What Are Soft Skills, and Why Are They Important at Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Highlighting your professional skills and abilities is important to the job application process. Hiring managers look for candidates with the most compatible skills for the role and previous experience in applying these attributes to real-life situations. Understanding what soft skills are can help you develop key skills that prepare you for your next application process and optimise your professional resume. In this article, we answer the question 'What are soft skills?', discuss their value to employers, discover the difference between hard and soft skills and explore some examples.

What are soft skills?

When preparing your professional resume, it's important to know the answer to the question 'What are soft skills?'. Soft skills, also known as common skills or core skills, are general employability and personality characteristics that support candidates when conducting their primary duties. While other skills enable a candidate to action their job description, soft skills allow candidates to form strong relationships with their colleagues and interact on a personal level with key stakeholders.

Hiring managers rely on these skills to identify whether a candidate suits the company's culture and aligns with its key values. These skills demonstrate whether a candidate is friendly, organised and highly communicative. Candidates typically develop these skills with experience and require little specific training or guidance to accumulate them naturally. Hiring managers may often list some soft skills as mandatory if the job requires strong proficiency in certain interpersonal or communication skills. Here are some examples of soft skills that may appear on a job advertisement:

  • teamwork

  • organisation

  • adaptability

  • creativity

  • critical-thinking

  • decision-making

  • sound-judgment

  • team motivator

  • high energy

  • resilience

  • conflict mitigation

Related: Personal Skills (Definition and Examples)

Why do employers and candidates value soft skills?

While each candidate may possess the hard skills required for the advertised role, their personality and soft skills can differ. This is important when seeking the appropriate candidate, as selection depends on more than just the minimum skills required. Hiring managers select candidates based on their compatibility with the company's identity and whether they can embody its core values. For example, suppose a candidate has computer programming skills but isn't confident working in a team environment. In that case, they may be an unsuitable candidate for a company that promotes a culture of teamwork.

Soft skills are typically transferable across multiple industries and candidates can constantly add them to their skill base. This is important when seeking career progression and can assist in the transition to other business sectors. A candidate's soft skills may also help them complete their primary responsibilities. For example, a lawyer requires good verbal communication soft skills to speak clearly and effectively in court when representing clients.

Related: Top Organisational Skills for Your Resume and Workplace

Hard skills versus soft skills

Hard skills and soft skills typically target different abilities. Soft skills mainly focus on a candidate's personality and general skills, whereas hard skills target the opposite. Hard skills are often industry-specific and enable a candidate to fulfil their primary responsibilities. They also allow the candidate to undertake specialist tasks specific to their role and are likely to be a pre-requisite of the job. Therefore, candidates may like to prioritise these skills in their application to help them qualify for the role.

To help you understand the difference between hard and soft skills, here are some examples of hard skills:

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) marketing

  • software development

  • computer programming

  • coding

  • user experience/user interface (UX/UI)

  • mathematical analysis

  • web development

  • graphic design software

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Examples of soft skills

Many soft skills that hiring managers list on a job advertisement may be specific to a role, such as creativity for creative positions like graphic or interior designers, but there are some more general ones too. When applying for a position, it's important to study the job advertisement thoroughly to understand the exact skills to include in your resume.

Hiring managers can match you to the role if you include the skills mentioned in the job advertisement and this may increase your chances of securing an interview. Understanding how professionals use common skills is also important, so you can attempt to develop these skills before your next application. To help with this process, here's a list of some of the most commonly referenced soft skills that employers mention for roles:

Communication

Communication is an important soft skill that hiring managers often search for in their candidates. A candidate's practical written and verbal communication skills enable them to interact successfully with colleagues and clients and write effective copy, such as reports. Written and oral communication skills may be mandatory for some roles, such as content writers or linguists, but employers often list these as desirable skills for many positions.

Communication is vital to everyday business operations and requires a candidate to demonstrate this by having productive conversations with colleagues, communicating clearly with key stakeholders and adequately deploying active listening in response to enquiries or concerns. Clear communication is necessary if candidates work in a team environment and is integral to overall productivity.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills refer to a candidate's ability to come across as friendly and approachable with their colleagues and customers. Essentially, interpersonal skills refer to a candidate's ability to interact well with other people. These skills are especially important in customer-facing roles, such as retail or childcare.

A candidate with strong interpersonal skills puts customers and key stakeholders at ease, meaning they're likely to return to the business. Hiring managers look for strong interpersonal skills that indicate the candidate can be an effective and friendly member of a dynamic team. This is an important factor that boosts morale, establishes healthy working relationships and reduces workplace conflict.

Time-management

Time management is an important skill for professionals who complete time-sensitive tasks. Time management is the ability to keep to strict deadlines while efficiently allocating the appropriate time for each task. This allows candidates to manage their time appropriately, resulting in less stress and the ability to complete projects on time. Good time management skills are useful in most industries and essential in some.

For example, a teacher requires excellent time management skills to follow a learning schedule and complete all the necessary teaching objectives within the time allotted for the lesson. Hiring managers typically desire candidates with good time management skills, as they often demonstrate good organisation and self-discipline.

Empathy

Empathy is important for building strong connections with colleagues and customers as it allows the employee to sympathise and understand other people's perspectives. This skill is valuable in industries that involve counselling or guidance where professionals deploy empathy to help a counterpart feel at ease and respected at work. Empathy also demonstrates that a candidate can interact well with others and prioritise the needs of their colleagues and stakeholders, meaning they're likely to provide a better service.

Empathy is also a high priority in industries where professionals handle the care of their clients, such as the health industry. Doctors and nurses use empathy to make ethical decisions based on someone's quality and standard of life. This helps inform the correct course of treatment, such as pain management. Empathy can also lead to better communication and a more productive and effective working environment.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving is a valuable skill for candidates to use when confronting complex problems while working on projects. This skill refers to the ability to solve problems in a clear and structured way that results in the most favourable outcome for both the employee and their employer. Problem-solving is an excellent skill to include on your professional resume as it demonstrates to the employer that you can determine different ways to approach a complex situation.

With proficient problem-solving skills, you're likely to be a tactical thinker who can generate innovative schemes that a business can use to provide for its customers. In addition, problem-solving is a helpful skill for those seeking a managerial position due to increased responsibilities, team management and multiple workloads.

Team-oriented

Being a good team player is an important soft skill that demonstrates how well you interact with your colleagues. Good team players are productive and engage with their colleagues to complete tasks or solve complex problems. Candidates who possess strong team-oriented skills are usually friendly individuals with good interpersonal skills, which are important factors in many roles.

For example, team-oriented professionals are often successful in project management roles that rely on communication and collaboration between individuals working on several concurrent tasks. A team-oriented candidate can also foster a positive working environment by establishing trust in relationships and not participating in cliques or workplace gossip.

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