You know the spiel: Go to a good college and earn a great GPA and you’re practically guaranteed to land your dream job.
Turns out, it’s a little more complicated than that.
More than 2 million people earned undergraduate degrees in the US in 2020, and around a million more earned postgraduate or doctoral degrees.
But even with that huge amount of highly skilled talent entering the workforce, employers aren’t jumping up and down.
Instead, they’re trying to navigate the soft skills gap by looking for applicants with the right competencies to help their businesses succeed.
You need to convince employers that you have the right soft skills if you want to land a job in 2022.
But what are soft skills and how can you make yours leap off the page? Read on to find out.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are highly transferable skills that you develop throughout your life, rather than learn at work or in class. They’re not specific to any one industry or particularly technical.
In fact, many soft skills sound more like personality traits. The ability to communicate well, interact with others, self-motivate, and think creatively are a few examples.
Of course, this means that it’s very difficult to master soft skills in the classroom, or to demonstrate them with a certificate or diploma. There’s no crash course that will make you an excellent communicator overnight. Most soft skills have to be developed gradually over many months or years.
Soft skills vs. hard skills
Soft skills are often compared to hard skills, which are the learned technical abilities that you acquire through training for a specific job or industry.
Photoshop is a hard skill, as is speaking another language. You have to do some amount of training to do both in a professional environment. But learning Photoshop doesn’t make you a creative person, just as being bilingual doesn’t automatically make you a skilled communicator.
Likewise, you don’t acquire a knowledge of Photoshop just by being a creative person, and you can’t work as a translator just because you have great communication skills. You need a combination of both hard and soft skills to get ahead in any industry or field.
Why do your soft skills matter to employers?
Ever heard the saying “hire for attitude, train for skill”? It’s generally attributed to Herb Kelleher, a co-founder of Southwest Airlines and a believer in the fact you can teach new hires how to do a task, but you can’t force the kind of personalities you want on your team.
It’s not just a snappy catchphrase either. CNBC reported that over 63% of employers in another study would rather hire someone with transferable skills and train them on the job.
So when an employer says that they’re looking for someone with problem-solving skills or adaptability, they’re outlining the kind of candidate they want to invest in.
This makes a lot of sense.
Imagine you’re an employer hiring for a graphic designer position. You need someone with a creative mind and analytical thinking skills; someone who can take a brief and develop it into a unique and memorable final product.
A candidate with a visual arts degree or hands-on experience at a design firm might have those qualities, but their qualifications don’t guarantee the ability to do the job well.
Which is why you’re so interested in their soft skills.
Soft skills are often associated with customer-facing careers, like those in sales or retail. But their value to employers is universal.
The Association for Talent Developers reported that many US employers say that applicants often lack the soft skills necessary to help their businesses.
That doesn’t mean that there’s a nationwide decline in core soft skills like problem-solving and interpersonal skills. In many cases, job seekers just don’t know how to include soft skills on their resume in a convincing way—and employers are passing them over as a result.
How to list soft skills on your resume
It’s less of a list and more along the lines of “show, don’t tell.”
By breaking down your experience, accomplishments, and hard skills, you can demonstrate how you’ve developed and applied relevant soft skills in the workplace. And more importantly, how these skills have impacted your results. Get started with these 4 tips…
1. Show the employer what they want to see
Highlighting soft skills on your resume is fruitless if you’re not highlighting the right ones.
After all, creativity, people skills, and motivation are qualities that many of us possess in some shape or form. Employers are only interested in learning about soft skills that are relevant to the job.
Read the job postings carefully to determine what employers are looking for. Sections like “Who you are” or “Job Requirements” are good places to start, but you should also do a little research on the employer if you haven’t already. For example, check out the “About Us” section on the company website.
Next, make a list of your relevant soft skills, and organize these into different categories, such as communication skills, teamwork, or leadership.
If your bullets simply describe the responsibilities you held in each position, you’re making a major mistake.
Employers don’t want a general overview of your work history. They want to know the specific skills you’ve developed and can bring to their team. I’m talking hard and soft skills.
Use your work experience bullet points to describe tasks and achievements that demonstrate your relevant soft skills.
For example, if you were a cashier, you could say you provided excellent customer service by helping customers find what they need, improving customer satisfaction by 30%. Including numbers will make your bullets more convincing and easier to read.
3. Use the right language
When it comes to highlighting some soft skills, like communication, how you present information on your resume is just as important as what you choose to include.
A good example is professional titles. While many job seekers don’t give them much thought, the titles you use in your header, career objective, and work experience section can considerably influence how employable you look to a hiring manager.
Let’s say you have a few years of content writing experience. How you introduce yourself in your objective should differ depending on what job you want to get. If you’re after a journalism role, then you might call yourself a journalist, news writer, blogger, or features writer.
4. Use a functional resume format
One of the biggest challenges recent graduates face when building their resume is not having enough (or any) hands-on experience to fill out their work experience section.
A functional format helps you get around this because it focuses on your core skills instead of your work history.
With functional resumes, you list four to five key skills that you offer, and follow each with a few bullet points, including achievements and qualifications relevant to those skills.
In other words, they’re perfect for highlighting your soft skills.
Let’s say leadership is one of the skills you decide to feature. Your bullets might look something like this:
Led a team of 3 researchers in carrying out primary market research for an expanding independent coffee shop
Trained 4 new baristas in equipment use and maintenance and preparation of coffee-based drinks and simple food
Adapted branch to new COVID regulations by implementing new disinfection and cleaning protocols
The person who wrote this could have just been working summers at a coffee shop. But by packaging their experience in this way, they’re presenting themselves as someone who can take initiative and communicate effectively. This appeals to employers across a number of industries.
Soft skills are difficult to define and impossible to quantify
But with a little extra effort, you can feature them on your resume. Knowing how to highlight the right soft skills for a job starts with understanding the employer’s needs; assessing your suitability for the job; and demonstrating your soft skills through experience, achievements, and thoughtful writing.