Easy to overlook yet crucial to career success; soft skills can make all the difference in landing that dream job. But what exactly are these non-technical, non-practical skills? And how do you go about adding them to your CV?
To help you get to grips with what soft skills are and why you need them, we’ve put together this in-depth guide. Covering everything from the skills you need to how to highlight them on your CV, this resource can help you optimise your skillset and put your best foot forward when it comes to your career.
- What Are Soft Skills?
- How to Gain Soft Skills
- How to Show Soft Skills on Your CV
- 20 of the Most Valuable Soft Skills
Soft skills are personal attributes. They relate to your character, personality and how you work. You might see other terms used in place of soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, essential skills and transferable skills, but they mean the same thing.
Soft skills include communication skills, people skills, listening skills and things like time management and professionalism. Lots of other traits fall under soft skills too, like empathy, approachability and self-confidence.
A lot of people forget to highlight their soft skills when applying for jobs, but they’re more valuable than you think. Demonstrating relevant soft skills could make all the difference in your application, particularly when you lack experience or are applying for junior/trainee positions.
Employers understand that soft skills make for well-rounded, successful candidates. While qualifications and practical experience remain at the top of hiring manager wish lists, soft skills can help you edge out the competition and leave a lasting impression at the interview stage.
‘Hard’ skills, like those gained through work or qualifications, are learned, whereas soft skills aren’t. This is both an advantage and disadvantage, for reasons we’ll outline below.
The downside to soft skills being relatively unattainable is that, while you may have the right qualifications and experience for a role, your soft skills may not marry up with the employer’s hiring criteria. For example, a business may be in search of someone with excellent communication skills, so if that’s not your strong point, you may struggle against other candidates with the same hard skills.
On the flip side, this can work to your advantage. If, for instance, you impress with your application and at interview, an employer may take a punt on you based on your transferable skills – taking the view that the practical elements of the role can be picked up on the job.
Gaining soft skills, then, can be difficult, but there are a few techniques you can use to add some to your repertoire. These include:
- Volunteering – volunteering tells potential employers a lot about your character. It shows you’re hardworking, committed, and willing to go the extra mile, while also helping to build essential skills in communication, leadership and teamworking.
- Presentations and public speaking – sixth forms, colleges and universities don’t include public speaking modules simply to torture students; they’re there to help boost your confidence and communication skills, giving you something to include on your CV. Even if you can think of nothing worse, it’s important to embrace such opportunities so you have evidence to back up your soft skills later on.
- Dissect and refine your experience – if you only have experience working in a particular sector (say, retail), you may find it tricky to align your practical experience with the requirements listed for an unrelated position. That’s where transferable soft skills come in. Pick apart your experience and take out the parts employers want to hear. For example, a retail position means you have strong communication skills, teamworking, and, potentially, leadership, so make sure you utilise any and all such experience to your advantage.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the techniques you can use to cultivate soft skills, but it should give you an idea of the tactics which can help lift your CV and highlight your skillset.
A lot of people find it difficult to highlight soft skills on their CV; it’s often much easier to get them across in an interview, when your personality can shine through. However, with the right approach, you can demonstrate your competencies to strengthen your application and get your foot in the door.
Begin by listing the experience you do have, aligning your skills with those in the job specification. Whatever experience you have, it’s almost always possible to leverage your experience to meet the desired skillset, so think carefully about how you can affiliate your skills with the position.
If you’re short on practical work experience, it’s worth creating a ‘skills’ section, wherein you list your transferable skills with a short explanation to evidence each point. Here’s an example:
Strong teamworking and collaboration skills
Developed excellent teamworking and collaboration skills during my time in higher education, participating in group projects and taking the lead on individual tasks to help see the work through to completion.
Such an approach takes the focus away from the fact that you have limited experience, instead redefining it in a positive way that highlights transferable skills to prospective employers.
And your CV isn’t the only place where you can bring your transferable skills to the fore. If you’re accepted for an interview, there are lots of opportunities to show you’re the right person for the position, whether that’s through listening carefully to the interview (listening skills), providing confident and assured answers (self-confidence, public speaking), or taking the lead on group interview activities (leadership, collaboration and team working).
So, of all the transferable soft skills out there, which do employers look for the most? Understanding what hiring managers are looking for can help you prepare long before you start applying for roles, so you can work on any weaker areas which may hinder your job search down the road.
Of course, depending on the sector, businesses require different traits and characteristics from their personnel, but this list does provide a general overview of the types of qualities hiring managers are looking for from their prospective new starters.
Has this guide helped you think differently about your transferable skills? Perhaps you’re ready to add some additional experience to your CV? At Oxbridge, our flexible distance learning courses can help you take the next step on your career journey, whatever your aspirations for the future. For more information or to browse our complete programme of courses, visit the homepage or call us today on 0121 630 3000.