Improving the Chance of Career Success by Improving Soft Skills

Ask the average person on the street about soft skills and they might look at you funny or define them as the ability to be empathetic or caring; some soft, gentle quality.

In the workplace, soft skills are somewhat touchy-feely in nature in that they are not as tangible as hard skills; hard skills being an employee’s education, experience and training, those things that are learned over the years. Soft skills, however, are more often innate personality traits that are less likely to be taught, though some, such as written communication skills, can be learned.

The problem is that over the course of the last few years, educators, business leaders, human resources professionals and others have finally begun to realize how important it is for employees to have soft skills to complement the hard skills that they possess. So naturally it is important to ask, specifically what are we talking about and how can someone go about developing these all-important skills?

The difficulty isn’t in defining them as much as it is in developing them. Everyone has their own personal strengths, idiosyncrasies and personality quirks that, quite frankly, make for a rich and interesting workforce. However, there are still very specific qualities – soft skills – that most employers seek in their employees.

Here are four top soft skills that employees should hone if they want to improve their chance for career success:

Strong Oral and Written Communication Skills

Communication skills go beyond just the ability to hold a conversation with another person. While it is important to be concise and coherent when expressing an idea, it is equally important to be able to listen carefully and understand the return message. In addition, written communication skills are vital in properly composing everything from a simple email to an in-depth report.

    Think before speaking to ensure personal clarity
    Present information in meetings to gain confidence
    Practice good listening skills by reflecting and paraphrasing what the speaker has said
    Take classes in public speaking, business communications, grammar

Working Well with Others

Teamwork implies an ability to get along with others and work collaboratively, building trust, being dependable, and offering support. Customer service requires an equal balance of good communication and teamwork skills.

    Make a commitment and honor it
    Do quality work in a timely manner
    Be willing to assist other team members when needed
    Recognize each other’s accomplishments

Organizing and Managing Projects

Project management means that an employee is not only capable of organizing and managing their own time and workload, but they have the potential to lead others.  Someone with good project management skills is self-directed to prioritize, meet deadlines, and move projects forward.

    Plan each day by writing out a “to-do” list
    Track projects on a whiteboard
    Use a “tickler” file to stay organized
    Calendar important events, deadlines, and goals

Analyzing and Solving Problems

Problem-solving skills tend to be the sign of a creative individual with critical thinking and analytical abilities that can develop solutions, not just identify problems.  Those with good problem-solving skills use their initiative in accomplishing tasks and resolving issues and often feel comfortable “thinking outside the box” or taking risks.

    Once a problem has been identified, develop three solutions
    Brainstorm with others to solve issues
    Be proactive, not reactive
    Define problems in new ways by asking questions

Individual experience, education and training -- hard skills -- can go a long way in supporting a career. However, to improve the chance of career success, employees should be sure to focus on developing their soft skills.

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