Soft Skills: The Key to a Successful Career

Written by: Melanie Bryant, Director of Education

Soft Skills: The Key to a Successful Career

Many students think the secret to a successful career is in mastering the technical skills specific to their industry, but the truth is that employers are more interested in whether or not a potential employee has the necessary soft skills to effectively navigate the daily demands of the workplace.

Technical skills, such as using job-specific software, coding, programming, project management, analyzing data, and using technology-specific tools—are imperative in completing job tasks, but employers know that these skills are more definitive and that a potential new hire can be trained on the technical aspects needed to do the job effectively.

Soft skills, however, are not as easily taught and instead are developed over the course of one’s lifetime and throughout their career. Soft skills include being able to think critically, problem-solve, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, and cope with the stresses of daily life in a productive and healthy way. Soft skills are at the heart of any successful company and in the interactions between employees and their coworkers, customers, clients, suppliers, and vendors.

Without soft skills, businesses wouldn’t succeed—and neither would their employees.

The sooner a student begins improving and refining their soft skills, the better prepared they will be for the demands of the workplace, thus, increasing their likelihood of landing—and keeping—a job while improving their odds of enjoying a long and successful career.

Here are Five Soft Skills for the 21st Century Workplace:


– Communication Skills:

Communicating effectively—both orally and in writing—is the number one soft skill that an employer looks for in a potential new hire. In the workplace, vital information is exchanged hundreds of times a day between employees, customers, vendors, and stakeholders.

Poor communications can result in failed transactions, loss of business, customers, accounts, and even legal issues.

Improving communication skills should be a top priority for everyone. By focusing on simple techniques to improve interactions with others, one can quickly and easily build good habits.

  • Understand the audience and tailor the message to meet the needs of the audience.
  • Choose the appropriate communication channel (email, face-to-face, phone, virtual meeting) for the audience and the message.
  • Be aware of tone—especially in written communication.
  • In face-to-face communications, pay particular attention to body language and nonverbal communications, both of which could send unintended or conflicting information.
  • Be clear; the message should be self-explanatory and not leave the audience puzzling for meaning.
  • Clarify the message by using diagrams, tables, photos, or other visuals to help the audience fully understand any potentially vague or ambiguous information.
  • Be thorough; provide all of the essential details.
  • Be precise; choose the right words for the message. One poorly chosen word can easily and quickly derail even the best or relationships.
  • Create goodwill; the goal of every communication—including bad news messages—is to build goodwill with the audience.
  • Listen. Most people lack good listening skills and without listening carefully to what others are communicating, good communication cannot take place.

– Interpersonal and Team Building Skills:

While each employee brings a unique set of skills and experiences to the workplace, a good manager knows how to leverage these individual talents to increase productivity and profitability. The 21st Century Workplace requires employees to regularly work collaboratively and in teams; having well-developed interpersonal skills are not only necessary but mandatory for navigating workplace relationships.

Investing in the necessary skills for better relationships with others will bring huge returns over the long term. These skills include:

  • A positive attitude that communicates an openness in working with others, appreciating diversity, and an ability to resolve conflict.
  • Self-motivation that shows a willingness to take on leadership roles and demonstrates a solid work ethic and stability.
  • Self-awareness of biases that communicates a commitment to ‘think about thinking’– which shows an ability to act logically, not emotionally.

Demonstrating integrity and professionalism in every interaction that builds trust.


– Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
:

There are two types of thinking that are equally important in the workplace—critical thinking and creative thinking.

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate, ask questions, check for validity and reliability in one’s own thinking, and the ability to use logic and reasoning while avoiding getting swept away by emotional and impulsive thinking. Critical thinking is cool and level-headed thinking; a logical and sequential approach to analyzing a problem, arriving at a solution, or establishing a set of steps to work toward a resolution.

Creative thinking is the big, out of the box thinking that generates new ideas and concepts and leads to innovation. Creative thinking is the ability to look at things from multiple perspectives, to ask “why not?”—to go fearlessly into unchartered territory. However, while creative thinking can be fun and exciting, not all of the ideas generated will be logical—or even feasible.

Problem-solving requires both critical and creative thinking. Critical thinking will help in identifying problems, the source of the problem, and a means of defining both available options and possible consequences. Creative thinking is the imaginative, free-thinking that will generate myriad solutions, but it will take critical thinking to select and vet the most viable of the creative solutions.

– Managing Stress:

The 21st Century Workplace is fast-paced and ever-changing.

Technology constantly evolves, impacting every aspect of our work lives, including how and where we work. With so many constant changes, new things to learn, and even more information to consume, just getting through the day can be overwhelming. The never-ending fast pace and continual changes can create even more stress in our already stressful lives.

Managing stress is not only important for health and well-being but plays a role in whether or not we succeed in the workplace.  Not being able to manage work stress creates a host of problems. It can lead to losing one’s temper, creating conflict with coworkers, making mistakes on projects and in communications, and even worse, eroding one’s reputation and relationships. No one wants to work with someone who routinely loses their cool and can’t effectively complete their work with accuracy.

Ways to manage stress in the workplace include:

  • Good time management
  • Setting priorities
  • Effective communication
  • Getting up from your desk and getting in quick walks
  • Socializing with coworkers

And, ways to manage stress outside of the workplace include:

  • Exercise
  • Self-care
  • Adequate sleep
  • Building and maintaining healthy relationships


– Workplace Etiquette:

Over the last few decades, the workplace environment has become less formal. Companies work hard to create an organizational culture that is relaxed and inclusive, but still productive. More often than not, employees are working collaboratively or on teams, increasing the social feel and sense of camaraderie. But, make no mistake—the workplace is the workplace and understanding workplace etiquette and behaving in a professional way is more important than ever.

A few points to keep in mind:

  • Be on time for work, meetings, and appointments.
  • Remain alert; take notes; watch your body language.
  • Be formal and polite with senior colleagues.
  • Build and maintain friendly relationships with colleagues in the workplace, but be careful and selective of socializing outside of the workplace.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Practice good personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Don’t waste time.
  • Don’t use company resources for personal needs.

Soft skills are the key to a successful career. Learning how to communicate effectively, building interpersonal skills, learning how to think both critically and creatively in solving problems, managing stress, and practicing good etiquette in the workplace are key areas to focus on while learning the more technical aspects of a career. Practicing and refining soft skills can be done daily and put to use immediately.


Would you like some assistance?

The Laurus College Career Services Department is available to help students set up their LinkedIn profiles and take advantage of the features discussed in this article.
Call or e-mail us today to set up an appointment: 805-267-1690 or careerservices@lauruscollege.edu


Practice refining your Soft Skills TODAY!