Businesses increasingly focus on soft skills when it comes to selecting the right candidate for a job, but are you still developing yours?
People usually tend to pick these skills up through experience and particularly by working with other people. But during pandemic-enforced home-working, businesses and employees have been neglecting the development of soft skills. If you’re serious about progressing your career, this means you need to take charge of your soft skills development.
Most businesses have relied on people to develop their own soft skills because many of them cross over with personality traits. Things like reliability, adaptability and good communication come high up the list of things hiring managers ask for when they are looking for new staff. The good news is, none of these aren’t fixed personality traits, they are all things you can work on. We’ve got some ideas about how to do so.
The importance of soft skills has been increasing for a while
The era of digital transformation, increasing speed of business and the growth of automation were already changing the way we work. Now, mass home-working has caused a revolution - it looks like remote working is here to stay. Which means the workforce needs new skills to adapt to the new way of working.
Long before Covid-19 came about, IBM was already predicting a global skills crisis and said that the need for skills in the workplace is changing. In its 2016 research, executives placed the highest value on technical skills, but IBM noticed a change in 2019. “A shift is occurring; executives’ views regarding the priority of critical skills have taken a turn from digital and technical to behavioural. In 2018, soft skills dominated the top four core competencies global executives seek.” IBM reported that behavioural skills such as time management, adaptability and team-working skills were amongst the top skills needed by businesses
You can learn and improve all soft skills
People find teaching hard/technical skills is straightforward compared to teaching intangible soft skills, so a lot of them don’t bother. Managers tend to focus on soft skills when they’re recruiting and completing annual reviews, then forget them during everyday opportunities to train staff. Taking responsibility for your own soft skills means seizing these opportunities to develop your abilities constantly.
When you’re working in an office, you learn soft skills by observing and working closely with other people and getting feedback. A lot of soft skills development happens by accident - and not all of it at work. Whether you’re reliable and dependable for example, are usually a matter of habit. You can work on developing good habits that build these attributes whether you’re at work or home.
Now that you’ve become a distance worker (at least for some of the time), you need to take charge of your soft skills development. Your starting point is self-awareness - the key soft skill you need to develop your other soft skills. Find out the soft skills you need for the direction you want your career to go in, work out where you are now, then make plans to fill in the gaps. That’s easier read than done, so ask people for help and honest feedback with this.
How do you go about acquiring these intangible skills that sound like personality traits? The same way you learn anything properly:
Adopt a technique.
Practise and experiment over and over.
Make it a habit.
Keep sharpening that habit.
Soft skills for tech people
The best way to learn soft skills is generally through observation but when you don’t have people to observe, you need to research. We’ve put together a list of soft skills tech people should have and how to go about improving them to help you with this.
Willingness to be flexible and adaptable to change
One thing you can guarantee will happen after the world goes back to normal, is more change. That’s why adaptability is the number one soft skill people are looking for, and often placed above the need for business acumen.
Capacity for innovation and creativity
No matter what your function is, innovation is your job. It doesn’t mean you have to come up with new products, but you do have to be able to question existing ideas and ways of doing things so you can improve them.
A growth mindset
If you have a ‘fixed mindset’ it means you believe you’re either naturally good or bad at something and that intelligence is a fixed trait. The ‘growth mindset’ believes a person can be good at anything if they develop their talent by working on it. Learning from failure is key to this mindset, so it’s essential for technologists.
The ability to see the world from other points of view and understand the feelings of others are vital in teamwork. Yes, you can develop empathy as long as you’re willing to work on it.
Businesses rank this as one of the most important competencies for future leaders. It’s about your ability to analyse facts and logically connect ideas to form judgements. You need to be able to assess evidence, balance arguments and question findings.
Resilience is about knowing how to bounce back from setbacks and deal with stress. It’s not just about developing a thick skin by experiencing failures, you can work on your resilience.
As business becomes more diverse and international every day, the ability to communicate with and develop meaningful relationships with people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds will give you the edge as a candidate for promotion.
You need to be able to recognise and manage emotions during work, both your own and those of other people. Emotional intelligence is about using emotions to communicate well with people, overcome challenges and cope with stress.
Taking Initiative and being proactive
If you read the job ads, everybody wants ‘self-starters’ that can work on their initiative. Teams don’t work well if everybody needs micromanaging, so the more you take initiative, the more valuable you become as an employee.
Time management and the ability to prioritise
You need to know the difference between being busy and being effective. This group of soft skills includes the ability to prioritise well, manage your attention and meet deadlines. It’s something you’ll need to work on throughout your career. Being fully aware of how you spend your time is the first step to good time management.
This is one of the key skills of working autonomously because you’ll encounter so many decisions every day. Your employer needs you to be make the right decisions, rather than holding up momentum by waiting for others to help with every decision.
It’s easy to dedicate the time you’re not talking in a conversation to thinking of what to say next, especially when you’re trying to look good in front of colleagues or clients. Active listening makes sure you get the intended message.
This is a broad combination of soft, interpersonal skills that makes you reliable, easy to collaborate with, good at communicating and valuable within your working communities. One of the most important aspects of teamwork is to gain the respect and trust of your colleagues.
Ethics and integrity
You don’t have to be a fat-cat to face ethical dilemmas at work. Companies can get into trouble when any single person does something unethical. Things like anti-competition, personal bias or misaligned incentives can trip anyone up, so it’s best to develop this skill that sounds like a fixed trait.