Soft skills refer to personal skills that help people to interact with others and maintain inner strength. In the workplace, they are valuable for ensuring both team harmony and high expectations for oneself.
For example, we can consider soft skills to be skills that help with communication (teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution) as well as skills that help with personal work ethic (self-motivation, initiative, time management).
Soft skills are contrasted to hard skills, which are the technical and administrative abilities that people have to complete a job. These are the skills learned in school, such as programming abilities, data analysis, and speed typing.
For a contrast between soft and hard skills, see here.
Soft Skills Examples
1. Communication Skills
Interpersonal communication is a vital part of every organization or business. Communication skills is not only about talking but also involves listening actively to your peers.
This requires understanding how to convey ideas to coworkers or team members which helps in avoiding confusion and misunderstandings at the workplace.
When people communicate effectively it leads to better collaboration, coordination, and ultimately results in better outputs and less mistakes.
“I always re-read my email drafts and edit them for clarity before sending. Furthermore, I am always open to additional questions for clarification to ensure I got my point across effectively.”
Working effectively in a team environment is another essential soft skill that employers look for when hiring new employees.
Being able to connect with colleagues from different backgrounds and work together towards a common goal can lead to success for everyone involved.
In an office setting teamwork means sharing responsibility, helping others when they need it, focusing on goals collectively, being open to feedback, etc.
Empathy describes the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings as if they were your own.
It’s an important attribute for business leaders as well as employees because it enables them to connect with others on an emotional level. This can lead to effective conflict resolution, building trust among people around us, and broadening your own perspectives.
“Once, I noticed that my colleague had been feeling down lately and not performing as well as usual. Instead of judging or criticizing her, I took a moment to approach and genuinely ask how her day is going. By doing so, I learned that she was feeling unwell, so I offered to cover her desk so she could lie down for 20 minutes. I believe when she came back she was much more productive, so it turned out to be a good decision all around.”
Problem-Solving refers to the ability to identify problems and find solutions is a critical attribute in any work environment.
Someone with good problem-solving skills is equipped to assess issues objectively and systematically, considering all options before arriving at a solution.
Additionally, being able to approach problems from various angles and using creative thinking can lead to more innovative solutions.
For example, le’s say a team manager has noticed a decline in performance among her team members. Instead of reprimanding them or assuming they’re slacking off, she takes an open-minded approach and decides to hold a meeting where she listens actively to each member’s concerns and finds ways to solve them.
“I consider myself to be good at problem-solving, especially when working with team, where we come together to brainstorm solutions. I believe problem-solving is about divergent thinking, which occurs between when you pool the thoughts of the whole team.”
Adaptability refers to how flexible people can be when their circumstances change (or, indeed, if the company’s circumstances change).
Most employers seek a flexible worker, especially if it’s going to be a fast-paced work environment. We often need to be flexible when clients change their minds, we identify an error in our processes, or even when we have to fill-in for colleagues who are unexpectedly absent.
If trying to demonstrate your adaptability to a potential boss, you could talk about a time you reacted quickly to a change in circumstances.
“Once I was about to give a slide presentation when the power shut off. So, I quickly switched from slide presentations to a presentation where I used a whiteboard instead.”
True leadership involves more than simply holding a title or position. It’s about having the ability to inspire and guide others towards a common goal.
A good leader communicates clearly, motivates their team, and leads by example. By developing strong relationships with their coworkers, a leader can achieve better outcomes through collaboration and teamwork.
One effective way to demonstrate your leadership skills on your resume is by highlighting any instances in which you played a prominent role in leading a project or team to success. Detail your approach to delegation, communication, and decision-making.
“Leadership is not just about giving orders but also about understanding and responding to the needs of your team, which I believe is essential for accomplishing a common goal while positively impacting the work environment.”
7. Time Management
Good time management is crucial for achieving work-related goals while also maintaining work-life balance.
Strong time management skills can help you become more productive with fewer distractions and less stress. It involves planning out achievable daily tasks that each help to advance the bigger projects on your lap.
To highlight excellent time management skills on your resume, provide specific examples where you exceeded expectations under tight deadlines or achieved great results when working under pressure. Share methods that helped you increase personal productivity while assigned multiple tasks at hand.
“I generally manage my time by employing the Pomodoro technique, where I break down work into 25-minute intervals followed by five minutes of a less tiring task (like sorting my email inbox), allowing me to stay focused and on-task without feeling overwhelmed.”
8. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and express emotions, allowing you to employ productive communication and conflict-resolution skills.
On your resume, demonstrating emotional intelligence means revealing how your ability to be attuned to others’ emotions can make you identify potential interpersonal problems before they arise.
For example, you might be able to demonstrate how you actively attempt to understand, acknowledge, and validate people’s concerns rather than getting instantly defensive. Another thing that emotionally intelligent people do is they are willing to be vulnerable, such as asking for help when they’re struggling rather than sitting there, confused, being unproductive.
“When working as a customer service operator, I’d often deal with ‘storming’ customers who were annoyed about products not meeting their needs. I would always start by validating their frustration by making a comment like I understand your frustration, and I’d really like to help you.”
9. Negotiation Skills
Having strong negotiation skills means being able to listen actively, empathize, and communicate persuasively while understanding the other person’s perspective.
To showcase such skills on your resume, share specific instances where you achieved favorable outcomes for all parties concerned and persuasively communicated on behalf of the company.
You might need to employ persuasion and rhetoric skills like appealing to emotion, appealing to logic, or finding common ground to get things done.
Example of Negotiation Skills
“When negotiating on behalf of my company, I try to approach it as a collaborative effort. I first look for ways the company and clients can mutually benefit in order to ensure clients are happy and we maintain our strong corporate reputation.”
10. Conflict Resolution
Effective conflict resolution involves being able to listen actively, understand perspectives, identify common ground and come up with creative solutions to address disagreements respectfully.
For example, it involves the ability to approach difficult conversations with the intention of minimizing conflicts.
To showcase strong conflict resolution skills on your resume, share specific examples of how you handled complex situations that demanded a more empathetic approach than blunt authoritative control.
You could highlight, for example, how you approached tough discussions in a professional manner by actively listening to the needs of the person you were interacting with.
“Working in customer service, I find the best way to resolve conflicts with customers is to listen actively and empathetically to their concerns, validate their feelings, and work collaboratively to find a solution that addresses their needs and maintains a positive relationship with our company.”
Creativity refers to being able to develop innovative ideas and unique solutions to known problems. It might involve implementing unconventional thinking patterns or ‘thinking outside the box’.
Creative people are valuable to employers because they often seek new ways of approaching problems that the workplace faces, which can result in improved efficiency and increased productivity.
On your resume, illustrate creativity by detailing past experiences where imaginative thinking led to breakthroughs that supported business objectives, such as generating new revenue streams or optimizing existing workflows.
“One of my soft skill strengths is creativity. This comes to the fore when I work in team brainstorming sessions, where I can come up with new out of the box ideas that can contribute to team goals.”
12. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze and evaluate information objectively and make judgments based on the evidence.
Critical thinking is all about scrutinizing propositions thoroughly until all available evidence has been evaluated. We want to do this before coming to a conclusion.
To highlight critical thinking skills on your resume, use examples from previous experience where you were able to use logic, evidence, and reasoning models (e.g. a SWOT analysis) to identify issues and resolve them before they came problems.
“I’m a strong critical thinker, which comes in useful when analyzing processes and procedures in the workplace, where I’ll often ask insightful questions about how they could be improved. This, I feel, helps to prevent issues before they arise and improve the products my teams produce.”
13. Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal intelligence includes the set of abilities that enable individuals to effectively interact with others.
These skills are highly desirable in the workplace because just about every workplace these days requires people to work and interact with others.
If you’ve got strong interpersonal skills, you are good at fostering an environment of trust, camaraderie, and high expectations.
Strong interpersonal skills can be demonstrated by explaining how you are effective at communication, active listening, empathy, adaptability, and collaboration.
Interpersonal Skills Example
“One of my strengths is that I am able to build and maintain positive business relationships with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds because I tend to know how to read people and communicate with them at their level.”
People who are highly self-motivated are able to do tasks out of their own free will and initiative rather than relying on rewards, incentives, punishments, or deadlines.
We might also call this intrinsic motivation.
Most people do experience intrinsic motivation when they are doing tasks they genuinely enjoy. And this is why choosing a career path that excites you (meaning the day to day activities excite you!) can give you such a big advantage in life.
To demonstrate strong self-motivation capabilities on your resume, provide examples of where you took initiative irrespective of any job-role boundaries. Share details as to how you proactively identified areas of improvement in everyday tasks or proposed innovative ideas that made a positive impact on the organization you worked for.
“I am a go-getter, always taking the initiative to find ways to improve my workplace or put my hand up to take-on challenging tasks because I thrive when I’m faced with challenges.”
15. Work Ethic
Work ethic is a set of values that guides an individual’s attitude and behavior towards work. It includes qualities such as reliability, professionalism, accountability, and diligence.
Essentially, all of these qualities that sum up “work ethic” are ones that are indicative of an employee who takes their responsibilities seriously.
To showcase a strong work ethic on your resume share examples that demonstrate your commitment to high standards of excellence in your previous roles. Highlight major accomplishments accomplished through committed effort.
“I pride myself in my work ethic, by which I mean, I come to work to engage in hard work, which I do independently (without the need for excessive oversight), because working hard makes me feel good about myself and how I’ve contributed to my team.:
Additional Soft Skills Examples
16. Patience: Patience is the ability to remain calm and composed in a situation that might take time to resolve. It could be a valuable skill for a person taking on a leadership role, or a research role that requires long-term commitment to overcoming a problem.
17. Organization: Organizational skills include the ability to optimize oneself for efficiency and productivity. For example, if you’re highly organized, you’ll have a clear schedule, be prepared for what’s coming, and ensure you assign enough time that you don’t miss deadlines.
18. Cultural Awareness: Cultural awareness involves being able to recognize, understand and respect different customs, beliefs, languages, backgrounds and traditions in an increasingly diverse world. It’s necessary when working in a culturally diverse workplace or with diverse clientele.
19. Decision-making skills: Decision-making refers to making sound choices after evaluating all the available facts. You might want to promote yourself as an effective decision-maker if you’re entering a position of management.
20. Attention to detail: This is a skill that entails being meticulous about even small things while maintaining accuracy. It’s necessary in jobs such as working as an executive assistant, bookkeeper, and accountant.
21. Initiative: Initiative refers to taking charge of one’s work without prompting or supervision from higher authorities. Employers highly value workers who go about solving problems and completing tasks without having to ask for help, so long as you don’t go outside the guidelines set by the employer!
22. Lifelong learning: Lifelong learning means constantly acquiring new knowledge and enhancing existing capabilities, irrespective of age or position in the workforce. This is highly valued in the workplace, as reflected in many workplaces’ foci on ‘professional development’.
25. Flexibility: Flexibility refers to adaptability towards change and willingness to adapt to new technologies, procedures, or new information that should change your practice. It manifests itself in traits like versatility, open-mindedness, critical thinking, and a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
26. Positive Attitude: A positive attitude or enthusiasm are soft skills, but not ones I tend to recommend, because they’re vague and often used as filler-words when someone doesn’t actually have any direct experience they can point toward.
27. Mentoring: A person with strong mentoring skills would be highly valued in a leadership role. To demonstrate your mentoring skills, talk about how you support your team mates, have patience in working with them, and like to encourage and watch your peers grow.
Soft Skills vs Hard Skills
|Aspect||Soft Skills||Hard Skills|
|Definition||These are interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities. They relate to how people work and interact with each other.||These are technical or administrative abilities related to a specific task, job, or tool.|
|Type of Skills||Communication, Teamwork, Emotional Intelligence, Adaptability, Problem-solving, etc.||Programming, Machine Operation, Project Management, Data Analysis, Language Proficiency, etc.|
|How they are learned||Generally learned through experiences, personal development, and social interactions.||Typically learned through education, training programs, certifications, or on-the-job training.|
|Measurement||Harder to measure because they are subjective and intangible. Often evaluated through feedback and observation.||Easier to measure because they are concrete and demonstrable. Often tested through exams, certifications, or practical applications.|
|Role in a Job Application||Often emphasized in interviews, cover letters, and resumes to show cultural fit and personal approach to work.||Frequently listed in job postings as requirements and demonstrated through qualifications and experiences in resumes.|
In writing this article, I came to realize there are countless soft skills, and I had to stop my list somewhere! Everything from “service-oriented” to “strong evaluation skills” are soft skills! Highlight your soft skills by giving personal anecdotes that show rather than simply tell people that you’re good at something.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]