Spotlight at the National Careers Service
What are the ‘soft skills’ employers want?
We often read news stories about how employers feel that applicants who’ve left school, college or university lack the ‘soft skills’ they want. Below we take a look at some of the most common soft skills, and how you can sell them to employers.
These skills are transferable skills, so they can be used in many different types of jobs. They are personal qualities and attitudes that can help you to work well with others and make a positive contribution to organisations you work for.
However, this isn’t to say that technical skills and knowledge aren’t also important, particularly computer skills. But remember that technical skills can be taught more easily than soft skills, which tend to be either personal characteristics or skills that have been fine-tuned over a period of time.
This is perhaps the most common entry on person specifications for job vacancies, and for good reason. Skilled communicators get along well with colleagues, listen and understand instructions, and put their point across without being aggressive. They can change their style of communication to suit the task in hand – this can be invaluable in many different situations, from handling conflict to trying to persuade a customer of the benefits of buying your product. If you’ve got good communication skills you should be able develop constructive working relationships with colleagues and be able to learn from constructive criticism.
There are different styles of decision making, but the important thing is to be, you guessed it, decisive. Gathering all the important facts, seeking advice, looking at the big picture, considering alternatives, being aware of repercussions – these are all things that go into making a good decision. Things to be wary of are indecision and making snap decisions.
Employers want people who are dependable, reliable, enthusiastic, and enjoy hard work. Employees that are committed need very little supervision or motivation to do their best and get the job done.
We live in rapidly changing times in the workplace, so if you’re adaptable and flexible, you’ll be able to change with the times. It’s a great asset if you are able to step outside your comfort zone and try your hand at something you haven’t done before. Employers like people who are positive, upbeat and have a ‘can-do’ attitude.
When deadlines are looming, good time management is about prioritising the most important tasks, and then deciding which actions will produce the maximum output with the minimum effort. Are you a good juggler - can you work on several different projects at once?
Even if you’re not managing staff yet, leadership qualities are valued by employers. They look for people who lead by example, constantly look to improve, motivate themselves, are positive, and know when to follow instructions and when to show initiative.
Creativity and problem-solving skills
The ability to apply both logic and creativity to solve problems is highly valued by employers. If you are the kind of person who tries to see the solution as well as the problem, this will stand you in good stead.
Being a team player
A good team player has the team goals clear in their mind and works with others to achieve them. They are open and honest, and offer constructive suggestions and listen to others.
Employers are on the lookout for people who take pride in their work, and are confident enough to put their name to it. They also respect people who can hold their hands up when things go wrong, and don’t pass the buck. Everyone makes mistakes - it’s how you react and learn from them that counts.
Ability to work under pressure
Whether you’re trying to hit a challenging deadline or an urgent job has just landed in your lap, employers want to know you can put the stress to one side and focus on the job in hand. Can you decide quickly which approach will achieve the maximum results in a short period of time, and then get the job done?
When you look at that list and how valuable these skills can be to organisations, it’s a wonder they call them ‘soft skills’, because they are very important and hard to learn!
Bring your soft skills to the fore
If you have these skills you should highlight them on your CV and application forms, and talk about them in interviews. To back up your claims, think of concrete and interesting examples of when you’ve used these skills in your work or personal life. Don’t underestimate examples from situations out of the workplace – if you’ve got kids you’ll be used to managing your time, working under pressure, being creative and communicating well. Likewise with your school, college or university work, you’ll have used many of these skills.
If you need to improve these skills, you could use our course search to find a learning opportunity to suit you.
If you’re working you could also ask your employer if they will run workshops on these valuable skills. There are also many personal development books and online learning guides on these topics.
If you’re not working you could do some volunteering or work experience to develop these skills, or ask to shadow someone and see first-hand how these skills can improve performance.