You’ve got a reputation for being the best coder/editor/mechanic/whatever, but if you’ve been in the workforce for anytime, you know it’s not always the best performer who gets moved up. Your hard job skills amount to little if you don’t work well with others or if you fold under pressure.
Skills like these aren’t necessarily taught in a classroom or measured on paper These traits are called soft skills and they’re more crucial to your job search and overall career than you might think.
What are soft skills?
Unlike hard skills, which can be proven and measured, soft skills are intangible and difficult to quantify. Some examples of soft skills include analytical thinking, verbal and written communication, and leadership.
Research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that employers actually care more about soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension and mathematics.
One reason soft skills are so revered is that they help facilitate human connections. “Soft skills are key to building relationships, gaining visibility, and creating more opportunities for advancement,” says Kathy Robinson, founder of Boston career-coaching firm TurningPoint.
Basically, you can be the best at what you do, but if your soft skills aren’t cutting it, you’re limiting your chances of career success. So what exactly are soft skills and how do you acquire them.
Why you need it: Both written and verbal communication skills are of utmost importance in the workplace because they set the tone for how people perceive you. They also improve your chances of building relationships with co-workers. Communication skills boost your performance because they help you to extract clear expectations from your manager so that you can deliver excellent work.
Imagine if you’re standing in front of staff or executives fumbling through papers, disorganized and not clearly communicated your idea. Yeah, doesn’t sound good. You need to be prepared to clearly articulate your points and ideas.
Why employers look for it: Workers are more productive when they know how to communicate with their peers, says Robinson. If you can clearly express the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a project, you’ll be a hot ticket.
How to gain it: One way to hone your communication and presentation skills is to join Toastmasters, a national organization that offers public speaking workshops.
Why you need it: A company’s success is rarely dependent on one person doing something all by him/herself. Success is the result of many people working toward a common goal. When employees can synthesize their varied talents, everyone wins. (Bonus: Having friends at work can also boost your job satisfaction, a Gallup poll found.)
Why employers look for it: Employers look to team players to help build a friendly office culture, which helps retain employees and, in turn attracts top talent. Furthermore, being able to collaborate well with your co-workers strengthens the quality of your work.
How to gain it: To generate goodwill, lend a hand when you see a co-worker in need. (“Hey, I know you have a ton on your plate. How can I help?”) Another way to build rapport is to cover for a colleague while she’s on vacation, says business etiquette and career coach Karen Litzinger.
Why you need it: Things don’t always go as planned, and instead of digging in your heels, you need to be able to pivot and find alternate solutions. “Successful leaders are the ones who know how to be flexible when problems arise,” says Robinson.
Why employers look for it: “The speed of change in any given workplace is so rapid,” says Joel Garfinkle, executive coach and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. Consequently, employers need workers who can adapt to industry shifts and keep the company current.
How to gain it: Push yourself to be an early adopter of change. “For example, adapting to technology without mourning the loss of what is already familiar, shows you a person capable of meeting new challenges,” says Garfinkle. Inquire about training sessions and offer to teach your co-workers what you learn.
4. Problem solving
Why you need it: When something goes wrong, you can either complain or take action. Tip: It’s the latter that will get you noticed. Knowing how to think on your feet can make you indispensable to an employer.
Why employers look for it: Nothing is a given. Companies rely on problem solvers—a.k.a. their top performers—to navigate unexpected challenges.
How to gain it: “Always approach your boss with a solution, not a problem,” says Robinson. So when an issue crops up, sit down and think through how you’re going to address it before bringing it to your boss’ attention.
5. Critical observation
Why you need it: Data doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to interpret it. Is there a pattern emerging? What else should you be looking for? Being a critical observer can help make you a better worker all around.
Why employers look for it: Companies need critical thinkers—people who bring a fresh perspective and offer intuitive solutions and ideas to help the company get a leg up on the competition or improve internal processes.
How to gain it: To be a critical observer, you need to be able to analyze information and put it to use. One tactic is to try to identify patterns of behavior at work. For example, does your boss actually read the weekly sales reports? What was her reaction to bad news in the staff meeting? What’s the best time of day to approach your manager with a question? By observing how people respond to the constant flow of information you can better understand the critical aspects of improving business operations.
6. Conflict resolution
Why you need it: “Any time you put more than one person into an organization, there is going to be conflict,” says Robinson. “It’s human nature.” Therefore, being able to resolve issues with co-workers will help you maintain relationships with peers and work more effectively.
Why employers want it: Being able to constructively work through disagreements with people is a sure indicator of maturity—as well as leadership potential. Someone like this helps to promote a healthy, collaborative workplace.
How to gain it: The best way to resolve disagreements between co-workers is to address issues directly but delicately. So, when stepping in as a mediator, let both parties air their grievances in a judgment-free environment and then work together to find a solution.
Why you need it: Having confidence and a clear vision can help influence your co-workers and get them on board with your ideas now and in the future. Displaying such leadership skills helps you gain visibility within an organization, which can lead to more opportunities for promotions or salary bumps.
Why employers want it: Bosses and managers are always looking for employees with leadership potential because those workers will one day be taking over the reins and building on the company’s legacy.
How to gain it: Being a leader isn’t merely about getting people to do what you want. Leadership means inspiring and helping others reach their full potential. One way to do that is to become the internship supervisor, which gives you the opportunity to manage people, learn how to motivate a team, and take on more responsibility.
Steven Johnson, JR. is the new director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Programs at the University of Kansas School of Business. In this position, Johnson will be responsible for managing and enhancing the school’s existing DEI programs, which include the Multicultural Business Scholars Program (MBSP) and the Summer Venture in Business program. In addition, he will recruit and mentor underrepresented students at the School of Business, with the goal of strengthening recruitment, retention, academic performance and placement. Johnson moves to this positions from a job as a complex director with KU Student Housing.
School of Business names director of diversity, equity and inclusion programs
LAWRENCE — Steven Johnson Jr., a complex director with KU Student Housing, will fill the new position of director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Student Programs at the University of Kansas School of Business beginning June 3.
Johnson will be responsible for managing and enhancing the school’s existing DEI programs, which include the Multicultural Business Scholars Program (MBSP) and the Summer Venture in Business program. In addition, he will recruit and mentor underrepresented students at the School of Business, with the goal of strengthening recruitment, retention, academic performance and placement.
“I am so pleased that Steven will be joining us in the KU School of Business as our director of DEI student programs. He brings his love of KU and incredible energy and positivity to this very important role,” Dean Paige Fields said. “Steven, who is a first-generation college student, will be instrumental in reaching and connecting with underrepresented students.”
In his previous role at KU, Johnson assisted with recruitment and student success initiatives, including facilitating workshops and developmental sessions on issues surrounding and affecting marginalized populations. He said he hopes to explore innovative methods to connect with prospective students from diverse backgrounds.
“I am thrilled about joining such a dynamic team of faculty and staff who are committed to the betterment of students, the school and the university,” Johnson said. “When visiting with individuals in the School of Business, it was evident that there was a common-felt culture of support, care and connectedness. I am eager to engage in and contribute to that culture.”
Johnson’s start coincides with the school’s second annual Summer Venture in Business program, which will take place from June 3 to June 5. The program is a pre-college experience aimed at familiarizing underrepresented high school students, including potential first-generation college students, with academic resources at KU and introducing them to business topics.
The school’s MBSP was founded in 1992 by Professor Emerita Renate Mai-Dalton, who served as the program director through spring 2006. It has served as a model for similar programs within other KU academic units.
Before coming to KU, Johnson was an assistant community director for Resident Education and Housing Services at Michigan State University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in student affairs administration from Michigan State University.
The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. The university’s mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the central public relations office for the Lawrence campus.