Improving your Soft Skills

It is a given that business owners want their companies to operate as effectively as possible, meaning employees are happy and productivity remains at optimum levels. Whilst it is a blanket statement to say that soft skills are essential to achieving this, they shouldn’t be ignored. We spoke to Sally Mlikota, Director, CBC Staff Selection to demystify the subject and find out how some simple changes can make a big difference to your organisation, particularly during the hiring process.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are many and varied however, the main ones that are requested by our clients are:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work as a team
  • Active listening
  • Time management
  • Adaptability when responding to changing priorities
  • Open to feedback and taking responsibility
  • Compassion

The role and culture of the company will determine which are the most important to master. Some are teachable whilst others are innate. For example, young people who haven’t come from a positive soft skill environment may benefit from having a mentor to teach them how to shake hands confidently, ensure they build good habits such as making eye contact, smiling and standing up to greet someone. Most of us have the ability to learn however, you need to be teachable and that involves being open to learning.

Which professions need excellent soft skills or is it a blanket requirement for all companies?

Soft and hard skills are equally as important, but some roles lean on one more than the other.

For example, if you are an IT programmer and your role is purely dependent on your technical ability, you may not need as many soft skills as you are unlikely to interact with people on the same level as say a business development manager or a receptionist.

Soft skills aren’t always sector dependent. For example, if you’re a pilot, you need to be able to fly a plane rather than be nice to people however if you’re cabin crew, having great interpersonal skills is vital.

Anecdotally, people refer to ‘bedside manner’ in the medical profession and note that sometimes, doctors are quite abrupt. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as having facts delivered in a timely manner so you can fully understand the situation, is usually preferable to ‘fluffier’ speak which can give you the wrong impression about a situation, or leave you confused.

Any business, organisation or government department needs to be grounded with a great work culture. If there is respect and appreciation of soft skills which are combined with the need for hard technical skills, the organisation will go far. If the company just has technical skills, it won’t. Relying on simply being good at the ‘doing’ part of the job isn’t enough.

What do I need to know about soft skills when applying for a job?

Many hiring managers use a behaviour-based interview style. This means they will ask questions such as ‘’when was the last time you dealt with a difficult situation?’’ These sorts of questions are great for getting people to let their guard down and reveal more behind their personality. I have heard of times when candidates become a bit emotional when describing a challenging situation which can clash with the culture of the company they are interviewing for. It’s therefore essential to understand the values of the business and demonstrate your experience in a proactive, positive style so you sell yourself in a constructive way.

If you understand the values of the company and can see them demonstrated at interview, you’ll find it easy to determine if they conflict with yours. Establishing this quickly is important.

Understanding your own core values is a soft skill too. If you’re going for an interview for a job, stop and think if this is exactly what you want.

How do you know if someone actually has great soft skills vs saying they have them?

Ask different questions but don’t be afraid to trust your gut instinct. Sometimes a candidate might have great soft skills and simply be nervous or having a bad day. Keep in mind that you don’t always hire for skills, some roles require you to hire for attitude. You can always teach skills such as using a particular system or learning about a new piece of technology.

Have you noticed any trends in hiring managers requesting soft skills over the years?

A regular request from clients is to find someone with common sense, but this can mean different things to different people. Understanding and clarifying what this means to them is part of our role. We don’t assume that they have the same common-sense values. For example, telling someone you’re going to be late might be common sense to one person, but not to another.

Have you ever had to tell a hiring manager or company that they need to work on their own soft skills so they can get the right new team member?

Absolutely – all the time. But we do it in a tactful way of course. Sometimes they are so desperate to recruit that they don’t stop and listen choosing instead to offer the candidate the job on the spot.

Take your time, regardless of whether you’re the client or the candidate. We have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in that ratio. It’s definitely a skill for the hiring manager to be able to ask questions, then be quiet and listen attentively to the candidate’s response.

Whether you are recruiting a new team member or looking for work, being aware of what soft skills are required in order to succeed, is important on both sides of the fence. Focusing on refining and embedding them into your company culture or daily habits does take time but with some effort, we can all continue to improve and achieve a more efficient, enjoyable workplace.