Resumes & Cover Letters

Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

March 3, 2021

Soft skills are personality traits and behaviors that will help candidates get hired and succeed in their work. Unlike technical skills or “hard” skills, soft skills are interpersonal and behavioral skills that help you work well with other people and develop your career. In this article, learn about soft skills, how they’re different from hard skills and the best soft skills to get hired and find long-term success.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are abilities that relate to how you work and how you interact with other people. Popular soft skills include communication, teamwork and other interpersonal skills. Employers look for soft skills in candidates because these skills are hard to teach and are important for long-term success. Soft skills are different from hard skills, which are technical and job-specific.

Other names for soft skills: personal skills, interpersonal skills, non-technical skills, essential skills, transferable skills

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
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Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard Skills
1. Bilingual or multilingual
2. Database management
3. Adobe software suite
4. Network security
5. SEO/SEM marketing
6. Statistical analysis
7. Data mining
8. Mobile development
9. User interface design
10. Marketing campaign management
11. Storage systems and management
12. Programming languages (such as Perl, Python, Java and Ruby)

Hard skills are technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including in your career or education.

Soft Skills
1. Integrity
2. Dependability
3. Effective communication
4.Open-mindedness
5. Teamwork
6. Creativity
7. Problem-solving
8. Critical thinking
9. Adaptability
10. Organization
11. Willingness to learn
12. Empathy

Soft skills are personal habits and traits that shape how you work, on your own and with others.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Popular soft skills with employers

In a recent Indeed survey of 1,000 hiring managers, we asked them to list the most important attributes of top performers at their company. The top five attributes they named were¹:

Other sought-after soft skills include:

Broad types of soft skills, which you can read more about below, include:

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Adaptability
  • Work ethic

Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills play an important role in resume writing, interviewing, job performance and finding success in communicating with people at work and in other areas of your life. For example, as you look for jobs, you may find that many employers list specific soft skills on their job posts in the “required” or “desired” sections.

For example, a job posting for a human resources associate may list “attention to detail” as a desired trait, while a job for a marketing specialist could list “leadership” and “great communication skills” as required traits.

Soft skills are often transferable across careers and industries. As a result, you may find that you possess many of the required traits even if you don’t match the exact profile in a job description. As you search for jobs, pay special attention to posts calling for candidates with soft skills or traits you possess.

Even if the job title isn’t a great fit, you may find that the description makes sense for you. As you progress through the job search process, keep your resume updated to reflect soft skills most relevant to the jobs you’re applying for.

While having your soft skills on your resume can catch the attention of an employer, the interview is where you’ll be able to showcase that you actually possess these skills. While you can display some skills like good communication, you may consider weaving others into your answers to interview questions.

For example, you might talk about your problem-solving skills when answering a question like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.” If the employer prompts you to provide references, think of those that can speak to examples that verify your soft skills and other strengths.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Soft Skills are Important to Employers

Top soft skills with examples

Soft skills include innate personality traits and abilities that can be learned. Here are key soft skills and how they can help during the job search:

Communication

Effective communication skills will be helpful through the interview process and in your career overall. The ability to communicate involves knowing how you should speak to others in different situations or settings. For example, when working with a team on a project, you may need to communicate when you believe an idea or process is ineffective. Finding a way to tactfully and skillfully disagree with others on the job without creating conflict is an important skill that employers value.

Related communication skills

Problem-solving

Employers highly value people who can resolve issues quickly and effectively. That may involve calling on industry knowledge to fix an issue immediately as it occurs, or taking time to research and consult with colleagues to find a scalable, long-term solution.

Related problem-solving skills

Creativity

Creativity is a broad ability incorporating many different skill sets including other soft skills and technical skills. Employees with creativity can find new ways to perform tasks, improve processes or even develop new and exciting avenues for the business to explore. Creativity can be used in any role at any level.

Related creativity skills

  • Curiosity
  • Learning from others
  • Open-mindedness
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Innovation
  • Experimentation

Adaptability

How easily do you adapt to changes? If you’re working in a technology-driven field or startup, adaptability is especially important. Changes in processes, tools or clients you work with can happen quickly. Employees who are capable of adapting to new situations and ways of working are valuable in many jobs and industries.

Related adaptability skills

Work ethic

Work ethic is the ability to follow through on tasks and duties in a timely, quality manner. A strong work ethic will help ensure you develop a positive relationship with your employer and colleagues, even when you are still developing technical skills in a new job. Many employers would rather work with someone who has a strong work ethic and is eager to learn than a skilled worker who seems unmotivated.

Related work ethic skills

Related: 3 Ways to Add Personal Skills to Your Resume

Work Ethic
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Ways to demonstrate work ethic:
1. Put away distractions
2. Ask for help to identify areas for improvement
3. Spend your time wisely on tasks that align with goals
4. Organize your notes, inbox and workspaces for increased focus, motivation and time management
5. Take breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout
6. Identify motivators such as tasks, goals or colleagues
7. Practice time management to complete quality, on-time work and be more present in meetings

How to improve your soft skills

Here are several ways you can improve your soft skills:

1. Pick a skill you want to improve and practice it consistently

You can improve any soft skill if you make it a practice. Most soft skills are a matter of routine. For example, you can practice dependability both on the job and at home by improving punctuality (showing up to work or events on time or early, for example) and starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule.

2. Observe and mimic the positive soft skills you see in others

There are likely professionals you know or work with who have strengths in various soft skills. You may be able to develop integral soft skills by observing the practices of others and incorporating them into your own daily routine.

You may find, for example, that effective communicators often write down notes when others are talking during meetings. Quite often, this helps them organize their thoughts so they are prepared to ask and answer important questions. This is also an active listening practice that may be good to utilize as part of your own work.

3. Set milestone goals to improve soft skills

Set specific, measurable goals by carefully reading your performance reviews at work or asking trusted friends and colleagues for constructive criticism. This can help you to both identify key areas of improvement for goal setting and areas of strength to highlight on your resume and in interviews. You can prioritize which soft skills to work on based on those that you need to get a certain job or move up in a career you already have.

4. Find resources to help you learn

There are a variety of resources—such as books, podcasts or online classes—that can help you learn tactics for improving specific soft skills. While some require payment, many are free and accessible at any time. You might try a few different resources to see which are best for your learning style.

Many employers value strong soft skills over technical skills because they are often personality traits developed over a lifetime and can be difficult to teach. That being said, anyone can improve their soft skills with experience and practice.

For example, you may find that an employer is seeking someone skilled in conflict resolution. While you may be naturally skilled at effective communication, it may help to practice working through conflicts with others. When looking through job postings, make note of what soft skills are showing up consistently in your vertical as a guide for which skills you may need to develop.

Highlighting your soft skills

Showcasing your soft skills can be useful when looking and applying for jobs, in an interview or in your daily work. If you are looking for work, you can highlight your soft skills on your resume and in your cover letter.

Soft skills for resumes

Your resume should include a section that lists your relevant hard and soft skills. When deciding which skills to put on a resume, consider both what skills are called for in the job post and those you possess that can be verified by your references.

Note that you should prioritize the hard skills sought after for the role before your soft skills, as soft skills are typically evaluated in the interview stage of the process. It’s encouraged to have 10-30 skills on your resume; consider having soft skills take up no more than half of the listed skills you include.

Here’s an example of what your resume skills section could look like:

Technical skills: Learning TechnologyMac OSWindows OSBlackboard
Additional skills: Strong communication skillsHighly empathicPassionate and motivated

Add skills to your Indeed Resume for employers searching for candidates with your skill sets.

Related: 20 Skills in Demand in Today's Workforce

Soft skills for cover letters

Your cover letter should include at least one well-developed and relevant soft skill that provides context as to why you’re a good fit for the job. You can do this by explaining how your soft skill aligns with the company’s goals, values and/or mission.

Your use of soft skills in your cover letter may look similar to the following example:

“In my previous role, I displayed both passion and creativity that were highly regarded by my colleagues and managers. For example, I successfully proposed and put together a team to work on a marketing campaign targeting a younger demographic for our product. From start to finish, my team members and managers praised my ability to positively work with my team to help establish new interest in our company.”

While hard skills are important for completing technical tasks, strong soft skills will make you the kind of employee companies want to hire, keep and promote. It’s important to highlight the soft skills you have at all stages of the job search process, and continue developing those skills once you find the job you’re looking for.

Related: What Are Valuable Job Skills? (With Examples)

¹ Indeed employer study conducted by Decipher/FocusVision (Base: all respondents, N=1,000)

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