Soft Skills: What Are They Good For and How Can I Get Them?

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Hard skills are the professional and technical requirements of a job. These are developed through school and work experience in particular fields. Some “hard” skills are fairly general, such as word processing and data management. While others are specific, like driving a truck or coding a website.

Soft skills, on the other hand, generally apply across every job to varying degrees. The main types of soft skills come in these categories: communication, interpersonal, leadership, time management and problem-solving. Some jobs rely heavily on soft skills – such as being a customer service representative, but every job requires them to succeed.

When applying for a job you can use your soft skills to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Emphasize your strengths and the work you’ve put into building your skills. If you have less direct work experience – maybe you’re a student who hasn’t had the chance to work in their desired industry – the soft skills you’ve developed can be transferable from seemingly unrelated experience.

Here Are Five Ways to Develop Your Soft Skills:

1. Think about your current strengths and weaknesses. 

Do you get nervous in front of large groups of people? Do you have a hard time with conflict? Are you really great at reading a room? These are all examples of soft skills in action.

There are different personality metrics and assessments that can help you to consider your inherent qualities. Granted, the best measure of who you are is yourself, so take a moment for some introspection and work from there.

Once you have considered your skills yourself, then you should seek outside advice which leads to..

2. Discuss your skills with friends, instructors and former employers

Seek feedback from people who know you well. Close friends and family may be able to identify soft skills in your personal life that you could apply to your work life. Instructors and former employers may be able to give you advice about which soft skills are relevant to your work, and what skills you are particularly adept with.

Once you’ve identified the skills you have and the skills you need to work on you can begin to look for ways to develop them.

3. Join extracurricular and academic groups on campus

If you are a student, a great way to build both hard and soft skills is to join on-campus groups or volunteer in your community. Most groups require you to develop teamwork, leadership and other interpersonal skills. This includes joining sports teams which require time management, teamwork, and discipline.

Extracurricular activities are great opportunities to network with other students. Developing networking skills is a soft skill that can be helpful for both getting a job and during your career.

Many employers will be impressed with a resume that includes sports teams and extracurricular activities as it indicates a candidate is well-rounded and capable of juggling multiple priorities at once.

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Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

4. Starter jobs and part-time jobs

It takes practice and time to develop your soft skills. These skills are based on your personality, your inherent qualities but also on what you learn from others around you. Experience is important. Jobs in customer service and hospitality, in particular, can help develop interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills. This is because they require you to deal with the general public. In many cases, there can be a high volume of tasks required. Retail can be stressful and hectic, and thus people’s coping mechanisms and emotional intelligence become very important skills in these industries.

A part-time job in the service sector may not seem impressive on a resume, but they can help develop the soft skills that will make you a great candidate for any job. Evaluate every job you’ve ever had, even small ones.

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

5. Be open to criticism

A soft skill in itself, being open to criticism and advice is really important to developing all skills – but especially less tangible ones. Asking for this criticism shows maturity and can be very helpful to build on skills that are underdeveloped. If someone tells you that you aren’t being as effective a communicator as you’d like, consider ways that you could improve your messaging. It may be painful to hear the things that you aren’t good at, but receiving feedback will be part of any job you will have in the future. If you can take a negative and turn it into a positive, that will lead to more opportunities to learn and to develop in the future.

If all of these tips seem overwhelming, you don’t need to stress about working on your soft skills. You have inherent talents and your personality will lend itself to certain jobs and tasks. If there is a specific type of job you want, think about what hard skills you will need as well as soft skills. A doctor needs to have medical knowledge, and technical skills, but they also need to have soft skills like emotional intelligence to excel in their fields. Take it one step at a time and start working on those skills!

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About the author

India McAlister is a recent graduate of Sheridan College’s Journalism - New Media postgraduate program and received her Honours Bachelor’s of Arts in History from the University of Toronto. She currently lives and Toronto where she works in television production and also freelances as a writer, editor and social media coordinator. She is passionate about the arts, gender equity, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.