Why Soft Skills Matter

Why Soft Skills Matter

Written by Erin Wise

When you look through job postings online and come across phrases like ‘ability to multitask and prioritize efficiently,’ and ‘confident “go-getter” comfortable engaging with all levels of business professionals,’ do you brush over them or do you give them the same attention as the line about ‘experience with Excel?’ 

Hopefully, you’re paying attention, because soft skills, which are also known as ‘transferable skills’ or ‘key skills,’ are extremely important as you pursue opportunities in every industry, at all stages of your career. 

So what are soft skills? 

Soft skills are traits and qualities that dictate how you will work and perform in the workplace. Some examples of soft skills are your ability to communicate effectively or speak in front of groups, your ability to work well with others, and attention to detail. Soft skills differ from ‘hard skills’ in that hard skills tend to focus more on specific knowledge, like proficiency in multiple languages, or ability to utilize various softwares.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a professional association connecting college career service professionals with recruiters and businesses across the country, identified eight Career Competencies, which they have found are the top skills associated with career readiness. They define career readiness as ‘the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace. Those eight competencies are:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, and overcome problems. The individual is able to obtain, interpret and use knowledge, facts, and data in this process, and may demonstrate originality and inventiveness.
  • Oral/Written Communications: Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms to persons inside and outside of the organization. The individual has public speaking skills; is able to express ideas to others; and can write/edit memos, letters, and complex technical reports clearly and effectively.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration: Build collaborative relationships with colleagues and customers representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, and viewpoints. The individual is able to work within a team structure, and can negotiate and manage conflict.
  • Digital Technology Application: Leveraging existing digital technologies ethically and efficiently to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals. The individual demonstrates effective adaptability to new and emerging technology.
  • Leadership: Leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals, and use interpersonal skills to coach and develop others. The individual is able to assess and manage his/her emotions and those of others; use empathetic skills to guide and motivate; and organize, prioritize and delegate work 
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic: Demonstrate personal accountability and effective work habits, e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, and time management, and understands the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image. The individual demonstrates integrity and ethical behavior, acts responsibly with the interests of the large community in mind, and is able to learn from his/her mistakes.
  • Career Management: Identify and articulate one’s skills, strengths, knowledge and experiences relevant to the position desired and career goals, and identify areas necessary for professional growth. The individual is able to navigate and explore job options, understands and can take the steps necessary to pursue opportunities, and understands how to self-advocate for opportunities in the workplace.
  • Global/Intercultural Fluency: Value, respect, and learn from diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations and religions. The individual demonstrates openness, inclusiveness, sensitivity, and the ability to interact respectfully with all people and understand individuals’ differences.

How Can You Improve Your Soft Skills?

  • The first step is to determine where your soft skills stand now. Reflect on current positions and past experiences and identify what you’ve been able to develop and where there is room for improvement and growth. 
  • Next, identify 1-2 skills to focus on.
  • Set regular goals for yourself for how you can work on these goals! Do you feel less confident with your public speaking? Schedule an appointment with the Public Speaking Lab, or volunteer to present during your next group project. Maybe you haven’t had as much opportunity to demonstrate leadership? Get more involved in the e-board of a student organization that you’re involved with, or look for ways to get more engaged in the community! Is diversity an area where you see room for improvement? Consider participating in an Active Ally training offered through the Q Center, or talk to a friend who you feel demonstrates strength in this area and ask them for ideas on what you can work on. 

There are so many ways to develop your soft skills but it will take time, focus and commitment. Be intentional in every experience you have, whether it’s in class, at a professional conference, or at your part-time job. Soft skills in the workplace are in demand and will always matter – so make this a priority in your career development. The Fleishman Center is here to support you along the way.

By Lexie Avery, MS '15
Lexie Avery, MS '15 Senior Associate Director, Student Engagement and Career Readiness