Soft skills are often overlooked yet are among the most sought-after skills in the workplace today.
While a college education may focus on hard skills – the specific knowledge needed to master a profession – soft skills remain a critical element of professional success. No matter what profession you choose, learning soft skills is essential.
Doris Saffron, vice provost at the University of Phoenix, touts soft skills as a critical part of the education process. Saffron noted in a recent interview that these skills are used every day in the workplace and shape how we build relationships and trust with others.
Unfortunately, Saffron said, too often there is an assumption that people enter a workplace with these skills already in place. In reality, more time must be spent developing skills related to listening, communicating, and managing conflict as part of the education process.
Whether it’s collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving or ethical practices, soft skills are something that companies want to see in their employees. Today, employers are adding to the list of traditional soft skills, seeking new hires who are also adept at skills such as cultural competency, creativity, and empathy.
The Difference Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills
Often, people refer to soft skills like people skills since they are frequently related to interactions with others. The list of soft skills is vast and can include aspects such as:
- Active listening
- Oral and written communication
- Conflict management
- Understanding hierarchies
- Cultural awareness
- Ability to read tone and body language
- Public speaking
- Networking ability
- Organizational ability
- Time management
As vital as these are in the workplace, few higher education classes teach these soft skills. In practice, they should be embedded into their curricula similar to the approach at the University of Phoenix to give students practical knowledge that can help them excel.
Most college coursework focuses on hard skills. These are typically abilities or knowledge sets that can be learned after months or years of study and training. Hard skills include things like learning a foreign language, understanding computer systems, knowing a hard science like physics or chemistry, or learning how to manage projects.
Hard skills are practical abilities that can be applied to specific pathways to achieve success. They are often related to learning how to do a specific job. Hard skills are sometimes referred to as technical skills as they require learning specific, repeatable tasks.
Soft skills are more nuanced. They are less related to a specific job and are more like personal attributes. In addition, soft skills can be applied across multiple job functions. They do not easily show up on an aptitude test. Instead, they need to be demonstrated consistently.
For example, if a professional claim to be an expert in a computing language, then an employer could look at grades earned or issue a test that shows whether the job candidate really has the required skills. With soft skills, it is harder to prove or quantify one’s expertise. Demonstrating public speaking or strong writing abilities is difficult unless an employer offers the opportunity to give a presentation to a large group or draft a press release for a new product launch.
Nine Critical Soft Skills for Professionals
However, as critical as it can be to learn hard skills related to a specific field, it is just as important to learn soft skills that allow someone to be a successful member of a team.
Here are nine key soft skills to learn and master while in school and in the workforce.
- Organization: This applies to physical spaces including desks, online files, and workspace as well as mental organization for managing multiple projects, deadlines, and deliverables.
- Communication: Verbal and written communication is essential to business success today. Communication needs to inspire, educate, persuade, and direct. Coworkers need to understand one another, speak clearly and produce well-written documents.
- Teamwork: Whether a member of a large organization, part of a start-up company, or working as a freelancer, professionals need to be able to work together. This includes work alongside colleagues, partners, clients, customers, and vendors to ensure projects are completed and others are satisfied.
- Creative Writing: There are several types of writing needed in business today. While formal writing is the most common, creative writing that starts with a concept and results in the complete presentation of an idea, is an important skill to master.
- Public Speaking: Good public speaking is about more than addressing an audience of thousands. It can include giving a presentation or a project update in a staff meeting where even small audiences can be intimidating.
- Time Management: This is all about using time wisely so that work is completed on deadline without added stress from poor planning. Professionals who are frequently feeling behind, frenzied, or struggling to catch up can benefit from nurturing this soft skill.
- Networking: No matter the field or industry, strong networking skills are essential. Professionals should build a network, have an active LinkedIn presence, go to conferences and mixers and help others create connections.
- Leadership: Leaders are those who can inspire through their own knowledge base, communication, delegation, and project and time management to drive others to achieve.
- Initiative: This is a powerful way to show integration with the rest of the team. Professionals can offer to take on additional work when others are struggling or evaluate projects, anticipate problems and offer solutions before times get tough.
The University of Phoenix builds soft skills into its curriculum, making them a core part of student learning goals. In fact, the University’s 2019 annual academic report showed that students mastered soft skills at a rate of nearly 80 percent. Soft skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving are an intrinsic part of a University of Phoenix education, reflecting educators’ understanding of the large role these skills play in today’s workplace.
About University of Phoenix
The University of Phoenix supports adult education by offering flexible courses taught by practitioner faculty in a predominantly online platform. Founded in 1976, the University offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs as well as certificate programs in multiple disciplines. Learn more at the University of Phoenix website.