June 5, 2016
Success in most any field requires the ability to interact effectively with others. Employers are placing an increasingly high value on strong interpersonal skills, or "soft skills," especially as they recognize that technology and automation cannot replace effective human interaction. If you're looking to advance in your current position or land a new job, having these skills on your resume is a must.
But what are soft skills, exactly? As opposed to hard skills, which include technical abilities such as bookkeeping or coding, soft skills are those that involve emotional intelligence and equip you to effectively interact with other people. Soft skills measure how well you can get along with others and express your ideas. Examples of soft skills include leadership, communication and critical-thinking abilities, among others. Read on to discover the specific interpersonal abilities that are in especially high demand right now, as well as methods by which you can strengthen your soft skills to make yourself a more desirable employee.
Now more than ever, you need to have a strong set of soft skills to succeed in the job market. According to a study by Adecco, approximately 44 percent of senior executives believe that a lack of soft skills is the main gap in workforce skills in the U.S. There was much less concern expressed over hard skills, with only 22 percent of executives believing there is a shortage of technical skills.
A study by Burning Glass Technologies also supported the concept that soft skills are in high demand in the job market. After analyzing almost 25 million unique job postings collected over a year, the technology company found that one-third of the skills requested in job postings are soft skills. The company also confirmed that the soft skills gap employers are sensing is very real.
While soft skills in general are sought out by employers, there are some abilities that are prioritized. The study found that communication skills, organizational skills and writing are the soft skills that are most desirable in applicants. These were the most frequently requested skills in job postings across all occupations, including those in fields that would typically be thought of as more hard skill-focused, like engineering and finance. Customer service, problem solving, planning and research were also among the top 10.
While soft skills are in demand across all industries, the study found that certain occupations involve a higher ratio of soft skills to hard skills than others. Information technology, healthcare and engineering roles require at least 70 percent of employee skills to be hard or technical skills. In comparison, education and human services, hospitality, food and tourism, sales, human resources, clerical and administrative and customer and client support roles all require at least 40 percent of employee skill sets to be made up of soft skills.
The demand for certain soft skills is also influenced by the specific industry. Design, media, writing, sales and marketing positions value creativity, relationship-building and presentation skills. Management and research jobs tend to desire project management, supervision, leadership, research, strategic planning and negotiation skills. Clerical, administrative and finance roles most value time management abilities, attention to detail and multitasking skills, while personal care, sales and customer service jobs desire teamwork, positive dispositions and the ability to be a self-starter.
To make yourself a stronger candidate when it's time to interview for jobs or go for that big promotion, you should work to improve your abilities in the specific skill sets of your desired field.
The Burning Glass study also identified that the widest gaps employers face are in the following soft skills: writing, customer service, supervisory abilities and communication skills.
These gaps were identified across all job fields, but were more prominent in some than others. For example, writing had significant gaps in hospitality and customer support occupations, though there were also gaps in the fields of sales, marketing and public relations and IT. Customer service was most lacking in finance, IT and clerical and administrative occupations, while both supervisory abilities and communication had the largest gaps in hospitality, food and tourism, personal care and services and manufacturing and production. The study also found that the largest skills gap for time management is found in sales and the largest gap in problem solving is found in customer support and clerical and administrative positions.
Even if you are pursuing a career in a field that emphasizes technical skills, strengthening your soft skills will set you apart as a job candidate. Southern New Hampshire University's creative degree programs, including the BA in Creative Writing and English, BA in Communication and BA in Graphic Design, have a particular focus on valuable soft skills, such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Well-developed soft skills are vital in of these professions. But those skills are important no matter where you work. SNHU's online degree programs in every area of study are designed to equip you with both the hard and soft skills that you need to succeed in your chosen career. While we often attribute soft skills to degree programs focused on communication, they're a key component of the general education curriculum that every undergraduate student must take, regardless of whether you're in a STEM-related program, business field or healthcare.
Communication Skills: At your job, you'll have to interact with clients or stakeholders, give presentations, contribute ideas to meetings and collaborate with co-workers. Lacking vital communication skills can cause major problems in the workplace.
The best way to improve your communication skills is through practice. If you're currently in the workforce, volunteer to give a presentation or try to be more vocal during meetings. Consider the way that you currently speak with those around you, and determine if there are areas that you can improve in. When other people are speaking, make sure that you are listening attentively rather than just considering how you'll respond as soon as they're finished. Don't forget to think about nonverbal communication as well, such as e-mails and other forms of messaging. In SNHU's online programs, you'll have opportunities to improve your communication skills by participating in online discussions on Blackboard, the program that will become your virtual classroom. Crafting your own posts and responding to those of your classmates will help you learn to more efficiently express your own ideas and discuss the contributions of others.
Organizational Skills: Even if you're technically proficient in your field, you'll face challenges if you can't organize your time, space and workload. A major part of being organized is staying on top of your goals, duties and expected deliverables. Experiment with different organizational systems - from those as simple as a to-do list on a notepad to one of the many tools available online - to find what works best for you and your personality type. In an SNHU online degree program, you'll improve your organizational skills by learning to effectively and efficiently balance your time between courses and other professional and personal obligations. Academic advisors will help to create a plan that will maximize your academic success, and strengthen your soft skills in the process.
Writing Skills: In your work, you'll need to create communications, including emails, presentation slides and reports, and these have to be easily understood by others. While practice is important for improving this soft skill, it can also be helpful to receive outside assistance. When you enroll in SNHU's online degree program, you'll have access to the Online Writing Center, which has a variety of resources to help you improve your writing, including webinars on topics like grammar issues, revision methods and syntax.
Strong communication, organizational and writing skills can lead to success in the workplace, but of course, you first have to get your foot in the door. Your resume and interview are chances to showcase your strong soft skills. Instead of simply stating you have communication skills on your resume, list specific examples using active language that demonstrates how you used these abilities in past positions to accomplish real results. The presentation of your resume speaks volumes about these skills, too, and your SNHU Career advisor can assist in ensuring your resume is concise, clearly formatted and easy to read.
Employers won't just be listening to your answers during job interviews, they'll also be observing how you communicate and whether or not you're prepared. Don't walk in with a messy pile of papers - instead, bring an organized portfolio showcasing your past work, which will demonstrate to an interviewer not only that you're experienced, but that you can present information effectively. Brainstorm questions you may be asked ahead of time and plan your answers so that when the time comes for the actual interview, you can express yourself confidently and effectively highlight your achievements. Answer interview questions honestly, but frame any past challenges you've faced in a positive light by talking about how you overcame the issues and learned from them. Preparing ahead of time and answering questions clearly and thoughtfully will help present you as the best candidate for the job.
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