Strengthen Your Soft Skills

Soft skills are developed over time, and are closely associated with personalities and behaviours. These behavioural patterns have become incorporated into the cerebral cortex as the actions have been repeated, which means altering them – whether strengthening or changing them – is not an easy process.

Girls communicating

Photo credit: MP on Mission TAGS

Contrary to what some may think, soft skills can be improved. Not only that, but working on your soft skills will provide one of the best return on investments in terms of employability. The great thing about these skills is that they are transferable into any career. If you decide development is not for you, the time you have spent improving these skills has not been wasted. One further reason that soft skills are worth investing in, is that they do not become dated, whereas that hard skills can become obsolete as technology and methodology change.

While changing or learning these skills is a significant time investment and therefore beneficial in the long-term, by becoming familiar with them, you can get short term benefits in an interview situation.

What skills are most valued?

The skills that are most important for you to develop will depend on the type of role you are looking for and the type of organization you are hoping to work for. To identify which skills you should be targeting, regularly read relevant job advertisements, and identify the “soft skill” requirements or preferences. Make a list of these, and you will begin to see a pattern developing, with certain skills cropping up with greatest frequency. These are the skills that the employers see as most important, and so these are the ones you should focus on.

Identify your weak points

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. You should find out what yours are so that you can:

  • Play to them
  • Strengthen your weaker areas

It can be hard to know yourself well enough and be honest enough to identify your problem areas. While there are tests available, it is hard to test the areas in question, and as a result, most of these tend to be simplistic and at times misleading. One much more accurate method is to get people that know you well (e.g. co-workers, friends and family) to fill out an anonymous survey indicating which soft skills you have greatest trouble with. You provide a list of soft skills and they select the top 5 skills they think you need to work on.

You can now concentrate on improving your weak areas that coincide with the most important skills employers are looking for – which you have identified above.

How to develop or change your skills

Development of each skill is obviously very specific to the skill in question. For example, to improve your “ability to work independently”, you could train yourself by avoiding the urge to ask for external advice when given a new task. The possible methods are extremely varied and are beyond the scope of this article.

More generally, for all soft skills, work experience or on the job practice is one of the best ways of developing your soft skills. If you haven’t already, consider volunteering. Remember, that the key to permanently changing and improving your soft skills is to ensure you practice the new behaviour consistently.

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