The hard sell on soft skills: What employers are looking for

Tips on “soft skills,” like dependability and professionalism, which are essential for the workplace.

In a recent interview with a local business owner, I asked what qualities she looked for in hiring staff. She mentioned much of the technical skills needed to perform the jobs she hires for can be taught in training or learned on the job, but what most candidates lacked are the “soft skills.” She referred to these soft skills as customer service and professionalism. She also mentioned being dependable was an asset. Showing up on time, being willing to work and wanting to work are traits new hires often lack. She would like to see employees strive to impress their employer. She is not alone.

Dependability and professionalism are just some of the skills listed by many employers as essential. Numerous job websites like Quintessential Careers and About Careers have listed these “soft skills” that employers are looking for and that you should highlight on your resume. Listed below are some of those key skills that crossover to almost every job. Strengthening these skills can benefit your current job search as well as your potential to be promoted.

  • Successful communication. Listening, verbalizing and written communication are key. You will need to be able to express your ideas and respond to what others are relaying to you. It is essential for you to gain listening skills and use the right verbiage in your communications. This includes internal memos, presentations, reports and resumes.
  • Analytical and research skills. Gathering information from multiple perspectives and sources, scrutinizing it and using that information to help improve or streamline a process are demonstrating valuable skills. Researching and fact finding are expected of many jobs and analyzing data to assist in a conclusion is beneficial.
  • Problem solving. Critical thinking and problem solving are frequently utilized. You cannot be taught how to handle every incident that will arise and you will need to think on your feet to solve problems, often by yourself. This skill is valuable in overcoming those unforeseen obstacles.
  • Flexibility and adapting. Often a problem or obstacle arises and you’ll have to think of a new solution. Be flexible enough to change direction; come at it in a different way and adapt to the new course. How you handle the obstacle is what matters. Overcoming adversity and managing change well is what an employer looks for.
  • Interpersonal and multicultural sensitivity. In today’s workforce, being able to get along with diverse individuals and overcoming work environment conflicts is essential. Often you will have to work in teams and with others that have different points of view. Skillfully working through those conflicts takes tact and self-awareness.
  • Self-motivated and self-confidence. Employers want an employee that is willing to learn and has the confidence to do so. In a professional manor, gain more from your job, always look to improve and make every effort to learn. Keep getting better.

Technical skills might get you in the door, but you would be wise to strengthen your skills and set yourself apart from other qualified candidates. Soft skills are not often taught in classrooms or from a textbook, but are essential for success in the workforce. To gain these skills, 4-H offers many programs in youth development and leadership along with many programs that foster these skills. Sharpening those soft skills will make you more marketable. It may be hard work, but will pay off in a successful work endeavor.

Visit the Michigan State University Extension website for more information on 4-H and MSU Extension Career Exploration Resources. 

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