How important are soft skills when it comes to advancing your career, getting a raise, or showing your employer that you deserve to take on more responsibility?
They’re very important. But before we get into why or the how they are vital, let’s look at why now is the right time to hone your soft skills.
Recent events of the pandemic have changed the lives of millions, and many are now spending more time at home than they are used to. The coronavirus (covid 19) pandemic has brought much uncertainty, with people fearing the future stability of their jobs and finances.
Forget vacations or even splurging on a new pair of shoes: now some people aren’t even sure if they can afford their groceries. So what can you do to increase your chances that you can keep your job, or get a job when a crisis like this occurs?
You can work on your job skills (your hard skills) and improve your career-related knowledge. Or you can start a side gig. Another possibility is to improve your soft skills.
Soft skills are skills that can be learned and developed but not taught. Examples of these skills are communication, dependability, and leadership. They are transferrable from job to job, and industry to industry.
Employers look at your soft skills when considering you for a job, a raise, or more responsibility. They are the bread and butter of your career mobility.
Soft Skills Give Your Career a Strong Foundation
In this pandemic, one question often asked is, “Is your job safe?” And if you’re working now, will you be working tomorrow?
If you used to commute to work, then it might be a major adjustment to find yourself working from home. Or you might have lost your job because you used to wait on tables, or book vacations, or any of the jobs that aren’t so essential now. What do you do with your time?
If you can put in the time, work on your soft skills. Automation is replacing jobs, but artificial intelligence (AI) won’t be replacing soft skills any time soon. Developing skills such as leadership and self motivation will give you an advantage in the workplace. Just what type of advantage will it give you? Let’s take a closer look.
1. Self Motivation
The first soft skill that could take you to the next level in your career, or lead to a pay increase, is your ability to set goals for yourself. How motivated are you?
Some people have found themselves with extra time on their hands because self isolation or quarantine has changed their normal routines. A survey has found that the top five activities during the covid-19 outbreak are:
1. Watching TV Shows and Movies
3. Working Out
4. Arts and Crafts
5. Board Games
Are any of these activities on your list? If so, what have you been watching on Netflix? How long are your workout routines? Which board games have you been playing?
If you’re reading books and watching shows, you could take this time to learn a new language, learn a program (such as Word or PowerPoint), figure out how to do that home improvement project, or learn a new dance step. The possibilities are endless with all the resources available online.
Think about it. There must be some new talent you’ve been itching to learn. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes to discover a new skill. Is there something you can learn that will improve how you do something at work?
When work resumes, what new skill could you add to your résumé? I’ve been watching 5 to 20-minute videos to learn how to use a new computer program. It just takes a little commitment. Start with just a five-minute video to learn something… anything.
Self motivation is the key to making self improvement. Be your own boss, set your own goals, and become Version 2.0 of the new you in a month. With a new skill, you can take on new responsibilities, try out a side gig, or slowly ease your way into a new career.
Next, overcome your fears with the following soft skill.
2. Communication Skills
For many people, public speaking is a major fear, ranked up there with spiders, snakes and haunted houses. About 25% of people are afraid of speaking in public. However, your ability to communicate clearly and speak in front of a large group is what will give you leadership and management opportunities.
Now, you might be happy where you are, working on your own and not leading a team. But being able to communicate is important too. Strong communication skills are powerful to have if you want to sell your boss on your idea or convince a prospective employer on why they should hire you.
Any speech you make, from the 30-second elevator pitch on why the team should vote for your idea, to convincing your boss to give you a raise, is about winning the listeners over and getting them to agree with you.
But what if you’re not good with words? What if they become a tangled-up mess before leaving your mouth?
Joining a Toastmasters club is a great way to work on your speaking skills. However, with covid-19, these clubs are not meeting in person anymore. They have resources on speech making and public speaking that you can still access, and work on practicing even now.
Another reason for having strong communication skills is you will have a talent that’s hard to replace. Technology is becoming more advanced, with chatbots answering customer questions, and the increasing availability of self checkouts. A good communicator, however, is hard to replace. A good communicator can sell you on an idea.
According to LinkedIn, “The ability to communicate is the foundation skill of a salesperson. Many things can be outsourced or automated, but conversations can’t be.”
Strong communication skills are also necessary for leading a team. You need to be able to clearly articulate project objectives and keep communication clear to prevent mistakes.
Clear communication is also handy when you need to solve problems that arise.
3. Creativity/Problem Solving Skills
Can you think of the last time you had a peaceful, perfect, workday? I can’t. There’s usually some challenge or problem to solve because let’s face it: if life were perfect, work boredom would put you to sleep faster than the fastest drying paint.
Each day, you always have some obstacle to face. Sometimes that problem is routine, other times it’s a situation that becomes a war story in your career.
You’ve heard it before at a job interview, when they ask you, “Tell me about a time when….”
Your prospective employer wants to know about your ability to problem solve. How do you get along with teammates if a disagreement arises? How do you resolve it?
Can you think critically and logically when making a judgement about something? This is your moment to show that you can take on responsibility.
When faced with a new challenge, will you look at it from more than one perspective? This type of creativity shows your ability to take charge and become a leader. Entrepreneurs have strong problem-solving skills and often take the initiative to find a new solution to an ongoing problem.
For example, according to Inc.om, Brit Morin, founder and CEO of Brit + Co, discovered a need in the marketplace. Young women liked her DIY projects and wanted to learn to do what she was doing. She founded her media firm that “included a community of experts in topics like beauty, fashion, food, and home to teach young women the skills they want.”
Also according to Inc.com, Katie Keating and Erica Fite co-founded their agency Fancy. They noticed a need for customers who wanted to be treated as equals. Their target audience was women… who they saw as both “colleagues and as consumers.” Their work was described as “empowering, certainly, but still fun.”
Now, you might be thinking that if you do spend time now to work on your soft skills, or find a problem that you could solve while spending all this time at home, how will you have enough time left over to take in a movie, or have a Zoom house party (since going out isn’t as much of an option these days).
The next soft skill, time management, is crucial for helping your keep yourself organized.
4. Time Management
How can you be efficient with your time? Now that we’re all spending more time at home, it’s tempting to see what everyone else is up to by looking out your window at the neighbours or checking social media for the latest posts from friends and family. A half hour to several hours can easily pass you by.
It’s time to take control with time management. One way to do this is to get a clock, a pen or pencil, and a piece of paper. Yes, there are a lot of planning apps out there. But there’s something more visceral and committing when you’re holding a pencil to paper.
You’re more involved when you handwrite a list of 3 major goals for the day and what you’re going to do to achieve them.
Successful businesspeople like time blocking. They block out their day in increments. Elon Musk schedules his day in five-minute increments. I find those are too short to get a decent amount of creative thinking done, so I like 30-minute increments.
Choose whatever works best for you, by time blocking how many minutes you want to allot to each task. So when you’re ready, take that pencil and start writing down what you want your schedule to be.
When you watch the clock so carefully, you become much more aware of how efficiently you’re using your time. And (quite possibly) you’re more aware how much time you’re wasting each day on unimportant activities. Richard Branson, for example, believes in keeping meetings to the point. Meetings don’t need to drag on needlessly for hours.
He says, “One of my favorite tricks is to conduct most of my meetings standing up. I find it to be a much quicker way of getting down to business, making a decision, and sealing the deal. When given the opportunity, I often like to take things a step further–literally, with a walking meeting.”
How fast do you think you’ll get to the point when your entire meeting is done standing up? Take control of your time. Be effective!
Take advantage of this recent change in our schedules, if you can, to improve your habits. And lastly, develop your skills as a leader.
5. Leadership Skills
Leadership is the fifth soft skill in this list, but it is one of the most important. Leadership is showing initiative and taking responsibility, whether it’s for your own actions or for a team.
Strong leadership skills can motivate and inspire a team. You can keep people on track when under pressure from tight, looming deadlines. Especially when nearing the end of a long and exhausting project, your team may need your encouragement to give them that final push to get to the finish line.
As a leader, you may need to make decisions that affect the team or the project budget. How do you tell someone that they’re not doing a good job and they need to redo their work? What will you do when you realize the project is going to be over budget?
Here’s where communication skills and emotional intelligence come in handy. Emotional intelligence is about your ability to recognize your own emotions and the emotions of others.
Can you show empathy? How can you give criticism that is constructive? And can you take constructive criticism in return? All these are important to good leadership.
Strong leaders build morale and provide guidance to other members on their team. You’re also a constant learner. How can you improve yourself?
There are several resources for working on your speaking skills, such as taking courses to learn new skills (like project management), reading books, or finding yourself a mentor or mastermind group.
Is there a leader you admire? What can you learn from them? For example, Bill Gates is an inspiring business leader and philanthropist. Oprah Winfrey is an inspiration with her media presence and charity work.
The under 20 age group also has influential leaders, although they may not be world renowned yet. Tania Speaks, for example, is an entrepreneur who launched a product because of a personal pain. She founded Brow Boost and “grew the business by 60% in less than half a year”. She also speaks at elementary and high schools about her journey and increases awareness of bullying.
What can you learn about leadership from the leaders around you?
Your soft skills impact your work life. They can change your responsibilities, your work advancement, and influence your social life. During covid 19, while we grapple with changes in our lives, we can take the time to re-evaluate who we are and who we want to be when things return to “normal”.
If you’ve got the time, it’s your opportunity to work on your soft skills and make a new you.
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