You’ve been doing a great job honing your marketable skills. You know the role you want and you know the sort of strengths hiring managers are looking for in an ideal candidate. Looking for the right marketing job? You’ve built an impressive portfolio filled with writing samples and effective campaigns you’ve worked on. Seeking something in sales? You can talk about deals you’ve closed and accounts you’ve developed into solid, repeat business.
But what about the soft skills that might set you apart from others? These aren’t necessarily the type of talents where you can point to tangible results in order to illustrate your strength in the area. They can’t be measured or quantified. There isn’t a certificate you can earn in these skills. These soft skills, however, are invaluable. They can open the door to new career opportunities in a way the other stuff can’t.
What’s a Soft Skill?
You’ll get different versions of the same definition depending on who you ask, but the gist of it is this: soft skills are the things that make you the sort of person people want to work with. They include a combination of people skills, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. You’re not going to find a class on these types of skills, but you can learn them and practice them to get better. The list can include, but is not limited to, active listening, prioritization, organization, clear communications, team work, ability to persuade others, and empathy. How do you cultivate and improve these soft skills? Keep reading.
Listen to the feedback others are giving you. Think about your last review. Did your boss talk more about how you communicate, your time management, and your ability to collaborate with the team than how well you write code or design website interfaces? Are your coworkers taking notice (and commenting) about your knack for procrastination? Do your clients mention your clear, timely communications (or lack thereof)? These are clues about the things you’re getting right, areas you can improve, and soft skills you need to develop. Pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t refute. Take an honest assessment of your performance in light of their feedback and make a plan to improve the skills that need it.
Soft skills are often rooted in interpersonal connections. How you relate to your team, your managers, and your customers matters. Take the time to get to know the people you work with and for. No, you don’t need to be friends with everyone you work with, but there is value in getting to know the people in your work life, not just the tasks they’re doing. Connect with them over shared experiences. Ask about their weekend plans, their family, and their hobbies. Grab lunch or a cup of coffee and chat about more than just the job.
You know that one person that everyone seems to go to for advice? They may or may not be more skilled than everyone else when it comes to those measurable hard skills. It’s more likely, however, that they just seem to really hear what you’re saying. Maybe they have a thoughtful way of asking follow-up questions that open up your thinking and get you through your creative block. Or they’re just so patient and clear in their response that you know you’ll get the info you need without confusion. Pay attention to that person. What can you learn about the way they engage with others? What makes a conversation with them different? How does that differ from your approach to communication?
It’s easy to ooze confidence, communicate clearly, and be level-headed when you’re comfortable. If you want to develop your soft skills and shine, however, you’re going to need to maintain that ability to embody those skills even when the temperature is rising. Step out of your comfort zone from time to time and focus on maintaining your soft skills even as you’re out of your usual element.
Be Honest and Aware
One of the more important soft skills is a healthy sense of self-awareness. It’s impossible to grow if you think you’re already at your peak. Take a good look at the way you relate to others and your environment and be honest about what you see. Identify the things you can improve upon and make a plan to develop those skills.