The job market is as competitive as it has ever been.
Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to get ahead of the competition, and impress the high standards of recruiters and employers.
For most, if not all of the hourly and part-time gigs out there, applicants ‘hard skills’ tend to be pretty similar, especially by the time you get to the final round of interviews. This means that the only competitive battleground left lies in the area of soft skills.
So, you’ll want to ensure that your soft skills are as sharp and well-developed as possible. And make sure to emphasize those that recruiters in your targeted industry will love.
But what are soft skills, exactly?
To make things a little clearer, we’ve put together this one-stop-shop guide for soft skills.
We’ll run through a complete definition of soft skills, walk through a few examples of the soft skills that recruiters love to see, and cover top tips for effectively using them in your resume.
Soft skills are defined as character traits and personal skills in the context of the workplace.
They’re essentially everything that defines an employee outside of technical areas.
For example, while a receptionist would possess the technical skills of phone handling and administration, it’s the soft skills of a pleasant and understanding attitude along with multitasking abilities that make them well-suited to the position.
Other examples of soft skills include teamwork, time management, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, adaptability, listening skills, and critical thinking.
Soft skills as a concept originated in the US Army as a way to describe skills that weren’t related to machine operation. Realizing its importance, they then invested heavily in programs to explore this area of skill development.
Today, soft skills have become a critical consideration for recruiters when hiring new employees.
Over time, soft skills have only increased in importance to recruiters.
Soft skills matter, not only in your journey toward getting a job, but also as a predictor of success in that job, and maybe even life in general. Soft skills are definitely not to be overlooked.
This presents a challenge for job seekers. While soft skills are important, they are also difficult to define. Which can also make them difficult to work on.
Plus, some mistakenly view soft skills as personality traits, which tend to be fixed — you either have them or you don’t.
But soft skills are more than personality traits or even ‘people skills’. These skills cover a much broader area and can be learned and improved — even more ambiguous ones such as work ethic and problem-solving ability.
To fully get your head around exactly what is defined as a soft skill, it’s useful to learn a little about hard skills.
Hard skills are abilities that are acquired and developed through practice, repetition, and continuing education.
In the example of a car mechanic, knowledge relating to the proper functioning of a car, the ability to identify mechanical problems with the car, and the ability to use tools to fix the car, are hard skills.
Hard skills are essential too, as the relevant technical skills and/or qualifications are generally what get you in the door of companies looking for new recruits with specific expertise.
But they’re arguably easier to come by. With the proper educational and training opportunities and enough motivation, anyone can gain a hard skill.
Soft skills are different, which is what makes them such a powerful competitive advantage if you know how to gain and use them.
Before diving into specific, individual soft skills to develop and highlight, it’s worthwhile to think about soft skill categories.
Considering soft skill categories will help you identify the ones that are worthy of developing for your specific industry.
If you’re seeking a job in the service industry, for example, you’ll need to focus on communication soft skills. These relate to the way in which you interact with people both internally (co-workers) and externally (customers and/or contractors, suppliers, etc.).
Communication skills could include empathy, friendliness, active listening, conflict resolution, and more.
What is your targeted industry, and what general soft skill categories might you need to focus on?
Understanding this will be key to identifying which soft skills you need to sharpen. Make sure to read your job description carefully to find out.
Now that you’ve discovered soft skills that are relevant to your job interests, take a look at our list of six top soft skills and make you and your resume shine.
We chose these specific skills based on their uniqueness, so that they shine among the soft skills that other candidates used.
We’ll include the definition of each soft skill on our list, as well as an example in a typical resume sentence to put it in context.
Persuasion relates to your ability to get a person to take a particular action. It would fall under the ‘communication’ category of soft skills and is uniquely suited to certain job types.
For example, persuasion is very useful for people looking for sales-oriented call center positions.
Highlighting this skill in your resume and interviews will be looked upon favorably by recruiters. Their ideal candidate will be someone who can convince a prospect to make a purchase, even if the initial motivation wasn’t there.
A good way to work that into your application would be to say something like, “My interest around the skill of persuasion transfers very well to the sales aspect of this role.”
Creativity, as you probably already know in the general sense, is a thought style where new ideas are generated to produce something of value.
The economy is now massively dependent on the enduring creativity of workers, so it’s definitely something that employers value a great deal.
Creativity as a soft skill has very wide-ranging applications in lots of different industries.
An effective sentence on creativity for your resume would sound something like, “I have worked to enhance my creative abilities through reading and creative exercises, so I am better equipped to solve difficult problems that require new solutions.”
Empathy is the capacity to understand the emotional experience of a person that isn’t yourself.
Aside from being a valuable professional skill, developing empathy will no doubt improve your relationships with others as a better communicator, so it’s worth taking a look at.
Empathy is highly valued in jobs where you work a lot with other people, and where emotions can run high.
For example, those working in healthcare positions like hospital receptionists need to develop their empathy skills for success in the workplace.
Take this sentence as an example of good empathy skill recognition: “I have worked to expand my capacity for empathy in order to better meet the needs of the patients I serve.”
Decision-making is like it sounds — the ability to commit to a particular direction after carefully evaluating all options.
This is a key soft skill that, opposite to expectations, doesn't just apply to people in management positions. Every employee has to make decisions on the job at some point.
Transferable skills such as decision-making also put you in a great position for future career development.
Non-management employees such as waiters and waitresses have to apply their decision-making and leadership skills all the time, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t include it in your resume even if you’re not managing a team.
A good example would be, “My previous waiting experience honed my on-the-fly decision-making abilities when it came to customer priority and order.”
Along with empathy, self-awareness falls under the 'interpersonal skills' category, meaning it relates to your relationships with other people. Being self-aware means that you are in tune with your personal traits, feelings, and behaviors.
It’s important to occupations where there is a danger of egos becoming problematic, such as jobs in the armed forces.
A resume or interview-ready sentence on self-awareness could be, “In order to control undesirable behaviors, I have worked hard to increase my self-awareness in a way that improves my character and relationships with superiors.”
Resilience is a person’s ability to withstand negative events and circumstances that prevent progress.
Like a positive attitude, most if not all popular places to work value resilience, so feel free to throw this in your resume whatever job you’re shooting for. But it’s especially important for jobs that deal with rejection frequently, such as sales representatives.
Highlighting resilience in your resume could sound something like, “I was repeatedly exposed to rejection at previous job, which not only highlighted potential areas for improvement but also sharpened my emotional resilience to such events.”
With our favorite lesser-used soft skills out the way, we want to provide you with some tips for how to use them to maximize your employability during your job search.
Here are three of the most important tips to making your soft skills stand out.
Your resume is not just a home for hard skills. Soft skills have a place too.
Some job seekers even add a bullet-point list of their most relevant soft skills for the position they’re applying for. If you’re tight for space, you don’t need to do that. Just mention them when you’re describing your previous experience, or in your personal summary.
As the tone of a cover letter is more conversational and subjective, it’s a perfect place to talk about your soft skills.
Use them generously, like in the examples we showed you. This is what recruiters want to hear in a cover letter.
If you’ve made it to the interview, congratulations! But don’t forget what helped you get here.
You will be face to face with potential new colleagues in conversation, which is the perfect time to (casually, not forcibly), talk about your soft skills.
Memorize the most relevant skills you have and try to bring them up naturally in the interview.
We hope that, with this guide, you’ve been able to balance out your well-earned hard skills with the soft skills that make you a truly desirable employee.
When putting it all into practice, remember to pick soft skills that are relevant to not just your industry, but also the particular position. Really try to drive them home in your cover letter and interview alike.
For more actionable tips that can help you on your way to securing a job, stay connected to the Jobcase community, where you’ll find other job seekers and recruitment professionals who will make finding a job a whole lot easier.