To excel in your career, you need to possess certain soft skills in addition to technical skills related to your specialisation. These are skills you develop over time. They form the building blocks of your personality, making you the unique individual that you are. Recruiters look for certain soft skills during job interviews because they are key indicators of performance, especially in challenging situations. In this article, we explore the importance of soft skills, how they differ from hard skills and essential soft skills employers in Hong Kong look for.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills refer to your personality traits such as your ability to communicate and make decisions. Employers prefer recruiting candidates with soft skills because such people are more likely to be successful in the workplace. For example, a software professional who can manage their time more efficiently has a clear advantage over those with poor time management skills.
The following are some examples of common soft skills useful in the workplace:
- Adaptability or flexibility
- Work ethic
- Time management
- Positive attitude
Read more: 10 Best Skills to Include on a CV
Soft skills vs. hard skills
Soft skills refer to your personal habits and personality traits, such as creativity, communication and problem-solving. On the other hand, hard skills refer to technical skills related to your area of expertise, such as computer programming, web designing and search engine optimisation. You acquire hard skills usually through your education and training, whereas soft skills are inherent in your personality and are developed over a long period of time.
Unlike hard skills, you can often use the same soft skill across a number of different jobs and industries. Hard skills are essential to perform the core tasks a company employs you to do, but soft skills give you an added advantage to perform such tasks more efficiently. For example, you would require coding skills to perform your duties as a software programmer. Additionally, if you have good leadership skills, you can also train and guide new programmers. Often soft skills are the wow factor most recruiters are searching for in candidates. In other words, these are employees that go above and beyond their job responsibilities.
Importance of soft skills in the workplace
Soft skills complement your technical skills and set you apart from others. Job descriptions often specify the types of soft skills an employer is looking for in addition to the required technical knowledge for a given position. Highlighting relevant soft skills in your CV increases your chances of getting shortlisted for the job. Similarly, interviewers often form an opinion about your abilities based on the soft skills you display during a job interview.
The following are some important reasons why soft skills are valued in the workplace:
- They help you express your technical knowledge and skills.
- They help you maintain a healthy relationship with your colleagues, supervisors and clients.
- They help you progress in your career by increasing your chances of promotion.
- They help you negotiate with your clients and employers.
- They help you grow your professional network.
- They make you confident and build your reputation.
- They give a sense of job security since it is hard to automate them unlike technical skills.
Types of soft skills employers in Hong Kong look for
The following are some of the essential soft skills that employers find attractive:
Modern workplaces are interpersonal in nature and require you to communicate with your colleagues and managers more often. Possessing strong communication skills, such as listening and presenting ideas makes you more productive and collaborative.
Communication can be verbal, nonverbal or written. Verbal communication refers to expressing yourself by speaking. Clear and concise verbal communication is helpful in face-to-face conversations, telephonic conversations, interviews, training, meetings and conferences. Nonverbal communication refers to the confidence and positivity you reflect through your body language, such as your smile and walking and sitting postures. Written communication skills help you prepare reports, draft letters and compose other documents.
Companies like to recruit people who can influence, guide and manage others. Leadership qualities become more essential as you move to higher positions. For example, project manager and team leader positions require higher level of leadership skills than those for individual contributor positions.
Leadership is a broader term that includes a number of other soft skills like communication, decision-making, conflict resolution, empathy, negotiation, delegation, supervision, mentoring and time management. As a leader, you should be able to motivate and encourage others and help create a positive work environment. Leadership skills help you negotiate through difficult conversations and provide clear feedback to your team members without a loss in morale.
Interpersonal skills refer to the social skills we use in our day-to-day life while interacting with others and nurturing relationships. In addition to effective speaking and patient listening, they also include several other qualities, such as managing your emotions, being respectful, valuing others' opinions and showing empathy. Interpersonal skills enable you to get along well with people and make it easy to work in teams. You can develop your interpersonal skills by being more self-aware while interacting with others.
As an employee, you are often a member of a team or a department and need to collaborate with others. Even in an individual contributor role, you are actually working with other employees to accomplish common goals for your employer. As such, you often need to participate in trainings, meetings and conferences with your colleagues and managers. This is the reason employers prefer candidates that are comfortable working in teams.
Teamwork skills enable you to work with others even when you differ in opinion with your coworkers. In other words, they enable you to appreciate and value the diversity of a team. Teamwork encompasses a number of different soft skills, such as persuasion, collaboration, accepting feedback and dealing with workplace politics.
Irrespective of the nature of your job and the amount of training provided, at some point, you are likely to face a situation that lacks clarity. In such cases, you should be able to apply your knowledge to come up with a workable solution. Problem-solving is the ability to use your logic and imagination to deal with a new situation.
Problem solvers make great employees because they try to find a solution on their own instead of relying too much on their supervisors. This ensures that the workflow is smooth without any bottleneck. The characteristics of a good problem solver include an analytical mind, creative thinking, resourcefulness and ability to make decisions.
Creative thinking enables you to look at things from a different perspective. Employees with creative thinking can help the company in many ways, such as resolving customer queries, improving processes, designing new products and coming up with new marketing ideas. Creative thinkers are good problem solvers since they can analyse an issue in a different way than how our brain is conditioned to do in everyday life. Creative people are typically curious and open-minded. They love experimenting and learning new things.
Adaptability and flexibility
Humans by nature are resistant to change. Adaptability is how quickly and easily you adapt to new changes. Companies often carry out changes in terms of technology, tools and processes to remain competitive. Employees that are flexible and capable of adapting themselves to a new work environment are a valuable asset for companies across all industries. As organisations become more agile, employers expect you to take up more responsibilities outside your regular role. Related skills that can help you become more flexible and adaptable include consistency, optimism, patience and enthusiasm.
Work ethic shows your seriousness and sincerity towards your job. A strong work ethic manifests through your determination to accomplish assigned tasks in a timely manner. It also motivates you to take up additional responsibilities. Employers prefer candidates with a strong work ethic because such candidates are capable of working independently without requiring close supervision and yet follow given instructions.
Employees with a strong work ethic are punctual, focused and organised. They stick to their commitment and deliver high-quality work. Work ethic also inculcates other desirable qualities in you, such as attentiveness, integrity, dedication, multitasking, time management and business etiquette.
A positive attitude is all about being optimistic and hopeful even in difficult situations. Sometimes, it can help you make opportunities of persistent problems. Employers seek people who approach their work with a positive attitude. People with a positive attitude are friendly to others and fill the workplace with energy. They typically tend to be confident, cooperative and solution-oriented.
Other soft skills
Here are some other soft skills you may want to add to your CV based on the requirements of the position you are applying for:
- Attitude to serve (for positions related to customer service)
- Emotion management
- Eye for detail
- Ability to follow instructions
- Ability to work under pressure
- Ability to work independently
- Public speaking
- Quick learning
- Willingness to learn