Do you arrive to appointments on time, dressed appropriately? Do you make eye contact when speaking to others and really listen to what they have to say? Do you find solutions to problems rather than complaining about them?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you already possess some of the most important and in-demand workplace skills: soft skills!
Simply put, soft skills are the non-technical skills that are needed in every job. They are also the number one thing employers are looking for in job applicants, yet they are also what employers most often say is lacking in the application pool.
Of course, every applicant must possess the technical skills and education credentials required for a specific position, but soft skills can give you the edge over other candidates. Some employers may even choose a less-experienced candidate if they excel at soft skills. Why? Because soft skills are the best indication of who will be a good employee--one who works well with customers and coworkers and brings positive energy to the job. Technical skills can be learned surprisingly quickly when one has the right attitude. Learning to have the right attitude is more difficult.
The Five Major Soft Skills Categories
Workplace Basics: These are all about professionalism and dependability. Do you meet deadlines? Can you remain calm even when the client is not?
Attitude: Do you make clients and colleagues feel welcome and comfortable? Can you face setbacks without spreading negativity?
Communication: Do you Listen? Ask questions to clarify? Speak and write clearly?
Teamwork: Can you take and give criticism gracefully? Resolve interpersonal conflicts?
Problem solving: Can you apply critical thinking to a situation and devise creative solutions?
So, what if you don't have all the soft skills you need? The good news is that they CAN be learned. Have difficulty prioritizing tasks? Ask your boss or a coworker for guidance. With some practice, you'll get a feel for what tasks are most important. Have trouble writing clear, direct sentences? Find a class or seminar on workplace writing. Then practice. Even interpersonal skills can be improved by being conscious about how your words and actions affect others, and making an effort to improve your interactions.
Honestly, half of soft skills mastery is attitude. Another 40% is awareness--simply knowing what soft skills are and what is expected of you as a professional gets you most of the way there. The remaining 10% is practice. Some people are naturally personable while others may have to work at it. Likewise, some people communicate well verbally but not in writing, or vice versa. All of us have certain areas we can work to improve. The key is knowing what they are.
Fortunately, Montana Career Lab offers a complete checklist of soft skills and explains why each is important. Click HERE to view the Soft Skills Checklist. The checklist is excerpted from the Montana Career Guide, which can also be downloaded by clicking HERE. The Montana Career Guide not only has information on soft skills, but offers a complete, start-to-finish guide to career planning from taking interest assessment to writing a resume and interviewing for jobs.