Research conducted over 100 years ago by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research concluded that 85% of job success comes from having a well-developed set of “soft skills.” It’s a wonder that HR executives today continue to struggle to find candidates qualified in the skills they need. 

Simply speaking, soft skills refer to interpersonal and self-management skills, while hard skills include the technical skills and knowledge one must have to be successful at a given job. 

In 2013, Google took a closer look at what made their best employees successful. They were shocked to find that of all the critical qualities of their top employees, STEM expertise came in last. “The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills—being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others, empathy, critical thinking and problem solving, and making connections between complex ideas.”

Soft skills prove to be an indicator of future promotions.

Today more than ever, with the trends toward automation and artificial intelligence and what that means for the workforce in general, soft skills are becoming more valuable. Approximately 90% of hiring managers interviewed for one study said soft skills were “essential” or “very important” when hiring a candidate. And while possessing these skills may not mean a higher starting salary, possessing the soft skill set was a better indicator of job placement, continued employment, and future promotions. 

Unfortunately, soft skills cannot be gained from book learning alone. Listening to various podcasts on leadership or absorbing great books on the topic can give you a solid foundation of knowledge. But that’s the main issue. Soft skills aren’t as much knowledge as they are application.

Practice is the key to improving your soft skills tool box.

  1. VOLUNTEER – Most charitable and non-profit organizations are clamoring for more volunteers. This provides a great opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of people–and possibly even test your leadership skills. 
  2. JOIN A TEAM – Navigating relationships while at the same time working toward a goal is one of the best ways to practice your soft skills. Whether it’s a work team or a sports team, interaction with people is imperative to improvement. 
  3. ASK FOR FEEDBACK – Be open to personal critique from those with whom you work and play. Ask friends, family and co-workers to rank your performance in a series of areas. Ranking, rather than rating (say giving you a 1-5 in one area), will encourage a more honest evaluation of areas of focus. 
  4. INTERACT WITH KIDS – If you have ever played with a group of young children for an extended period of time, you will learn to identify necessary soft skills. As an adult, it is easy to recognize when kids are communicating well, negotiating appropriately, or relating to each other with empathy. In addition, many of the skills needed to effectively lead children can translate well into the workplace. 

In the upcoming series, we’ll explore 10 soft skills essential for career success.

There are many other soft skills to add to your toolbox as you plan your growth going forward. Revisit the lists often for a personal check up. 


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