Resumes & Cover Letters

Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

September 12, 2019

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Soft skills are personality traits and behaviours. Unlike technical or “hard” skills, soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess, but rather the behaviours you display in different situations.

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What are soft skills?

Soft skills include any skill that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. For example, interpersonal and communication skills are more specific categories of that many employers look for in job candidates.

There are many soft skills that you could list on your resume or cover letter. Some of the most sought-after ones include:

  • Effective communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Conflict resolution
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Creativity
  • Work ethic
  • Integrity

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Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills play an important role in resume writing, interviewing, and effectively communicating with people at work and in other areas of your life. For example, as you look for jobs, you may find that many employers list specific soft skills on their job ads in the “required” or “desired” sections. A job posting for a Human Resources Associate may list “attention to detail” as a desired trait, while an ad for a Marketing Specialist could list “leadership” and “great communication skills”.

Soft skills are often transferable across careers and industries. As a result, you may find that you possess many of the required traits even if you don’t match the exact profile in a job description. As you search for jobs, pay attention to posts calling for candidates with soft skills or traits you possess. Even if the job title isn’t a great fit, you may find that the description makes sense for you. As you progress through the job search process, keep your resume updated to reflect soft skills most relevant to the types of roles you’re applying for.

During your job search, it is also helpful to consider how you might showcase your soft skills in an interview. While you can display some skills like good communication, you may consider weaving others into your answers to interview questions. For example, you might talk about your problem-solving skills when answering a question like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.” If the employer prompts you to provide references, think of those that can speak to examples that verify your soft skills and other strengths.

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Examples of soft skills

Because soft skills are often innate personality traits, you already possess several marketable ones that will help you get a job and be successful. Though many are formed with your personality, they can also be learned and developed with practise and experience. Here are a few examples of key soft skills and how they can enhance your performance during and after the job search process.

Communication

Effective communication skills will be helpful throughout the interview process and in your career overall. The ability to communicate involves knowing how you should speak to others in different situations or settings. For example, when working with a team on a project, you may need to communicate when you believe an idea or process is ineffective. Finding a way to tactfully and skillfully disagree with others on the job without creating conflict is something that employers value.

Problem-solving

Employers highly value people who can resolve issues quickly and effectively. That may involve calling on industry knowledge to fix an issue immediately as it occurs, or taking time to research and consult with colleagues to find a scalable, long-term solution.

Creativity

Creativity is a broad ability incorporating many different skill sets including other soft and technical skills. Employees with creativity can find new ways to perform tasks, improve processes or even develop new and exciting avenues for the business to explore. Creativity can be used in any role at any level.

Adaptability

How easily do you adapt to change? If you’re working in a technology-driven field or startup, adaptability is especially important. Changes in processes, tools or clients you work with can happen quickly. Employees who are capable of adapting to new situations and ways of working are valuable in many jobs and industries.

Work ethic

Work ethic is the ability to follow through on tasks and duties in a timely, quality manner. A strong work ethic will help ensure you develop a positive relationship with your employer and colleagues, even when you are still learning technical skills in a new job. Many employers would rather work with someone who has a strong work ethic and is eager to learn than a skilled worker who seems unmotivated.

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How to improve your soft skills

Many employers value strong soft skills over technical ones because they are often personality traits developed over a lifetime and can be difficult to teach. That being said, anyone can improve their soft skills with experience and practise. For example, you may find that an employer is seeking someone experienced in conflict resolution. While you may be a naturally effective communicator, it may help to work through how you resolve conflicts with others.

There are two key ways you can help improve your soft skills:

  1. Pick a soft skill you want to improve and practise it consistently.
    As most are a matter of routine, you can build upon any soft skill with repetition. For example, you can improve your dependability both on the job and at home by working on your punctuality (showing up to work or events on time or early, for example) and starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule.

  2. Observe and mimic the positive soft skills you see in others.
    Most likely, there are professionals you know or work with that have strengths in various soft skills. You may be able to develop integral soft skills by observing others and incorporating them into your own daily routine.

You may find, for example, that effective communicators often write down notes when others are talking during meetings. Quite often, this helps them to organise their thoughts so they are prepared to ask and answer important questions.

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How to highlight your soft skills

Showcasing your soft skills in your resume, cover letter and during an interview can be useful when looking and applying for jobs.

Soft skills for resumes

Your resume should include a section that lists your relevant hard and soft skills. When deciding which to include, consider what skills are called for in the job post as well as those you possess that can be verified by your references.

Here’s an example of what your resume skills section could look like:

Technical skills: Learning Technology • Mac OS • Windows OS

Additional skills: Strong communication skills • Highly empathic • Passionate and motivated

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Soft skills for cover letters

Your cover letter should include at least one well-developed and relevant soft skill that provides context as to why you’re a good fit for the job. You can do this by explaining how your soft skill aligns with the company’s goals, values and/or mission.

Your use of a soft skill in your cover letter may look similar to the following example:

“In my previous role, I displayed both passion and creativity that were highly regarded by my colleagues and managers. For example, I successfully proposed and put together a team to work on a marketing campaign targeting a younger demographic for our product. From start to finish, my team members and managers praised my ability to positively work with my team to help establish a new interest in our company.”

While hard skills are important for completing technical tasks, strong soft skills will make you the kind of worker employers want to hire, keep and promote. It’s important to highlight the soft skills you have at all stages of the job search process, and continue developing them once you find the job you’re looking for.

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