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What soft skills do I need to help me prepare for a job search?

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

In our current, rapidly evolving world of technological development and disruption - employable soft skills have grown into a more valuable commodity than ever

Nothing can replace the impact of human connection, communication, and empathy in the workplace; not even machines, automation, or artificial intelligence (as of now). Industry advancements have come and gone, eliminating (and creating) new jobs and career paths, though people skills have remained a desirable trait – regardless of business type, size, and sector. 

The new generation has begun to recognise this, with many realising the growing importance of having soft skills during a job hunt or when building their careers.

SkillsTalk explore the vital role of soft skills in employment – and the top five you’ll need for professional success.

What are soft skills? 

team collaboration concept

Soft skills are the competencies that allow us to communicate, interact, and connect with others as harmoniously and effectively as possible. Such skills help shape the culture, mindsets, leadership styles and attitudes of a workplace – and are conducive to employee productivity, innovation, and overall business success.

Some argue that hard or “technical” skills would be rendered useless without soft skills

For example, a salesperson with thorough knowledge of their product and target market may struggle to close deals without the interpersonal skills to aid their ventures. CEOs and industry leaders wouldn’t be where they are without their ability to engage consumers, stakeholders, and their flawless talent for inspiring vision and communicating new ideas. 

With their ability to establish and nurture human connections, soft skills are a greater challenge to learn (and teach) than “hard” skills. Developing these competencies takes far more conscious effort, practice, and self-reflection to master; though they make you a more effective – and employable - worker for it. 

Building on them is also an ongoing process. Regardless of personal or professional context, you can always find room to improve on your soft skills. Our interactions will always offer opportunities of improving the ways we communicate or carry ourselves – whether it’s conflict in a workplace or random encounters with strangers in public. 

The rise of automation and the importance of soft skills 

According to McKinsey Australia, automation is expected to take over up to 46% of Australian jobs by 2030. Without proper action, such developments can potentially see a rise in national unemployment rates. 

Soft skills are an effective solution to combating this. As mentioned, these human abilities are currently irreplaceable – regardless of how advanced a machine may be. Recent years have seen a large-scale skill shift from industry-specific, technical competencies to a more passionate focus on these social and emotional capabilities; with automation and artificial intelligence set to replace most “technical” processes, it’s easy to see why.

Currently, most companies are still screening candidates with behavioural questions and assessments on body language, despite AI-based recruiting tools such as Pymetrics or Koru. This is because there is no machine substitute (yet) for getting to know the character, personality, and communication styles of potential job candidates. 

It is thus important to equip yourself with the soft skills to not only stand out on the job market – but to effectively “future-proof” your career. With globalisation on the rise, such skills are also required to develop a greater understanding of diverse cultures and perspectives as they enter the workforce.

Examples of soft skills 

1. Flexibility and Adaptability.

Industry landscapes are ever-changing, and those best-skilled in embracing this and evolving with the times are best fit to thrive.

Employers value workers who can easily adapt to changing business and customer needs (as well as effectively respond to setbacks) – as this points their willingness to learn and accept new challenges, their ability to handle unpredictable situations, and their skill to effectively communicate and work under pressure. 

2. Communication. 

No matter your industry or profession, communication and interpersonal skills are a must. 

The ability to present your thoughts and ideas in a clear, concise manner will not only help you in the interview process, but during work projects, customer interactions, and when building new bonds and rapport in the workplace. 

Despite it being one of the most sought-after employment skills (and ranking as the number one skill among 82% of hiring managers, according to Fortune), communication abilities remain short in supply compared to demand in the Australian job market

3. Problem solving and critical thinking.

problem-solving as a team concept

Going hand-in-hand with adaptability, problem solving and critical thinking abilities are vital in the face of business pressure and crisis. 

Employers value those who can resolve issues or conflict as quickly and effectively as possible. They additionally admire those who approach their decisions through a critical lens; who can demonstrate the ability to think reasonably without personal bias or irrational emotions

Hiring managers often gauge these skills among potential job candidates through questions that probe their approach towards specific situations. These prove your ability to handle complex tasks and make valuable business decisions down the road.

4. Creativity.

Creativity plays a vital role in our daily duties, decisions, and the ideas we communicate in the workplace. Successful employees leverage their creative skills to improve on current business processes; find better ways of approaching tasks; and present new, exciting concepts or avenues for their business to explore. 

Experts note that creativity also lends itself to greater productivity. The skill fosters open-mindedness in employees – and thus, the willingness to embrace new, more effective methods and strategies.

With its ability to spur innovation and “out-of-the-box” ideas, creativity has ranked as the most “useful skill” of 2020 among Australian employers.

5. Leadership.

Last – though most certainly never least – every employer desires an effective leader

According to data from Workable, leadership qualities are sought after in one-third of Australia’s job roles, though only a mere 17% job candidates state having them. 

Additionally, a LinkedIn survey showed that 69% of HR recruiters in both Australia and New Zealand struggle to fill leadership positions, with a lack of soft-skilled candidates as their greatest barrier. 

A good leader encompasses all the aforementioned abilities, on top of their ability to encourage and inspire team members – even in the toughest of situations. The independence, effective guidance, and resilience that come with leadership skills make them highly-valuable capabilities in any worker, regardless of industry

Acquire the soft skills you need for your ideal career

Compared to the technical skills in a given profession, “soft skills” are a greater challenge to learn – though are well worth it to help you develop or acquire your dream career path

Developing these abilities requires dedicated, consistent practise. Some recommend improving on one at a time – incorporating each into your daily routine until they become a matter of habit. Observing and mimicking others who display the soft skills you desire are also effective in helping you improve. 

Of course, it can also help to take up an online course (or even hire a professional coach). Among its selection of over 80 nationally-recognised industry qualifications, Upskilled offers short courses in workplace leadership; self-management and professional development; effective networking, and plenty more to help you build your employability on the job market. 

Stand out as a job candidate, secure your future in employment, and climb up that career ladder by building on your soft skills today.  
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