Many attributes and personal behaviors, often referred to as “soft skills,” can help or hinder you. Soft skills are important to employers because you represent the company or organization. Clients or customers can form an impression about a business based on how they are treated, what their experiences have been, and how satisfied they are with the service you’ve provided. If they are unhappy, they simply go elsewhere. This becomes a bottom-line issue for businesses. Employees must have the skills that will help make the company productive and profitable. While hard skills may help you get an interview and ultimately the job, you must demonstrate to employers the behaviors they expect to keep a job and move ahead in your career. You improve your chances of moving ahead by cultivating and practicing soft skills in addition to the hard skills or competencies your employer expects.
So, what specifically are these soft skills?
Prospective employers and your current boss can form an impression of you in about three seconds. In that short time, they form an impression by judging your appearance (how you dress and present yourself) and your behaviors (how you act). Prospective employers also typically look to see that you represent yourself professionally online. Your appearance, your behavior and what you have on social media sites are essential components of professionalism.
Employers look for a professional appearance, which not only means wearing appropriate attire, but also if you are sitting straight at your desk and are neatly groomed. Some offices will require suits and ties. This is the “Professional” look. Others may allow “Business Casual” either throughout the week or on a particular day. Being under-dressed can affect your ability to land a job; being dressed to professional standards for an interview or your first few weeks on a job is rarely a bad idea.
Professional Dress: Business suit or blazer, slacks and tie, jacket/skirt or dress/jacket combo
Business Casual Dress: Shirt with a collar and/or sweater, polo shirt, khakis or slacks, knee-length or longer dress or skirt, dress shoes. No tie required.
Demonstrate Respect. Be sensitive to diversity. Avoid offensive jokes and language that is racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist or otherwise target a historically disadvantaged group. Appreciation for a kindness creates goodwill and being mindful of others around you will show consideration.
Be on time. Employers, clients/customers and co-workers appreciate not wasting time waiting. Tardiness makes others feel disrespected, as if their time is not as important to you.
Employers form initial impressions about you by what they see on your sites. Today, every organization checks social media sites to see what you have posted. Professional behavior is shown by what is on any social media site, both your personal site and any other sites related to you, including those that you “like” or “follow.”
Employers respect workers who have integrity and are reliable.
Having integrity means that:
Being reliable means that:
Employees who demonstrate a strong work ethic are recognized in the workplace, often given challenging assignments and promotions by their employers. Set yourself apart by exceeding expectations.
Don’t expect your employer to know when you are finished with a job. Tell your boss you are done and ask what they would like you to work on next. When you see a place that you can pitch in on a project, don’t wait to be asked to offer your assistance.
By being a self-starter, doing things without having to be asked and working independently, your boss will count on you to get things done and solve problems. Being proactive will always distinguish a great employee from a good employee.
By being flexible and comfortable with change, your boss knows you will consider doing something in a new way, without complaining. If interrupted, you can easily shift to a new task as needed, even while working on another project or learning a whole new system. In the workplace, the reality is that something you did today may not be relevant or cost-effective tomorrow. Can you go with the flow without becoming too anxious, irritable or resentful?
For any employee to move ahead, they must be a lifelong learner. Particularly in this highly technical age, things change and are discovered rapidly. Where you get your information is important too. By depending on just one medium, such as the Internet, you might miss out on learning a new perspective from a book or from an expert at a lecture. Cultivating the habit of lifelong learning is rewarding, both helping at work and enriching your personal life.
Ask any employer which soft skills they feel are most important, and in many cases, the answer will be communication. It doesn’t matter which industry you choose, because all types of work require the ability to communicate well.
Put warmth in your voice on the phone to show friendliness because your tone will create goodwill. People can form impressions about competency-based on verbal communication.
Is it acceptable to use a “☺” at the end of your sentence in a professional e-mail or text?
While it might appear friendly, your professional approach is essential in the workplace. Proper grammar and good language reveal a qualified employee. Avoid using any type of slang, including emojis, in professional communications, including texts and e-mails.
An important communication skill that many often forget is listening. Demonstrating your skills as a listener is often equally important to demonstrating your speaking and writing skills. Use the following acronym to help remember appropriate listening behaviors:
L: Lean forward, toward the speaker
I: Interrupting is not acceptable
S: Sit with good posture, without slouching
T: Think about what is being discussed
E: Eye contact – look at the speaker while they are talking
N: Nod your head as you listen, showing you are engaged
Employers want workers who are likable and friendly. They expect their employees to work well with others.
Having enthusiasm and a “can do” spirit. It is the ability to get along well with others, to be friendly. You can demonstrate a positive attitude by genuinely smiling, making eye contact when talking to others, speaking with a warm tone in your voice, watching your body posture and by being enthusiastic about what others say.
People are labeled team players when they are helpful to others, share work as needed, support the group’s common goal without seeking self-promotion, value the contributions of others, listen as much as talking and let others take the lead if it’s better for the team.
Take a look at the following resources, which will help you develop the soft skills employers expect. Some websites charge a fee for part of their services, but all have free and valuable information and tips. You should also consider researching and purchasing books that provide practical advice about workplace realities, getting along with others, and what skills to demonstrate every day on the job.
Soft Skills Quiz and Resources