Why Do Soft Skills Matter?


*Photo courtesy of 7Roots Creative

The garage where I take my car to get fixed overcharges. I know this, and I go there anyway. Why? Because they really listen, they follow-up, they treat me like I’m a competent person, they’re flexible, and they’re likable. Plus, they have the technical skill to fix my car.

“Soft skills” is a term most employers use to describe the intangible personality traits employees need in order to be successful in their roles. Employers are looking for employees who can help deliver a memorable and positive experience, so soft skills become a pathway for advancement and employment options.

Hard Data on Soft Skills

The National Association of Colleges and Employers produces a job outlook each year, and in its 2017 survey, it found that soft skills—not technical knowledge—were high on employers’ lists. For example, it reported that 78 percent of hiring managers who responded to the survey want employees who can work well as part of a team and work with a variety of personality types.

Seventy-seven percent look for employees who can think critically. Other skills managers seek are writing proficiency, work ethic, verbal communication, and leadership.

Moreover, Forbes magazine highlighted employers’ struggles to find people with soft skills. Referring to a Payscale survey, Forbes reported that 60 percent of hiring managers said that new employees in their organization have trouble with critical thinking and problem solving. Half said employees didn’t have enough attention to detail. Communication skills, leadership ability, and team working were also identified as important (and relatively rare) characteristics of new employees.

What’s the lesson here? You may have technical skills, and they may “qualify” you for a job, but your soft skills open most of the doors after that. Soft skills are crucial for career advancement.

Assess Your Skills

There are a number of ways to determine your strongest soft skills. Your employer may provide some. But, in case you don’t have access to those tools, here are two ways you can gauge your soft skills.

Ask Others

Asking for feedback from trusted people is the best way to understand the difference between how you intend to show up at work and how you actually show up at work. For example, if you are intentionally speaking up at meetings in order to “make a good impression,” you might also be preventing others from offering their ideas and, as a result, alienating yourself from the team. If you have a trusted colleague, you could ask him or her how you’re coming across.

Of course, the act of being open to feedback is, in itself, a highly sought-after soft skill, so—good job! The trick is to accept the feedback as constructive and work on expanding your range of skills.

Interview Yourself

You can test your prior and current experiences to see if you have demonstrated a number of soft skills. This involves interviewing yourself, or, preferably, asking someone to interview you. 

Ask yourself a series of behavior-based interview questions, such as:

  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • Give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and how you handled it.
  • Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.

Then, answer them using the STAR method. STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Results. This technique can help you gain insights into how you may have used your non-technical skills in a variety of situations. It can also help you identify opportunities where you can develop or strengthen soft skills.

The folks at my garage have perfected their soft skills. As a result, I choose them over other garages (who also overcharge) that are less friendly. That garage is highly successful not only because of the quality of its work, but also because of its staff’s reputation of being customer-centric. You can be like them, too. Invest in your soft skills to accelerate your career success.


About Author

Paul Thallner is CEO and Founder of High Peaks Group, a U.S.-based consulting firm that helps leaders and organizations tackle the tough people challenges in order to accelerate business performance.

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