Soft Skills: A Key to Getting Ahead in Your Job Search and Career

It’s becoming more common for employers to favor job candidates who have soft skills over those with only technical skills. While technical, job-related skills can usually be taught, soft skills are more difficult to learn.

In a recent soft skills workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor’s Meridian office, a panel of four employers was asked the following question: If you had two job candidates, one who had eight out of 10 technical skills and was equipped with noticeable soft skills, and the other had 10 out of 10 technical skills but exhibited poor soft skills, who would you hire?

The panel members, made up of human resource professionals, hiring managers and business owners, unanimously agreed: They would hire the candidate with stronger soft skills despite the fact the other candidate had more technical skills.

So what are soft skills and why are they so important when searching for and maintaining employment? According to the panelists, the most desirable soft skills for employees to exhibit include: ability to stay on task, solve problems and show up to work on time; a positive attitude, dependability, effort and an aptitude to work with others and handle stress.

“Soft skills are the key to landing and keeping your next job. It’s what truly shows a passion for what you can contribute to the company and can make all the difference in promotional opportunities,” said Raquel Longoria, workforce consultant and facilitator of the soft skills workshop. “Soft skills create a positive work and life environment and contribute to success.”

Soft skills in the classroom

Employers aren’t the only professionals recognizing the importance of soft skills. In an effort to equip students with these essential skills, educators are integrating soft skills into their curriculum. At Centennial High School in the Meridian School District, professional technical teacher, Tanya Gabrielson, and business teacher, Jeanne Paseman, teach soft skills in all of their classes.

Gabrielson has been teaching soft skills since 2002 after attending an annual state conference for professional technical teachers.

“The subject (soft skills) was discussed at the conference and teachers in a round table were discussing the importance, how to make it count toward a grade, and if it was proper to count it toward a final grade,” Gabrielson said.

From day one, soft skills are introduced on students’ syllabi. Gabrielson and Paseman introduce skills such as teamwork, reliability, independent work and organization. These skills are bullet pointed and displayed around their classrooms as reminders to students. A weighted category is added to the gradebook called Work Ethics, and students start each quarter with a certain number of work ethic points.

“Every time they do something that wouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace, we start taking off points,” Gabrielson said.

Students lose points for frowned-upon workplace behaviors such as surfing the Internet instead of working, not logging off their computers, turning in assignments late and wasting class time.

“I’ll explain to them that wasting class time is the same as stealing time from your employers,” Gabrielson said.

While Gabrielson and Paseman said soft skills are a part of the curriculum in most business classes, they are also beginning to see teachers integrate them into classes which are not business related.

For teachers integrating soft skills into their curriculum, Gabrielson has the following advice:

  • Discuss soft skills the first week of class; set out the rules and decide how it will be graded.
  • Reinforce soft skills training as you start tracking it.
  • Teaching soft skills doesn’t work if you add it to a final grade with no specific guidelines or rules. It needs to happen throughout the entire course.
  • In reinforcement you need to compare the soft skill in question to the workplace, i.e., you would be fired for it, you would receive a demotion for it, you would not qualify for bonus if you violated it, etc.
Tips from the employers: Resume

Exhibiting soft skills on a resume can be especially hard. One piece of advice stressed by the soft skills panelists is finding a way to draw out anything about your character. Anyone can write on their resume they are dependable, but explain how and cite examples.

Tips from the employers: Interview

The interview is a perfect time to show off your soft skills to a potential employer. Think about the following tips on what to do, what not to do and how to make the right impression:

  • Be on time
  • Dress appropriately for the job you are applying for
  • Be engaging
  • Give full attention to the interview; turn cell phones off
  • Read social cues
  • Make eye contact
  • Smile
  • Be friendly
  • Show you are happy to be there
  • Ask questions for clarification and to show you are listening and comprehending
  • Show confidence and self-assurance
  • Do research on the company and explain what you specifically have to offer
  • Do not be your worst enemy; don’t talk yourself down; be positive
  • Be honest about past work experiences but don’t speak negatively about employers

Employers are looking for an employee who can not only handle the technical skills necessary for completing a job, but someone who can exceed these skills. Being equipped with soft skills; being able to effectively communicate and think critically, are necessary in the workplace.

“If we don’t offer soft skills workshops to job seekers, we aren’t providing them with well-rounded services to get the job,” Longoria said. “Soft skill feedback from an employer is invaluable to a job seeker; it helps give them a boost in confidence.”

 – Tabitha Bower, tabitha.bower@labor.idaho.gov


 

Soft skills workshop panelists:

  • Mike Savoie, HR officer at the Division of Building Safety
  • Pete Peterson, SW Idaho regional supervisor for the Division of Building Safety
  • Michele Babbitt, HR manager at Best Bath Systems
  • Meghan Sainsbury, co-owner of Red Barn Plumbing