Playing it Hard with Soft Skills

By 2020, “soft skills” will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills.

While working in the United Nations community for over 10 years, I observed something very interesting: High-ranking diplomats, regardless of their country’s stance, knew how to maneuver themselves successfully amongst each other and get the job done. This was no different when I worked for elected officials or politicians. Yet, as captivating as these worlds are – I don’t believe you have to be in them to understand what skills are needed for them or any other job.

Soft skills such as listening, communicating, having a strong work ethic and integrity; are critical and applying them correctly – will give an individual the arsenal they need to defend themselves in any setting.

Soft skills may be called etiquette, communication skills, people skills, emotional intelligence, human or personal skills; but no matter what it’s called everyone should know what they are and how to apply them successfully. Unfortunately, this is not the case, which is why I decided to start teaching them.

Recently, while interviewing candidates for a managerial position, I noticed some significant missteps. One candidate was very polite, but her outfit was a bit too tight and ill-fitting. The creases, gaps and holes distracted me from her experience on paper. Another individual presented a resume full of errors and possessed an email address which seemed to reflect an adult movie actor’s stage name and not the one given to them at birth.

On another occasion, the candidate– who I highly recommended– appeared in a sweat top, loosely fitted pants and spent a majority of the interview speaking ill of his former employer.

These individuals had little in common except for two qualities: They failed to exhibit knowledge on how to apply soft skills successfully, and… they didn’t get the job.

Indeed.com, an employment-related search engine states: “The key differences between hard skills and soft skills are how they are gained and put to use in the workplace. Hard skills are often gained through education or specific training whereas soft skills are seen as personality traits you may have spent your whole life developing.” 

Ok, fair enough – but I’ll add some spice to this.

The way I see it, soft skills are the crucial communication skills that stand out when they are not observed or practiced, whether in a professional or personal setting.

It’s what’s  implied, when words have been uttered; it’s that gray space between you and the person with whom you are interacting. It’s the way we look at a stranger on the train, speak to our children, respond to our partner, treat the dry cleaner, sanitation worker and token booth clerk. It’s the greeting we share with our co-workers and detractors alike, the pitch in our voice on the phone, the gesture we make when expressing an opinion, the kind of shake we give when extending our hand and the way we carry ourselves.

It’s how we use images, emojis and abbreviations on social media-– all of which give insight into who we are negatively or positively.

The World Economic Forum’s Executive Summary “The Future of Jobs” 2018 Report states: “On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills.”

Based in Switzerland, The World Economic Forum is an institution whose motto is “Committed to Improving the State of World.” They host an elitist gathering every January in the pristine, snow-capped, highly-elevated mountain resort of Davos where world leaders, CEOs and the like gather to well… “improve the world.”  I’m all for it, but more and more there is a need for us to “keep it real”, stay on the ground and be responsible in showing teenagers, college-bound students, adults experiencing re-entry into the workforce – anyone really – on how to improve their soft skills and succeed.

It is automatically assumed that because we live in a digital era everyone has access to the same information, yet this is not necessarily the case. My company, WorldCeres Inc. recently held a resume workshop and while posting flyers in my community, a young lady asked me “What is a resume?”  Another time, while teaching a class, a 14-year-old expressed disbelief when I explained that whatever someone posts on their Twitter account can come back to haunt (or help) them years later when job hunting. These reactions demonstrated a disparity in how information is shared and used within certain communities and it troubles me.

Harvard University claims that “85% of job success comes from having well developed soft skills and that a mere 15% can be attributed to technical and hard skills.” Yet, when I get on the train, I see advertisements on how to become an EKG or X-Ray technician, commercial truck driver, or obtain training in HVAC installation. One can become a nurse’s assistant, security guard or a licensed mechanic.

There is no question that these jobs are essential and demonstrate how one can acquire hard skills, but what about skills that will enable someone to keep the job? Shouldn’t there be information on how to acquire soft skills as well? Don’t you think it’s important? Take a moment to think back to a recent doctor’s or hospital visit. What do you remember most, the person who was extremely rude or very nice?

In my column, I will expand on the importance of soft skills, analyze and cite examples of how they have been used in public, and provide suggestions on how you can apply them now in any setting.

You’ll come to the table ready to play hard and get what you want in life… What’s soft about that?

Article Credit: BKREADER.COM