There is no perfect job candidate, but any hiring manager will tell you that the ideal candidate has a healthy mix of hard and soft skills.
Hard skills are job-specific ones that often take training and certification, like designing a website or performing open-heart surgery; they’re quantifiable and are, therefore, easily definable and measurable.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are more fluid. These are your people skills, such as communication style, listening, empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability, and you don’t necessarily learn them in school. Instead, they’re either already a part of your personality (woohoo!), or you develop them over time.
And while it might be tempting to believe hard skills are the MVP of your job search, that’s simply not true. Although hard skills are necessary when it comes to things like, well, making sure you doctors know what the aorta is, they don’t ensure your success in a job or at a company. According to a study by Leadership IQ, 48 percent of new hires fail within 18 months, and only 11 percent of that number lack the technical skills to get the job done. A whopping 89 percent of new hire turnover is due to a lack of soft skills.
The breakdown of that 89 percent is equally striking: 30 percent fail because they can’t accept feedback, 22 percent because they can’t understand or manage emotions, 20 percent because they lack motivation, and 17 percent because they have the wrong temperament for the job. It’s clear soft skills are integral to company culture–building and job security.
How to develop soft skills
By now, most employers understand the value of soft skills, and their job descriptions reflect the traits needed to succeed at their company. Those desired skills often vary, but in 2019, LinkedIn analyzed hundreds of thousands of job postings to determine which ones companies need most. Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management topped the list. If you don’t already excel in those areas, or you’re interested in expanding your skill set in general, you need to be intentional; treat your soft skills like you would your technical ones.
Here are a few ways to develop your soft skills:
1. Take a quiz!
Learning your strengths is a good way to amplify your soft skills. A variety of quizzes exist to help you better understand your current skill set. Try Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, or Adobe Creative Types. Don’t take the quizzes too seriously, though. They’re a starting point, not an endpoint, for helping you navigate soft skills.
2. Ask for feedback
You might think you have a good handle on your strengths now that you’ve taken a million career quizzes, but you’ll be a better worker if you ask your boss, coworkers, and even friends to weigh in on your strengths and weaknesses. That can be a humbling experience, but remember: Everyone is good at something, just as everyone has areas where they need to improve. Feedback doesn’t diminish your value as a person.
3. Take a course
After LinkedIn completed that study on most popular soft skills, they provided online courses via LinkedIn Learning to help people boost their marketability in those areas. Whatever your desired skills, look for courses, online or otherwise, to help you level up your soft skills. It might sound silly to pay for a lesson in listening, but take it from us, it is not.
4. Find a career coach
Maybe you want a more tailored experience. Hire a career coach to help you master the soft skills you need for your desired field or company. Because coaches are focused solely on you, they can hone in what you need most for your job search.
Like every other skill, practice makes perfect, or nearly so. If you want to be better at networking, make casual conversation with strangers—yes really. In her essay about confidence, our CEO Ursula Mead talks about how she negotiates with service providers to become better at persuasion. Life skills translate to job skills, folks.
Demonstrating soft skills during your job search
Once you’ve mastered your soft skills, you need to figure out how to show them off during your job search. Unlike hard skills, interpersonal strengths can’t be listed in a series of bullet points. (Imagine putting “emotionally intelligent” beneath “Microsoft Suite.” It simply isn’t done.) For soft skills, it’s better to show than to tell.
On your resume
Resumes should be numbers-driven (I did this, and it resulted in x percent increase in profits.), but that doesn’t mean you can’t showcase your soft skills. Lean on numbers that reveal your skills as a leader, your ability to juggle projects without oversight, or how effective your communication methods are. How many projects did you manage at once? How many direct reports did you have? How does your coordination impact your team’s ability to get their work done?
In your cover letter
Cover letters are meant to fill in the gaps of your resume. Welcome to soft skill city. Use your cover letter to give one, maybe two, concrete examples of times when you used soft skills that align with the company and role you’re applying to. Again, the example should clearly show, not tell, your skill. At no point should you say, I have high levels of empathy because… Just don’t.
During the interview
Whether or not the hiring manager asks you an open-ended question, you should always consider interview questions to be opportunities to share anecdotes of times your soft and hard skill have shone.
Consider the question: How much change have you seen in site traffic since you started your job? Although the answer is technically a simple number, it’s much more than that during an interview.
You could respond like so:
I’ve seen a 30 percent increase in site traffic since I started in this position, and I’ve done that by implementing a new email format and a more strategic social media approach. I’ve also worked with our tech team to address issues that might impact our site’s numbers.
Here, we’ve touched on leadership, initiative, and collaborating in a simple, yet effective, anecdote. And ooo, girl, it’s data-driven, too. Employers love that.