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Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

March 23, 2020

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Soft skills are personality traits and behaviors. Unlike technical or “hard” skills, soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess but rather the behaviors you display in different situations.

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills

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What are soft skills?

Soft skills are any skill or quality that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. Interpersonal skills and communication skills are more specific categories of soft skills that many employers look for in job candidates.

There are many soft skills that you could list on your resume or cover letter. Some of the most sought-after soft skills include:

  • Effective communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Conflict resolution
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Creativity
  • Work ethic
  • Integrity

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

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

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Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills play an important role in resume writing, interviewing, 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. 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”.

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.

You may also find it helpful to consider how you might showcase your soft skills in an interview. 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: Interview Question: "What Skills Would You Bring to the Job?"

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Soft skills list and examples

Because soft skills are often innate personality traits, you already possess several marketable soft skills that will help you get and be successful in a job. Though many are formed with your personality, soft skills can also be learned and developed with practice and experience. Here are a few examples of key soft skills and how those skills can enhance your performance during and after the job search process.

1. 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 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:

  • Active listening
  • Confidence
  • Conflict resolution
  • Organization

2. 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
  • Research
  • Risk management
  • Teamwork

3. 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

4. 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:

  • Consistency
  • Organization
  • Optimism
  • Flexibility

5. 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:

  • Attention to detail
  • Integrity
  • Persistence
  • Time management

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume (With Examples)

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How to improve your soft skills

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.

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
    You can find several resources to help you learn tactics for improving the soft skills you want to focus on like books, podcasts or online classes. While some require payment, many are free of cost and can be accessed at any time. You might try out a few different types of resources to see which are best for your learning style.

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How to highlight your soft skills during the job search

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.

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

Technical skills: Learning Technology • Mac OS • Windows OS • Blackboard

Additional skills: Strong communication skills • Highly empathic • Passionate 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 worker employers 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: Transferable Skills: Definitions and Examples

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