When we think about the skills we’ve developed over our careers, we don’t always think about soft skills.
But the truth is, soft skills are extremely important in every role, and are not something that a hiring manager will overlook.
Adecco staffing conducted a survey showing that 44% of executives think a lack of soft skills was causing the biggest gap in proficiency in the workplace.
Another report outlined by the US Department of Labor said, “A large percentage of young people preparing to enter the workforce over the next two decades are significantly lacking in soft skills such as teamwork, decision making, and communication.”
So, what does this mean for you?
If you want to get hired at an amazing company in today's market, you need to know how to sell your soft skills.
And that's not always an easy task! Anyone can go out and take a course on a tool or read a book about a process. That feels easy and tangible. But it seems much harder to hone your emotional intelligence or improve your ability to persuade people, right?
That's where the good news comes in. Like hard skills, soft skills can be trained, developed, and mastered. You just need to follow the right steps to do it.
The goal of this post is to show you what soft skills employers care about in today's job market and how you can get out there and build them effectively.
We're going to cover:
- The definition of soft skills – what are they and why do they matter?
- Why soft skills matter when it comes to getting hired in today's market
- The difference between hard skills vs. soft skills (with 20 examples of each)
- The 20 most important soft skills for 2021 along with 10+ examples for each
- How to train and develop your soft skills
- The right way to add your soft skills to your resume
By the end of this post, you'll know everything there is to know about soft skills so you can use them to get your foot in the door and score that job offer.
What Exactly Are “Soft Skills?”
Soft skills are “people skills” that almost every employer wants, but they usually don't make them super clear in the job description. We typically define soft skills as things like teamwork, communication skills, and having a positive attitude.
For executives, desirable soft skills include things like business etiquette, public speaking, presentation skills, adaptability, self-control, optimism, sociability, accountability, honesty, self-motivation, collaboration skills, patience, enthusiasm, confidence, and general professionalism.
Soft skills are the emotional intelligence side of things: social skills and people skills. It’s your ability to work to accepted norms, to be sociable, and to have people like you.
The Definition of Soft Skills
The definition of “Soft Skills” as given by the Collins English Dictionary is:
“Desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
While this definition focuses purely on people skills and emotional intelligence, some definitions extend to cover all personal career attributes, including time management, leadership skills, personal habits, and language skills.
In essence, the full list of soft skills includes all the habits and social graces that make you easy to work with and an effective employee.
Soft skills complement “hard skills” (the technical competencies and knowledge required for a particular job function). While hard skills are easy to determine via your education and work history, soft skills are a little more difficult to ascertain from a resume.
Knowing your own skillset will be vital to making the case on your resume and throughout the interview process.
Why Are Soft Skills So Important When It Comes To Landing A Job?
Soft skills are super important for landing a job because they account for 50% of your interview. Meaning that half of your interview is focused on whether you have the technical skills to do the work, but the other half is really about seeing if you’ll be a good cultural fit for the team they already have in place.
Remember that most recruiters will take a chance on someone with great soft skills vs. a highly qualified candidate who is weak in this area.
Your potential employer wants to know if you’ll get along with everyone. Your interviewer will be paying attention to if you’re naturally happy and positive, and whether you’ll bring something positive to the table with your personality.
They’re asking themselves two things:
- “Do I really want to spend 40+ hours a week with this person?”
- “Will this person be able to build relationships with internal stakeholders and clients?”
Your soft skills also impact your ability to show up in an interview and build a relationship with somebody. At the end of the day, people want to hire people they like, know, and trust.
These skills are the key to conveying a positive impression to your employer.
If you’re looking at management positions, the employer wants to know you have management skills and all the other soft skills required to navigate the myriad of personalities in your team.
If you’re client-facing, or you’re if you're in sales, you need to have the soft skills to build a relationship with your clients, to take prospects and build the relationship required to turn them into a customer.
The Importance Of Soft Skills
If you’re an account manager, you need soft skills so that you know how to build trusting relationships with different clients, all with different needs and personalities. This is to make sure that at the end of the day you’re successful and the company is successful.
If you’re a support person, you need to be able to manage a relationship with both the client and internal representatives. You need to balance these relationships.
If you’re a developer, you need to work with other developers and your manager.
And no matter what you’re doing, you need to work with clients and other staff internally. Building strong relationships is how you’re going to get work done fast.
Soft skills are the key to getting better work done in the business, and they are also key to your own personal growth.
You’re more likely to get a promotion if you have built relationships with folks who are in a position to promote you. Your soft skills will also help you to extend your network and get that next job.
Your soft skills are the key to opening the door to get an interview, as they’re valued highly by employers, and are also what shows the interviewer you’ll be a great fit for a role.
Conversely, a lack of soft skills is likely to ensure you don’t get the job at all. Lacking these skills is also a key reason that many people are let go.
It’s also been said that soft skills are a major differentiator for employability and success in life in the 21st Century. So, what are you waiting for? Get them on your resume.
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills [20+ Examples]
As I mentioned above, hard skills and soft skills are complementary skills sets but it's important to know the difference.
Hard skills are technical skills and competencies with relevant tools. They’re objective, teachable skills required for the job.
Hard skills include machinery skills, software skills, languages, techniques, tools, specific processes. Anything that you could learn by getting a degree, watching a tutorial, or via some sort of training.
You’ll usually find a clear list of the relevant hard skills in the job description for the position you’re looking for. Here are a few examples of hard skills:
Examples of Hard Skills
- Human Resources
- Data Analysis
- Search Engine Optimization
- Agile Framework
- Excel Modeling
- Google Analytics
- Product Management
- Social Media Marketing
- Product Design
- CAD Modeling
Examples of Soft Skills
Now that we’ve covered the basics of hard skills, we want to take a look at specific examples of complementary soft skills that can add value to your resume.
Forbes recommends thinking about all the transferable skills that would be useful in any job, such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication. These are the primary skills you want to highlight in your resume.
In fact, transferable skills were a huge part of my ability to land interviews and job offers at Google, Microsoft, Uber & Twitter. As a biology major, I started my career in the medical field but I was interested in landing a job in digital marketing. Over the course of two years, I worked my way into the technology space.
Knowing which soft skills to highlight for interviewers was critical to my success when I was transitioning into the tech space.
Research from Eastern Kentucky University also found that the top soft skills for business executives include integrity, courtesy, social skills, communication, flexibility, teamwork, responsibility, work ethic, positive attitude, and professionalism.
Here are 120+ examples of the best soft skills for your resume that employers value:
Examples of Integrity Skills
- Being Ethical
- Having High Moral Standards
- Doing What’s Right
- Displaying Personal Values
- Having Principles
Examples of Courtesy Skills
- Business Etiquette
- Good Manners
- Polite Greetings
- Phone Etiquette
Examples of Social Skills
- Showing Warmth
- Open Body Language
Examples of Communication Skills
- Public Speaking
- Clarity of Speech and Writing
- Non-Verbal Communication
- Presentation Skills
- Listening Skills
- Giving and Receiving Feedback
- Choosing a Communication Medium
- Knowing When To Communicate
Examples of Flexibility Skills
- Willingness to Change
- Lifelong Learning
- Focusing on Solutions
Examples of Teamwork Skills
- Conflict Resolution
Examples of Responsibility Skills
- Common Sense
Examples of Work Ethic Skills
Examples of Positive Attitude Skills
Examples of Professionalism Skills
- Conflict Management
That was a lot of skills! While they're all great, they're not all created equal. Our research shows that employers are looking for specific skills in today's market, which means you'll want to emphasize those too.
Here are the top soft skills employers are looking for today:
Best Examples of Soft Skills
- Leadership Skills
- Effective Communication
- Business Etiquette
- Time Management
- Emotional Intelligence
- Innovation and Creativity
- Lifelong Learning
- Motivation and Initiative
- Positivity and Enthusiasm
- Rapport Building
- Good Work Ethic
- Problem Solving
Now that you have your top soft skills examples ready, you’ll need to actually develop these skills (if you haven’t already).
How Do I Develop & Improve My Soft Skills?
A minute ago I mentioned that hard skills were teachable. Does that mean soft skills aren't teachable? Can you learn soft skills?
Yes! You absolutely can.
While hard skills are known for being teachable and quantifiable, soft skills are usually seen as something you either have or you don’t. That’s simply not the case.
Many soft skills are also teachable, and you can definitely develop them with time.
Developing your soft skills for resume inclusion is a really smart move if you’re about to start looking for work. Soft skills training is something you can learn about in books and articles, but it really is more of an art than a science. You’re going to need to put it into action and work on your craft.
You can read personal development books, take a course on facilitation, watch YouTube videos on public speaking, listen to podcasts on building relationships, go to seminars on conflict management, check out Instagram posts on motivation, read articles on time management. Whatever it is you want to improve has probably been covered in every format imaginable.
What it will take, though, is enough self-awareness to know what you need to work on, and a willingness to go out there and learn about it.
It’s just not enough to say you have all the right soft skills. You have to be able to demonstrate these soft skills in your interview by building rapport with the interviewer.
So you’re going to need to practice.
You can’t just read a book on how to build great relationships and expect to instantly have great relationships. You actually have to put the advice into practice.
It’s kind of like riding a bike. I could watch YouTube videos on riding a bike all day, then read a book on bike riding, but until I actually go get on a bike and start pedalling I’m never going to actually learn how to do it.
It’s the same for learning soft skills (imagine that!).
That said, finding some great books and courses to start you off can’t hurt. Check these courses out.
10 Udemy Soft Skill Courses
- Business Etiquette 101: Social Skills for Success: Master Social Skills in Business, Increased Confidence and Self-Esteem, Conversation Skills, Networking, Digital Brand
- Soft Skills: The 11 Essential Career Soft Skills: The Complete Lunchtime Soft Skills Course
- Dressing to Win in the Workplace: How to ‘Dress for Success' to ensure confidence during your workday and excel in your career
- Managing Conflict with Skill and Confidence: Understanding Conflict and Resolving Disagreements with Confidence at Work and in Life
- Building Your Team: How to Put Together the Perfect Team: Learn How to Build, Support, & Lead More Effective Teams & Create a Culture of Teamwork Within Your Organization
- Listening Skills – The Ultimate Workplace Soft Skills: Better Listening Skills to Advance Your Career
- Double Your Social Skills and Instantly Connect With People: Develop Powerful Social Skills: Social Success Secrets. Inner & Social Confidence. Communication Skills. Networking.
- Productivity Machine: Time Management & Productivity Hacks: Productivity & Time Management Strategies for Goal Setting, Eliminating Distractions, & Building Habits for Success.
- Complete Presentation Skills Masterclass for Every Occasion: Presentation Skills – Public Speaking – Communication Skills – Storytelling Skills for Every Situation and Skill Level
- The Complete Communication Skills Master Class for Life: Communication Skills for Persuasion, Assertiveness and all Business Communication Needs
7 Books To Help Develop Soft Skills
- How To Win Friends & Influence People
- Never Split The Difference – Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
- Communication Skills Training: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Social Intelligence, Presentation, Persuasion and Public Speaking
- HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations – Inspire Action, Engage Your Audience, & Sell Your Ideas
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
- Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds
- The Etiquette Advantage in Business – Personal Skills for Professional Success
These books will give you actionable strategies you can use to hone your soft skills on a daily basis.
3 Video Resources To Help You Improve Your Soft Skills
When it comes to soft skills, seeing is believing.
Sure, you can read about how to improve your confidence when you speak but it's a heck of a lot easier to understand when you can see and hear someone as they give an example!
Here are a few resources I love for building up your soft skills:
1. Charisma On Command
Charisma on Command is a YouTube channel created by Charlie Houpert aimed at helping people take their relationships, their confidence, and their charisma to the next level.
I love this channel because Charlie will hand pick people (usually celebrities) and break down exactly how they handle specific situations to exude confidence.
Here's a great example where he talks about building charisma if you're an introvert:
2. 100 Days Of Rejection With Jia Jiang
Jia was an introvert who wasn't getting what he wanted out of life because of his crippling fear of rejection.
Instead of giving in, he decided to take it head on. He developed a 100 days plan where he'd purposefully place himself in situations where he was likely to be rejected. Situations like:
- Asking to borrow $100 from a stranger
- Ask to make an announcement on a SouthWest flight
- Ask the Starbucks cashier for a 10% discount
I can feel you cringing through the screen imagining yourself in those situations. Jia's entire goal was the desensitize himself to the pain of rejection and overcome his fear.
His 100 day journey led to some amazing findings and pretty incredible stories:
3. Science of People with Vanessa Van Edwards
Vanessa Van Edwards is the self-described “lead investigator” at her company Science of People where she conducts original research on charisma, influence, and power body language.
What I love most about Vanessa's approach to connection is that she takes complex, research-backed concepts and makes them incredibly easy to understand and implement.
The video below is a great introduction to the basics, but her YouTube Channel is packed with dozens and dozens of videos on topics like What Not To Do In A Job Interview, The Best Elevator Pitch, and How To Increase Your Influence:
Coming Up With A Plan Of Action
But anyone can take courses and read books. You're only going to improve if you get out there and take action. If you want to be successful, you need to have a plan?
Are you going to go up to a random stranger in a coffee shop and ask them about the book their reading?
Are you going to go to a networking event and make it your goal to have three conversations that last at least five minutes?
Improving your soft skills is like improving anything else. It takes purposeful practice and you need to find the time.
How Do You List Your Soft Skills On Your Resume?
You’re probably looking at the enormous list above and wondering how to put all that on your resume.
When it comes to listing resume skills, there are a number of ways to approach this. The simplest way of all is to just list all your skills together in one section.
But wait, it doesn’t have to be.
While the Skills section is best at the bottom of a resume or in a sidebar, you only need to highlight a few.
So, if you were just highlighting soft skills, you might make a list like this:
- Presentation Skills
- Time Management
It’s really effective to make bar graphs to ensure your skills stand out on a resume, and that goes for soft skills too.
Take a look at how I use graphs on my resume to make skills stand out, and you’ll get a good idea of how to highlight your own top skills:
Not so boring now, huh?
Next, you need to make sure you’re mentioning the right skills. This will attempt to get your resume seen by the recruiters.
75% of job applications come from online portals. The portals themselves usually sift resumes on behalf of the recruiters so that only the most relevant resumes are presented.
Sounds pretty bad right? What if I told you that wasn't even the worst part?
At the end of the selection process, only 4% of resumes make it into the hands of a recruiter.
Now, there’s a trick I use to make sure I know what skills the employer is looking for.
Take the job description and cut-and-paste the text into WordClouds.com, and it will give you a word cloud of the job description and a ranked list of words. Try it with several job descriptions for the same job title.
Once you've gathered your intel, it's time to put it into action.
The WordClouds hack means you can clearly see which words are important to the employer, and which words are more likely to be targeted by the applicant tracking systems. This is your key to ensuring your resume gets looked at in the first place.
I also highly recommend mentioning both hard and soft skills in descriptive sentences along with resume action words as a really easy way to stand out from the competition.
This technique gets all your best examples into sentences that have a real impact.
Whatever route you choose, your resume skills will be clear to potential employers without being a boring list. So what will you do?
Perfecting Your Resume: Expanding Beyond Soft Skills
Now you know your soft skills vs hard skills and how you’re going to incorporate them into your resume. Please note that your soft and hard skills perfectly complement each other to create that ideal resume.
We live in an incredibly competitive job market and highlighting relevant skills makes it easier for the employer to choose you.
Don’t forget that in order to stand out from the crowd you’re still going to need to use every bit of your creativity and copywriting skills to make sure your resume gets noticed.
If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below – I read them all and am happy to help!