Developing your Soft Skills

Hard Skills versus Soft Skills

Do you know the difference between hard and soft skills?  Hard skills are job-specific skills and knowledge which is quantifiable, like web design, accounting and programming.  These skills are needed by you to perform a job.  For example, an architect should possess hard skills, like drawing the plan of a building, or a carpenter should posses the hard skills of woodworking or soldering.  Hard skills can be gained through education, training programs, through reading and practice.

On the other hand, soft skills are interpersonal (or people) skills like communication and negotiation skills, empathy, customer service, etc. These skills are much more difficult to define and assess, but yet, they are as important as hard skills. Individuals who do not have soft skills will find difficulty establishing connections with friends, colleagues and the people around them.

To analyse deeper, your soft skills also include your personality traits and attributes that characterise how you interact with your peers and the people around you. Adaptability, teamwork, leadership, work ethics, time management, flexibility and conflict resolution are all soft skills required to handle your day-to-day job. Unlike hard skills, soft skills are inherent in you and are most often influenced by your family background, culture, moral values, way of life and education.

Why should you develop and improve your soft skills?

Soft skills are inevitable and important because they affect relationships between friends, colleagues, leaders, customers, clients, vendors and government officials.  If you work in a retail or hospitality industry, soft skills are essential for finding, attracting, serving and retaining customers.  Your networking abilities, presentation, negotiation and persuasion skills are all very important to get sales for your company.  Honing your conflict resolution skills and customer service is also pertinent to watering down any conflicts or problems and preventing them from escalating.

Soft skills are also important in order to gel relationships among your fellow friends and team members.  Good teamwork and leadership skills bind team members together, which in turn is important in establishing trust and confidence between each other.  If you aspire to being a manager, having a listening ear for your subordinates and team members can help to overcome grievances and issues within the workplace.  Soft skills like optimism and perseverance are also important for bringing good vibes to the working environment.  If a leader has no sympathy or empathy towards the employees, or if a team member has poor listening skills such that instructions are not followed, huge issues will arise with regard to the smooth operation of the business.  Take note that a lack of soft skills can cause conflicts, distrust and miscommunication, which can then lead to bigger problems for you, not only in your career, but also in your family and social life.

As both globalisation and Industry 4.0 technologies set in, you, as employees or business leaders of the future will need to deal with more diverse partners from all over the world, and maintain the flexibility and agility needed to thrive in this new but fast-changing working environment.  This will require outstanding soft skills in addition to hard skills.

What can you do now to develop your soft skills?

As future employees, here is a list of what you can do:

  • Start making an inventory of the soft skills that you possess.  Do a personal evaluation through self-reflection and feedback from mentors, colleagues, friends and family members.  
  • For each soft skill, rate your proficiency level as good, average, poor or none.  Also, list them in order of importance - i.e. those that you urgently need to improve.  For example, if you feel that your presentation skills are very poor, put that on the top of your list, as this skill is not only important for your future job, but also important now while you are studying.
  • Draw a roadmap for you to decide on what to do next to polish or to improve on those soft skills that you listed.  
  • Find avenues on how you can develop those skills that you have listed.  Find opportunities in educational, professional, and social settings.  Take note of talks, seminars, programs, online courses, webinars, YouTube videos, volunteer activities or any other opportunities that can help you to develop your
  • Keep on polishing those skills on a regular basis and keep tabs of new soft skills that arise due to changes in technologies and world settings.

When looking for jobs, it is important that you look at the list of soft skills mentioned by the advertisement.  Include those soft skills that you have in your resume and motivation letter.  Pick one or two soft skills that you are good at and talk about them in your cover letter, including evidence where possible.  For example, provide evidence as to the time when you managed to resolve a conflict with a team member.  Or describe a situation when you managed to persuade your parents to see your point of view about a particular issue.  Also, highlight these skills in your interview.  Show that you are friendly, flexible and have good presentation or listening skills.  Prove your soft skills to them through your words and actions.

Soft skills can be developed and improved, although it may sound challenging and time-consuming, but developing them will be one of the best investments of your time, energy and probably money.  By doing so, you’ll not only become a better person, but also a well-rounded employee, manager and leader.  You will be a valuable asset to your future company for many years to come.

WUP 16/11/2019
by Hanna Abdelwahab
©Wittenborg University Press

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