Excited for a new year and a new job, Martin spent the first few weeks of the role studying the training manuals and shadowing his more experienced colleague with whom he shared an office. Soon, Martin felt confident he was ready to go solo with his own clients, especially with a knowledgeable teammate within speaking distance. A few weeks later, the pandemic hit and the team was forced to start working virtually and reevaluate their approach with customers. Without a set schedule or clear process to follow, Martin struggled to adapt to the altered working conditions. He called his colleague frequently each day to seek help, but everyone was busy figuring out how to meet their increased customer demands. Overwhelmed and unsure what to do next, the unfinished work started to pile up, and customers began to complain about Martin’s lack of responsiveness.
Soft skills have been defined as “non-technical skills that relate to how you work” and include problem solving, critical thinking, influencing, being creative and resourceful, interpersonal skills and managing your time.
Long considered a “nice-to-have” in a job applicant, soft skills are the new “must-have” for employers. In a world that is in constant motion, the ability to adapt to change is critical to any new hire, regardless of industry or specialty.
And, employers have spoken. According to a Gallup poll, while 96% of university leaders believe they’re preparing students for the workplace, only 11% of business leaders strongly agree. In fact, 91% of employers “agree that to achieve success at their companies, a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex programs is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”
If you’re in a job search or plan to be, here’s what you need to know:
Emotional intelligence is a top “in-demand” skill. The term was coined by researchers in 1990 as a type of social intelligence involving the ability to monitor your own emotions and understand the emotions of others and react appropriately. LinkedIn Learning points out, “emotional intelligence underscores the importance of effectively responding to and interacting with our colleagues.” Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ or emotional quotient) is critical for forming relationships, which are vital to career success. Usually, EQ is learned through self-reflection, practicing deep listening, asking for feedback and taking time empathize with others. Sadly, these actions have become less common in the age of texting and social media “click” accumulation.
Machines are taking over technical skills. Computers are increasingly able to do more and research shows that 47% of jobs in the US are at risk. And, while two-thirds of Americans believe technology will eventually take over about 50% of current roles, over 80% of those same people believe their roles won’t be impacted by this. Clearly the math doesn’t add up and we all need to face the reality that our careers will look drastically different in the not too distant future.
Your next job likely doesn’t exist yet. According to LinkedIn, the top 10 jobs in 2014 didn’t exist just five years prior. The old model of getting an education that would last a career lifetime has ended and reinventing your skills, proactively closing gaps and returning to the classroom periodically are all necessities to remain marketable. While some companies have realized the value of upskilling or reskilling employees, most leave the heavy lifting up to the individual, so it’s worth investing in.
The pandemic is only the beginning. Change is constant, but this is the first time many of us have experienced the speed at which it’s moved over the last several months. Being forced to adapt for survival in 2020, organizations have learned that rapid and effective change is possible, and will likely continue to progress forward at this pace. They’ll be looking for employees who can keep up in the form of implementing creative solutions, staying motivated and productive in the face of ambiguity, and being resourceful in applying strengths and building new abilities.
We need to be fluent in new languages. Technology is the new illiteracy in the professional world, and more increasingly, in day-to-day living. If you don’t understand contactless pay options and how to use various video communication platforms, you’re already behind. It can feel overwhelming to remain current as technology morphs and advances, but ignoring it isn’t an option. Even simple steps like using a new social media App, trying a different video conferencing platform or taking a tutorial on YouTube can start to increase your comfortability. In addition to technology, we all need to learn the language of globalization and an ability to communicate effectively and diplomatically across cultures as the world continuously becomes smaller and more connected through increased mobility and the popularity of social networks.
Soft skills are no longer an enhancement to your candidacy because they are now core to your candidacy, and the path to the future of work. And, like “hard” skills, they take practice and active engagement to build.
Here are three ways to sharpen your soft skills:
- Go to rooms where you’re the least qualified. Swimmers know the best way to improve is to train with the Masters who model excellence in the sport and inspire others to push themselves to the next level. Building new skills requires practice, feedback and example, so surround yourself with experts. It will feel uncomfortable, but growth rarely happens without a little adversity, so step outside of your comfort zone.
- Embrace the lessons of the pandemic. Whether we wanted to or not, we’ve all built up our resilience, adaptability and resourcefulness skills over the last several months. Many have likely increased their technology fluency as well if moving to a virtual work situation. Reflect on how you’ve grown and look for ways to implement these enhanced skills. Also, proactively seek out ways to learn new systems, platforms and programs. While you don’t need to become a programmer, your comfortability with tech can increase the more you engage with it.
- Take on stretch assignments. It’s likely a lot has changed at your workplace, so look for opportunities to raise your hand and take on a new client or project that will enable you to learn something new. If you’re not employed, organize an initiative in your neighborhood to foster new relationships and help others or look for places where you can volunteer. Start with identifying a gap you’d like to close and then seek out (or create!) a mini-internship for yourself.
Soft skills are those which are difficult for machines to replicate and will be what give you an edge over the robots so you remain viable in your career as we propel into the future of work.