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Pamela McBride

The Hardcore Truth about Soft Skills

Job hunters: to be competitive in this job market, you must pay special attention to showcasing your hard skills and soft skills in a balanced way. No longer is it sufficient to only demonstrate your hard skills. To be clear, hard skills are job functions or tasks that can be measured, require specific knowledge and abilities, and are taught in most traditional degree programs.  Examples are: accounting, software development and medical treatment. Hard skills will help you make the cut, but all things being equal in that area, employers will whittle down the remaining candidates by evaluating their soft skills.

Soft skills are more related to personality, how one interacts with others and how one performs his or her work. Although some people have these inherently, soft skills training can help the rest of us catch up.

In an April, 2014, survey by CareerBuilder, 2,138 hiring managers and human resource professionals identified the top ten soft skills they are looking for in job candidates. They are:

  • Strong work ethic – 73 percent
  • Dependability – 73 percent
  • Positive attitude – 72 percent
  • Self-motivation – 66 percent
  • Being team-oriented – 60 percent
  • Organized; manage multiple priorities – 57 percent
  • Works well under pressure – 57 percent
  • Effective communication – 56 percent
  • Flexibility – 51 percent
  • Confidence – 46 percent

Other surveys and articles include additional soft skills like leadership, analysis, critical thinking and initiative.

What’s more, 77 percent of the respondents to the CareerBuilder survey said that soft skills are equally important as hard skills and 16 percent said that soft skills were more important than hard skills. This shows the importance of soft skills to getting a job and advancing in your career.

“When companies are assessing job candidates, they’re looking for the best of both worlds: someone who is not only proficient in a particular function, but also has the right personality,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, according to a press release.

When trying to prove that you possess soft skills, career experts suggest you explain the situation, start sentences with action verbs and hone in on results and accomplishments, just like you would for hard skills.

For example, to show how team-oriented you are, you could describe specific ways you helped your team succeed despite changing requirements (critical thinking/problem solving), low morale (your positive attitude) and a presentation to the manager (your effective communication and leadership). It might look like this on your resume:

Analyzed our team dynamics and identified the causes of interpersonal conflicts that prevented effective teamwork. Recommended to our manager four specific scheduling strategies and implemented them, thereby eliminating stressful interactions and improving team project evaluations. Received Team Player of the Quarter Award.

To prove your communication skills, identify what you communicated, to whom, why it was important and the quantifiable results. Try this on your resume:

Designed and presented to six project managers three tutorial sessions and written instructions on project management tools. As a result, their requests for assistance decreased by 61% between first and second quarter and project completion times decreased by 7-12 man hours on each project.

Effectively demonstrating soft skills is no easy task and will take a lot of time to get used to. You may have to brainstorm, ask yourself the hard questions, create a draft and make several iterations of revisions.

Then, get yourself some personalized help. Visit your career center staff to revise (several more times) and fully develop your accomplishment statements. Be patient with yourself because the hardcore truth about soft skills is that proving them and improving them is what could lead to the big payoff of a steady paycheck.


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