Soft Skills: what are they and do they matter in job search…..?

You have probably heard at one of our Career Academy workshops that hard skills are easy to quantify, or to measure —like a certain degree or fluency in a foreign language, for example.  Soft skills are much harder to assess and far more subjective.  Many hard skills are acquired during your formal education and training, whereas soft skills are either innately developed or built through life experience.

According to Theresa Merrill, Muse Career Coach and LinkedIn Marketing Expert,“Soft skills are how you function in the workplace, such as teamwork, collaboration, time management, creative problem solving, and communication.”

Furthermore, Merrill explains the importance of soft skills, how you can improve your soft skills and offers tips for your job search below.


How Important Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are huge with employers, they are always focused on finding the candidate with the “right” soft skills as well as hard skills. Possessing these skills can make the difference in a successful job search.  Sometimes the most qualified person for the job doesn’t always land it, why?  It may be because they weren’t effective communicators—that’s a soft skill—and/or unable to forge a connection—another soft skill—with the hiring manager.

Let’s look at it another way: if you don’t have the technical capabilities required to do the job, you might be well-liked in the office, but actually executing the work will be a constant challenge for you. On the other hand, possessing the technical expertise—but not the soft skills—may have you unable to communicate or implement your great ideas.  Since these capabilities are harder to quantify, they should always be considered important.  According to Merrill,   there is a correlation in the importance of soft skills and how much of your job is focused on engaging and collaborating with other people, especially diverse groups of people, and the higher up you go in the organization, the more you’ll have to use your soft skills.

How Can You Improve Your Soft Skills?

If you need to improve your soft skills there are things you can do. For example, give your communication skills a bump by:

  • taking a class in public speaking
  • accept assignments that require you to get in front of others
  • ask for direct feedback and tips from the people you know who are great at communicating their own ideas

Additionally, you should become more self-aware.  “I think at the core of soft skills is a sense of self-awareness and empathy,” “Self-awareness helps you understand who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you bring to the table. Empathy helps you understand who you are in relation to other people around you.  So, if you truly want to develop exceptional soft skills over the long haul, I would start by working on developing self-awareness


So, Should You Still Apply for That Job?

Let’s look at the opening that sounds perfect for you. You check all of the boxes—except for that one pesky soft skill. What should you do? Can you still toss your hat into the ring? The experts write yes, absolutely! As long as you are willing to prove yourself in other areas.

Communicate a ‘growth mindset’ that you can evolve and learn over time.  If you spend time improving specific soft skills so that you can excel in that job, you can make the case that—even if you don’t have everything right now—your existing skillsets in other areas will make up for that. Over time, you will become stronger in those soft skills where you need development.”

“A smart candidate will express a desire to develop their soft skills— we can all improve our communication skills— while simultaneously showcasing the technical aptitude.” Merrill adds: “hiring managers really do give serious consideration to your less quantifiable competencies.”  The good news is that your soft skills can be improved with a little bit of time and commitment on your part.

So, rather than throwing a word like “leadership” or “communication” onto your cover letter or email of interest and crossing your fingers it doesn’t come up again, invest the time and effort into actually refining those strengths. It will pay dividends in the end and you will be much better off!


Cheers, 2019 graduates!


By Marguerite Busetti
Marguerite Busetti Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, Dobbs Ferry Campus