We hear a lot these days about a “skills gap,” in which companies struggle to find, recruit and hire employees with “hard” skills like coding, data science or mechanical skills.
Yet, if you ask most employers, the skills they really value are “soft” skills, such as communication, persuasion, collaboration and leadership.
It makes a lot of sense. The most technologically advanced product will fail if no one can explain it or train its users or those who consume its output.
“Hard” Skills vs. “Soft” Skills
One easy way to differentiate between hard skills and soft skills is to say that hard skills mostly involve working with material things, while soft skills mostly involve working with people and ideas.
Most technology and mechanical skills are considered hard skills. They involve material objects and the patterns they can create.
Communication, creativity and collaboration are considered soft skills. They involve people, their potential and the progress they can create.
Some highly-valued skills like business analysis and digital marketing might be considered blended skills.
They combine numbers-driven facts with human-centered insights.
Which Soft Skills Matter Most?
Social media giant LinkedIn tracks the importance of soft skills among its members based on hiring patterns. LinkedIn tabulated soft skills among its members and found that those who are most in-demand possess some combination of the following skills:
Creativity is less about artistic ability or even expression and more about figuring out new solutions to both old and new problems. Creative people bring new ideas to a challenge, often by combining things that don’t seem like they would normally fit together.
The act of persuasion occurs when one person helps one or more others understand the “why” behind their positions or perspectives. Persuasion is not about convincing someone of your point of view. It is about introducing ideas or options that shift the “why” for individuals and teams.
Strong teams aligned around positive values are among the most powerful forces in any organization or society. Good collaboration skills involve blending teammates’ talents, skills and personalities into an effective whole.
The world changes fast. And often these days those changes are complex and difficult. Adaptability involves facing adversity with positive professionalism. It is fundamentally the science of rapid, meaningful change. Those with adaptability solve problems quickly in a rapidly-changing environment.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to interact with others – perceive, process and respond – in a way that exhibits empathy and fosters focus and productivity. This unique skill marks you as someone who can be counted upon when everything is on the line.
Soft Skills and Career Leverage
Soft skills are not just useful when you are trying to get hired. In fact, job advice site TheMuse.com notes that improving soft skills is among the best, fastest ways to enhance your current career.
What better way to be noticed right away than improving your creativity or persuasion skills? If you become someone who can collaborate and guide a team skillfully, don’t be surprised if your colleagues and your organization’s leaders notice!
Mindfulness and self-awareness are crucial. If you see any gaps in your soft skill tool kit, address them quickly and watch your career prospects grow.
Learn Soft Skills from Home
The best way to learn any skill is to practice. But because soft skills are so interpersonal, it they may seem hard to learn from home.
Yet if you follow a few key learning principles, an online course can be the perfect way to hone your soft skills. Some of those principles include:
Low-Risk Practice with Small Groups
“Modeling” or simulation is among the most effective learning skills. Using your new adaptability skills, for example, is just as effective with your family as it is with your work colleagues. Practice your new soft skills mindfully, any time and anywhere you can.
Practice with Virtual Communication Tools
Mediated communication can be especially challenging for soft skills, whether that involves written, voice or video interaction. Yet the virtual environment is the perfect place to put your new persuasion skills to work.
Become more persuasive in writing, voice and video communication and it will translate directly to your face-to-face interactions.
The best way to improve your soft skills is to challenge yourself to improve then carefully mark your progress. Especially if you use your new skills to deal with difficult people your collaboration and emotional intelligence skills will improve quickly.
Your soft skills set could be the key to improving your career and may lead to entirely new opportunities. Check out our soft skills series and start learning today.