What are ‘soft skills’, behavioral skills increasingly sought after by employers | work and career

To do your job well, you need technical skills — so-called hard skills. It is the specific technical knowledge to fulfill its duties.

But the professional world is no longer the same. Therefore, soft skills — social and emotional skills — may now have the same importance as technical knowledge, or even greater.

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These skills are more subtle and discreet. Think about the behaviors and personal characteristics that make someone a good leader or team player.

Especially now, with the normalization of remote work and changes in ways of collaboration and innovation, companies are starting to realize the importance of these intangible capabilities to successfully build diverse teams.

The result, experts say, is that employers are increasingly taking candidates’ soft skills into account, in addition to their experience and technical expertise.

For some professionals, some of these skills are innate—personality traits that make someone a good communicator or analytical thinker by nature. But for others, developing and improving soft skills can be more challenging.

Still, all professionals can develop and improve these characteristics, learning to demonstrate them. And all of us, experts say, should be doing it.

What are ‘soft skills’?

There is no definitive list of soft skills, but essentially they are skills that go beyond technique.

Dexterity with specific software, for example, is a kind of hard skill; already knowing how to analyze different software packages to find out which company should use requires critical thinking, which is a soft skill.

Another important area of ​​soft skill is communication. Communicating effectively with colleagues, customers, and bosses requires dexterity and emotional intelligence. Empathy, teamwork and solidarity are also skills that are part of this group.

The expression soft skills is just a jargon, according to Eric Frazer, author of The Psychology of Top Talent and professor of psychology at Yale University School of Medicine in the United States. .

For him, “from a behavioral science point of view, it actually refers to a series of mindsets and behaviors. Some examples of mindsets that represent soft skills could be someone who is always learning, or someone who is highly resilient. And many behaviors are also soft skills — [como] critical thinking, active listening and creative problem solving, just to name a few.”

Basically, Frazer adds, the phrase is just another definition for “interpersonal skills.”

“It’s about people’s sense of self and how they relate to others.”

Several types of soft skills are highly practical, such as efficiency, prioritization, organization and time management — characteristics that are increasingly important for remote and hybrid workers.

“High performers have the discipline to structure their day and be highly effective in a defined period of time,” says Frazer.

And soft skills aren’t just useful at work. Overall, they are valuable resources. The same skills that allow professionals to work successfully within the company’s hierarchy and rise to the top also generate successful interpersonal relationships, for example.

As many of the highly technical parts of the job are increasingly automated or replaced by technological tools, companies are looking for professionals who are able to solve problems, juggle greater responsibilities and work well with others.

Current labor shortages in some countries have also made companies focus on the long term. Employees with enough emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to reach leadership positions offer much more value.

Additionally, soft skills have become even more important in the post-pandemic landscape, with work largely remote. Communication can be much more subtle and complex when professionals do not see colleagues in person.

And the ability to adapt is another type of soft skill that is much needed, as it has shown above all in the last two years. Therefore, employers are actively looking for candidates who have these skills.

‘Soft skills’ include communication, critical thinking, prioritization and more — Photo: GETTY IMAGES

An analysis of more than 80 million job postings across 22 industries conducted by education NGO America Succeeds in 2021 found that nearly two-thirds of jobs listed soft skills among the required qualifications.

And among job postings, of the 10 most in-demand skills, seven were soft skills, including communication, problem solving and planning.

The same report showed that certain job types prioritize soft skills even more. These skills were the most desired qualifications for 91% of management positions, 86% of business operations positions, and 81% of engineering jobs — which may be surprising given that this is a highly technical field.

“When you look at the job market today, clearly there has been a shift, and it’s no longer enough to just have what I would call ‘tacit knowledge’ and ‘tacit skills’… that is, you just be good at what you do. If you’re an engineer, you’re good at programming or design. If you work in finance, you’re good at analyzing numerical data,” explains Frazer.

Companies have changed to the point where, he says, “there’s a deeper understanding that people need to come first, before performance.”

Frazer adds that this is not to say that technical skills are no longer needed, but that companies are increasingly realizing that emphasizing the soft skills that hold them together is what “brings great results.”

The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook report by global job site Monster showed that soft skills such as collaboration, reliability and flexibility are some of the of the skills that employers value most in professionals.

Still, executives report that they have struggled for years to find candidates with a well-developed set of soft skills.

Part of that, Frazer says, is that it’s hard to quantify skills like imagination and flexibility.

“Surveys and questionnaires don’t really capture these attributes with great precision,” he says.

And candidates don’t necessarily highlight those skills on their resumes or LinkedIn pages — as perhaps they should, according to Frazer.

Articulating your ‘innovative mindset’

This greater emphasis on soft skills can discourage some professionals, especially those who are not natural good communicators or “born leaders,” as Frazer puts it.

But he points out that these are skills that can be learned, even by people who may need to work a little harder.

“People who want to improve their job performance, be better professionals, or have more work-life balance understand and appreciate the value of constantly improving these mindsets and behaviors,” says Frazer.

We tend to know our strengths, but improving our interpersonal skills starts with asking for feedback to identify our weaknesses and blind spots. Getting better may require an effort to step out of our comfort zone.

If you want to improve your creative thinking or problem-solving skills, for example, try brainstorming sessions with the creative people in your company.

Emotional intelligence can also be enhanced by developing social awareness and learning to control your own feelings and respond to others with empathy.

In addition to improving professional prospects, there are other benefits: Research indicates that people with high emotional intelligence are less likely to experience stress and anxiety.

As hiring managers increasingly seek out people with these intangible skills, they can target their questions during job interviews to try to discover candidates’ soft skills.

“When you ask someone to ‘give an example of a time when you were quite resilient in your work life’ or ‘tell a story that highlights your innovative mindset’, you’re asking the candidate to demonstrate these thoughts,” Frazer explains.

As for the interviewee, “let’s say the interviewer asks ‘what’s your view on lifelong learning?'” he adds. This is the time to show the interviewer that you’re willing and excited to learn — and have the skills to do so.

“The best answer would be to say, ‘Well, I went to this conference last year; I participate in this webinar once a month; I just read this book; and I subscribe to this industry publication,” guides Frazer.

To best prepare for situations like these, candidates must first identify their key soft skills and be ready to demonstrate them, he says.

Technical knowledge and experience on your resume will always be important.

But in the new job market, they’re not enough on their own — you still need to convince recruiters that you have the soft skills needed to achieve professional success.

This text was originally published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/vert-cap-62496935

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