Careers: Soft Skills
Note: this section is not intended to replace advice given by a careers guidance service. If you have access to a guidance & information service, you should make use of that: advice from a dedicated and specialist service is always better.
When you are working, there are two sets of skills that you need:
- Job-specific skills - for instance, if you're working as a car mechanic, you need to know a bit about how cars work
- Soft skills - good personal qualities, habit and attitudes.
Soft skills, also called employability skills, or job-readiness skills, are important to being successful in your job and are valued by employers. The highly-regarded and widely-read Harvard Business Review published an article about research that suggested that people prefer to work with "loveable fools" (good soft skills, poor job-specific skills) rather than "competent jerks" (poor soft skills, good job-specific skills). Everybody preferred to work with "loveable stars" (good soft and job-specific skills) obviously, but quoting the article "generally speaking, a little extra likeability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with".
Soft skills can be grouped into different categories:
- Good personal hygiene
- Dress appropriately
- Being on time
- Having a positive attitude
- Acting responsibly and maturely
- Completing all tasks that you have been given
- Treating co-workers with respect
- Treating your supervisors with respect
- Treating members of the public with respect
- Being approachable and polite
- Being able to accept constructive criticism
- Being able to understand spoken and written instructions
- Being able to make yourself understood verbally and and in writing
- Using professional and appropriate language when interacting with supervisors, co-workers and members of the public
- Being able to work with people from different backgrounds
- Being able to contribute to team goals
- Being comfortable taking or giving directions
- Being interested in learning new skills
- Being interested in working on new projects
- Staying informed about your field of work
- Volunteering to serve on work committees
Some of these are easier to improve than others - you should have the foundational skills. There's an American Football coach who preaches something called "Takes No Talent", the basic premise of which is there are some things you can do that don't need any special talent, like turning up on time, knowing the rules and doling what you're asked to do. It takes no talent to maintain personal hygiene or dress appropriately for work!
Other soft skills might require some work to develop however. As with other aspect of career guidance, there are plenty of sites that will provide advice on developing soft skills, some can be find on the links page.