested that
55 percent of people scan facial expressions and body language. 37 percent of people listen to tone of voice. 8 percent of people focus on the words.
– Dr John Lund
So effective communication also includes listening skills, non-verbal communication like body language and eye contact.
Other skills that good communicators have are, being persuasive, good presentation, negotiation, public speaking, storytelling, and of course writing skills.
Tips for being a good communicator:
- Be professional. Always use appropriate language – remember you’re representing your organisation every time you communicate while you’re at work. (And of course you’re representing yourself too)
- Pay attention, don’t interrupt, focus on the person talking not your phone or the doodle in your notepad
- Smile when you are talking, even if you are on the phone – smiles can be heard as well as seen. It makes a big impact on the way you are perceived. And it’s really hard to sound angry or grumpy while you’re smiling.
- Frame messages in a positive way. For example instead of saying “I can’t do this”, try saying “could you please look this and give me some feedback”.
- Be brief and specific (but not curt or rude). Don’t be tempted to use unnecessary words or jargon.
- Pause before you speak – give yourself time to think about what you’re about to say – is it correct, is it necessary, is it well phrased?
- Be aware of your tone of voice, body language, gestures and eye contact.
2. Critical Thinking
Regardless of what job you do, there will be instances where unexpected events or situations come up. Your employer wants to know that you will be able to handle situations and deal with them effectively, without always having to be spoon-fed solutions.
Why? Because it saves the business valuable time making it more efficient in the short term. That helps the company to keep running more smoothly and profitably in the long term.
Critical thinking skills include analysis, decision making, creativity, flexibility, adaptability, innovative, logical, problem solving, research, willingness and ability to keep learning.
For example, a policeman who is the first responder at the scene of an accident, must quickly analyse the situation – assess the risks and requirements. Determine priorities and what actions to take and in what order in a very short space of time.
A triage nurse in a busy Emergency Room must assess each patients symptoms and prioritise who needs treatment first.
A plumber attending a house flood must evaluate the steps that need to be taken immediately, improvise a fix and determine the correct materials for a long term fix.
You can practise your critical thinking skills all the time, here’s a few examples in everyday life:
Next time you read an article or a claim on social media ask yourself:
- Who published it?
- Why did they write it?
- What are their sources?
- What are their intentions?
You can use the same critical thinking to help you make decisions about
- purchases (do I need it / is it the best price / are the reviews good / is it good quality?),
- careers (uni or not / online courses / alternative pathways / on the job training / salary / future prospects?),
- making healthy choices (benefits / costs / convenience / frequency / informed?).
While your boss won’t be particularly happy if you start trying to tell them how to do their job or making executive decisions willy nilly. Employers really value leadership qualities in their employees. They want to know they can rely on you to make good business decisions, and manage situations and people effectively.
They also want to know that their investment in you and your training, could be rewarded by you staying with, and advancing in, the business. Retaining great staff means less recruitment and HR issues, that means the organisation can focus on its main goals.
Leaderships skills include – conflict management or resolution, decision making, providing valuable feedback, project, team and meeting management, finding solutions, mentoring, training and supervising.
Tip: When discussing Leadership examples during an interview, remember to use the STAR format to answer.
S/T (Situation of Task)
Describe the project or situation with a short and relevant bit of background.
E.g. I was Captain of the Football team, we were losing every match, morale was low, team members stopped turning up to matches.
Say what actions you took.
E.g. I organised a local football celebrity to come and give us a talk and some practical tips. I made sure at the start of each training session I gave a motivational talk. I encourage the team to come up with a new schedule for training when everyone could attend.
Wrap it up with the positive outcome.
E.g. Our attendance and morale improved. We got some new players on board. We implemented new tactics in our matches. We won 4 out of 7 of our following matches.
4. Positive Attitude
Once you start working, you spend a large proportion of your life at work, so it needs to be nice place to be. And if everyone is positive and upbeat, the working environment is better and the business is more likely to thrive.
Being positive means your colleagues and clients will be happy to be around you, you’ll reduce stress in the workplace and you’ll facilitate an efficient work environment.
Positivity is reflected in your confidence, cooperation, politeness, energy, enthusiasm, how approachable you are, honesty, patience, tolerance, respect, and change management.
Examples of your positivity could be:
- a time you achieved a goal & how you went about it
- when you faced a big hurdle in life but you worked hard to overcome it
- when you put in extra time to help out or get work done
This comes down to team work.
Collaboration generates a circle of knowledge and helps every team member understand and carry out their roles better.
Some of the benefits of workplace collaboration include:
- Learning from each other and strengthening individual skills
- Better problem solving – two heads are better than one
- The whole workplace working towards a common goal (everyone knows what the big picture is)
- Provides a really effective feedback loop which increases productivity and efficiency
Good team work skills include active listening, negotiation, taking feedback on board, awareness and acceptance of diversity and disability, networking, team building, and positively influencing office politics.
Examples of team work that you could use are working on school projects, events or sports teams. What was your role, how did you contribute and what was the outcome?
Maybe you volunteer or work outside of school? Think of times when you have had to help other people in a team environment to resolve a conflict. Perhaps you worked with others to resolve a last minute situation or deadline that came up. Describe a time when you helped provide the solution to a challenge.
Don’t focus on your own successes but how your contribution helped the team succeed.
6. Work Ethic
Reliability, time management, trustworthiness, personal productivity – getting the job done to the best of your ability, without compromise.
People with a strong work ethic are attentive, dedicated, reliable, independent, resilient, organised, motivated, flexible, eager to learn, work well under pressure.
A good work ethic includes:
- Turning up to your job on time every time.
- Not leaving at 5pm just because you can, finish up that job, tidy up your space, if necessary debrief your boss.
- Always meet deadlines
- Organise your workload effectively
- Be a team player, offer to help out or share information
- Give honest feedback, be objective but deliver it sensitively and constructively
- Take responsibility – own up to your mistakes and rectify them as soon as possible
- Be respectful – listen, stay calm and professional, be diplomatic, do not get involved with office politics
- Follow the rules – make sure you know the company’s policies and stick to them, even down to any uniform or dress codes
7. Emotional Intelligence
The ability to be aware of your actions and behaviour, the impact they have on others and the business, and the ability to regulate yourself accordingly, are very important in the professional world.
High levels of emotional intelligence will make you a more pleasant colleague and reliable employee. It also means you’ll probably handle stress better and manage a better work-life balance.
Skills include self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, relationship management, take responsibility, good decision making and empathy.
Some questions you might be asked in an interview that give the interviewer insight into your emotional intelligence are:
- Describe a stressful work situation you’ve had. How did you resolve that situation?
- Tell me about a setback you had at work. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about a time when you received feedback on your performance, and you disagreed with the feedback. How did you handle the situation?
- Have you ever noticed that someone at work was having a bad day? How did you know? What did you do?
Think about situations where you have used some of the skills listed above to resolve or improve a situation. They’re the kind of examples you might be asked to illustrate during an interview (especially if you’ve listed emotional intelligence skills on your resume).
What to do next
Now you know some of the top soft skills employers are looking out for, maybe you can think about:
- Do you have those skills?
- If not, how can you gain them.
- The best way to highlight them on your resume.
- What examples do you have in mind, if you’re asked during an interview situation?
- Could you benefit from gaining more experience in any of these 7 areas?