The 17 Soft Skills Employers Are Looking for Right Now
Listen up, graduates! Forget your technical chops—here are the qualities you really need to succeed.
You get where people are coming from
Congrats! You’ve earned your diploma and think you’re ready to land your dream job—but first, you need soft skills. Although you might have the technical know-how, or “hard skills,” to do the job, your future employer might be looking for something more. One survey showed that job candidates rated themselves higher than employers did on whether they had the skills necessary to do the job. So what are soft skills? They’re people skills that can’t be quantified, like communication. But “communication” doesn’t mean just having a nice phone voice—it means being perceptive and understanding of others’ motives. “I always say, ‘The best way to get what you want is to figure out why someone else wants you to have it,’” says career expert Michelle Tillis Ledermen, founder of Executive Essentials and author of The 11 Laws of Likability. “In other words, seek to understand their motivation. When you do, you can present your ideas, request, or any communication through that lens.” Try these tips for writing a resume that will get you hired.
This year’s survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 78 percent of employers seek candidates who can work in a team, making it the most desired skill. To do so, you’ll need your coworkers to find you open, available, empathetic, and relatable. If you’re closed off, you will put people on the defensive, which makes it harder to work together and have your ideas accepted. Lederman says one of the “pillars of trust” in a work environment is authenticity. “You can’t connect with and trust someone who isn’t being real,” she says. Another is vulnerability. “This is not about being weak, it is about being open and sharing imperfections for others to learn from,” she says. If your colleagues can relate to you and feel they can trust you, they’re likely to be amenable in turn.
You’re good on your own
Today’s pared-down workforce means your bosses might not have time to hold your hand and make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to—they’ll just want you to get the job done. According to the NACE survey, 65 percent of employers look for initiative in a job candidate. “Without self-motivation you will not reach your full potential for success,” Lederman says. “It’s the highest level of self-mastery.” This internal drive means that you should be able, in effect, to be your own manager. “It’s useful to be predictably capable of handling tasks with little or no direct supervision,” says career consultant Miriam Salpeter, founder of Keppie Careers and author of 100 Conversations for Career Success.
Taking initiative doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions—in fact, requesting clarification is actually proactive. It’s more efficient to make sure you’re moving in the right direction before completing a task rather than waste time on the wrong track. “Being able to ask for help when needed is an important skill that doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Salpeter says. “Most employers would prefer to hire someone who knows when it’s time to ask questions and request assistance than someone who thinks he or she already knows everything.” Although you might feel asking questions makes you look stupid, it actually displays an inquisitive mind. These are the worst mistakes first-time job hunters make.
People look to you
“Leadership” falls into the “sweet spot” on the soft skills list from The Bloomberg Job Skills Report. These are traits that are more desired but less common among job candidates. But what does being a leader really entail? It’s beyond telling people what to do. Instead, it means motivating others—even if you’re not actually the manager, by “providing positive feedback when an employee does well, collaborating with team members to set company goals so their opinion and ideas are valued, and creating an environment where employees are allowed and encouraged to be their best selves,” says career counselor Eileen Sharaga, who has a background in psychology and business. This fosters a positive feeling among the staff, which leads to better productivity. “The foundation of a good leader is the ability to build relationships with people,” Lederman says. “The number one reason employees disengage and quit is their relationship with their boss—people believe in the person, not the company.”
You can be counted on
If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it, you’re going to find yourself out on the street. NACE’s survey found that 72 percent of employers look for a strong work ethic on a candidate’s resume. Your colleagues as well as your boss need to be able to depend on you to turn in good work. “‘Accuracy’ and ‘consistency’ are probably two great words to describe a dependable worker,” Salpeter says. Ledermen says this soft skill also has to do with building trust among your team. “Trust is about the expectation of predictability,” she says. “You won’t get that without consistency.” Here’s how to find your dream job, from people who actually did it.
You’re a good listener
According to a poll by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC, creator of the GMAT), the top skills that companies desire all have to do with communication. But this doesn’t just mean talking—the second most desired trait on the survey was listening. This is huge in conflict resolution. “Active listening provides all parties to feel heard and understood,” Sharaga says. This also can help you get to the root of a conflict, which Salpeter says isn’t always obvious. “Listening is an often forgotten skill,” she says. “Know and understand both sides and identify a way for each side to feel as if they ‘won.’ This takes maturity and an ability to see beyond the immediate outcome.” You must be able to take in and process what’s really going on before you can respond with your ideas, Sharaga says.
In order to make solid decisions, you have to be assured of your ability to do so. “Our belief in our skill set and competence is essential in making choices for the betterment of the company,” Sharaga says. Your boss will be relying on you to have an opinion and voice it, so a wishy-washy attitude will make you less valuable an employee. Making a bad decision in some instances might be better than not making one at all—although of course, it helps if you really do know what you’re talking about. “Perhaps it’s not confidence in your ability to make decisions that’s most important, but having the knowledge to be able to make them appropriately,” says Salpeter.
To be a true professional, you have to keep your emotions in check, because your emotional state will affect those around you. “Energy is contagious,” Lederman says. “If you are allowing your mood swings to impact your productivity, you can also expect it to impact those around you—and almost always negatively.” Being frustrated and impatient is not conducive to a positive work environment. But, if you can take a beat to calm yourself (try some deep breathing), you can step back and solve the problem you’re facing with a clear head. Try these tricks for looking for a new job when you already have one.
You have grace under pressure
Let’s face it—work can be stressful, no matter what job you have. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that one-third of Americans experience chronic workplace stress. But if you allow that pressure to consume you, you won’t be able to be productive. The first way to deal is to identify what sets it off for you—deadlines, speaking at meetings, criticism from your boss—and then you can find stress management strategies to head it off at the pass. “Understand your triggers and what grounds you, and seek to be responsive rather than reactive,” Lederman advises.