sharpen your soft skills

The following is a post from Patrick of Cash Money Life. Like me, Patrick blogs on personal finance but includes a lot of posts on career management – recently he’s been chronicling his search for a new job leading right up to his resignation. His blog is in my short list of favorites; if you’ve been reading brip blap for a while you know I recommend it as a read, but if you’re new here you should check it out (or subscribe if you’re an RSS kind of person).

I recently went through the interview process with several companies. While I was interviewing with these companies, I realized something very important. While every employer seeks a different mix of abilities and experience from its employees, there is one common thing they all look for: Soft skills. Soft skills are the intangibles that you use every day to accomplish tasks. Communication skills, leadership skills, and teamwork are some common skills that employers screen for when interviewing job applicants. To put it simply, improving your soft skills increases your chances of being hired and keeping your job.

Creative Commons License photo credit: gwaar

Here are some soft skills, and ways to improve them.

Speaking. Verbal communication is highly valued by all professional organizations. Unfortunately, many people lack strong speaking skills. The good news is that you can easily improve with just a little practice. A great way to improve your speaking skills is to volunteer to give group presentations. Start small (within your team), then graduate to larger presentations. Another great way to enhance your speaking and presenting skills is to join Toastmasters International, which is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. They are located worldwide, so you should have an easy time locating a local chapter.

Listening. Often, the most important part of effective communication is listening. It is important to not only hear the message you are given, but to actively listen and understand the entire message. Many mistakes are made because people do not take the time to fully comprehend the message or instructions they were given. To improve your listening skills, pay attention to the speaker’s words and actions. You can learn a lot from body language. Allow the speaker to finish before responding or judging what they have said. Take notes and review them with the speaker to ensure you received the message as it was intended. Providing feedback allows you to mentally process everything you heard.

Writing. Strong written communication skills are paramount to success. It is important to be able to concisely convey your message in multiple formats including reports, letters, e-mail, online work and more. To improve your writing skills, take the time to proofread what you have written. Often many small mistakes can be corrected with a quick review. Utilize the built in spell check and grammar functions found in many productivity software applications. Other tips to improve your written communication skills include having another person proof read documents, submitting white papers to professional publications, and reviewing grammar rules online. A good place for this is Daily Writing Tips.

Leadership. Good leaders are hard to find. Leaders needs to be aware of more than just their role within a team, but how each member in the group contributes to a common goal and how to steer the group toward that goal. Some people say leaders are born and and they cannot be taught. I disagree. In fact, I think anyone can learn basic leadership skills, and some people may even grow to become great leaders. All it takes is exposure to leadership principles, the desire to lead, opportunity, and practice. To improve your leadership skills, begin with reading a few books or online articles about leadership. You can also consider taking a course at a local community college or as part of an MBA program. Once you have some leadership principles ingrained, you need to practice, practice, practice. Observe leaders in your workplace, volunteer to lead small groups and team efforts, and take on additional duties if necessary. Finally, do not confuse leadership with authority. You do not have to be the high man on the totem pole to be a leader.

Teamwork. Just as good leaders are essential to accomplish tasks in the corporate environment, so are solid team members. Even if your daily role is primarily one where your work alone, you need to be aware of how your work affects others. To improve your value as a team member, consider how your actions affect other people who are working on a related task. Do your actions help them or hinder them? Another great way to become a better team member in the workplace is to participate in group sporting events and other social activities.

There are many more soft skills

The soft skills listed above are some of the soft skills most frequently asked about during interviews. However, there are many more soft skills out there and it benefits you to recognize what they are and how to improve them. You can further break down soft skills into Personal Qualities and Interpersonal Skills: Personal Qualities are those which are inherent to the way you act on a day to day basis. These include personal responsibility, self-esteem, self-management, integrity, honesty, self-motivation, self-discipline, decision making, and more. Interpersonal Skills deal with your interactions with others. Some of these include: teaching and instructing, serving client and customer needs, negotiation, persuasion, cultural awareness, conflict resolution, etiquette, and more. Think about how you perform in the workplace. Your value to your employer is often driven not only by the degrees and certifications you hold, but how well you work and interact with others. Sharpen your soft skills. Improve your professional prospects.

  • http://www.fathersez.com/ fathersez

    I agree entirely.

    This is why so many of the recent graduates coming out are so handicapped when then start looking for jobs. It’s high time the education industry placed a much higher level of importance on these soft skills in schools.

    Regards

  • http://cashmoneylife.com Patrick

    Steve, Thanks for the kind words and posting my guest article on your site.

    Fathersez, I agree with your statement – more schools should focus on teaching these skills to students. There are a lot of MBA programs that stress these skills, but there are many schools that completely ignore them.

  • http://freefrombroke.com/ FFB

    These seem to be skills that are more readily acquired outside of class. Places I’ve learned these skills: Scouts, dojo, teams, work, life. It’s true that many people don’t have these skills in abundance. Sometimes having these soft skills can be more important than a job’s technical requirements (or at least you can go much farther if you have them). If you have the ability to listen and be a leader then you can figure out a problem easier.

    Another possible one: the ability to get to the core of an issue. I find many run around a problem without understanding the basics of the issue. You need to get to the core and work from there.

  • http://www.dividendgrowthinvestor.com/ Dividend Growth Investor

    Soft skills are super important in my opinion. That’s something I have always lacked and worked on improving.

  • PamelaP

    In my world (recruiting in a corporate setting) I am constantly amazed by how many people do not know how to adequately describe themselves or what their soft skills are – much less give coherent descriptions of examples of the skill. Since I run recruiting (that is more involved with strategy than talking to candidates) I pretty much only interview VP’s & a few director candidates and these are the ones I’m talking about!!

    To recommend you on to my president or a VP, I need to feel confident that you have the leadership, teambuilding, negotiating and personal presentation style to make it worthwhile for them to spend the time talking to you. In this company, you also need leadership courage & a high level of problem solving ability.

    Generally speaking I go through 8 to 10 interviews to present 1 to 2 candidates. At this level almost everyone has the hard skills to do the job, it’s the emotional intelligence I find lacking, and/or any concrete descriptions of how they have used the skills they profess to have.

    I agree with Fathersez & FFB – we need to teach these skills (or keep teaching them) in all levels of school & family life. It definitely will help you move up faster, make more money & if you decide to chuck it all you will have the skills to find & keep clients.

  • http://www.thewriterscoin.com/ Writer’s Coin

    This is a really good point that job seekers and currently employed people should keep in mind. But I also think that managers should pay special attention to this stuff. Why? Because many times these skills are ignored if they don’t come with a certification, diploma, or some other “credential” that backs it up. If someone is a really sharp writer, speaker or “communicator” but doesn’t have a diploma or degree in it, many times it will go ignored, which is a shame.

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  • PamelaP

    I am lucky to a certain point as in the retail world degrees are just not that important – we have people at 6 figures that only have a high school diploma but do have great customer service, leadership, etc. skills.

    BUT, you are right that in most of the rest of the world you have to have a degree to back up the rest. I doubt I would have gotten the job I have now or been as successful if I didn’t have a Masters. Too bad more companies don’t look at potential.

  • http://plonkee.com/ plonkee

    Skills like these are much better rewarded in your current job than in trying to get a new one. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become somewhat known for my good editing/proofreading skills (which have improved a lot since I started blogging). This means that I get asked to proofread a lot of bids and things, which is great because I get a heads up on a lot of the strategy/business stuff that I wouldn’t normally get as a pleb. You never know where your soft skills might take you.

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