The Most Important Soft Skills (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella - Jun. 6, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

Employers are looking for candidates with a certain set of qualifications and experience. The trouble is, plenty of candidates are basically equal when you only take those two things into account.

That’s why hiring managers and recruiters place such a heavy emphasis on finding employees that also possess excellent soft skills. While hard skills make an office technically functional, soft skills make it a positive environment where employees feel respected and happy.

We’ll walk you through exactly what soft skills are, different types of soft skills, ways to improve your soft skills, and how to highlight your soft skills during a job search.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are abilities that make you an ideal employee, aside from the necessary on-the-job qualifications. These are personality traits, professional strengths, and interpersonal skills that you will bring to the workplace.

When most applicants are considering what skills to include on their resume they think of hard skills. These are abilities that can be taught with measured success.

These sets of skills are things like:

  • Typing Speed

  • Certifications amp; Licenses

  • Data Analysis

  • Javascript

  • Email marketing

The position you’re applying for will probably have some relevant hard skill requirements. While having this technical knowledge is important to qualify for a job, hiring managers will also be assessing soft skills in your resume.

Soft skills aren’t as job-specific as hard skills. They’re usually qualities and work habits that would be helpful in many different job scenarios.

A resume without a list of soft skills is lacking. When a company is making the final decision about what candidate they want on their team, the determining factor usually doesn’t come down to hard skills.

It’s the soft skills that display a candidate who is not only experienced but also has the makings of a successful and hardworking employee.

Types of Soft Skills

Deciding which soft skills you want to include in your resume is personal to you. Choose qualities that apply most accurately to you as an employee and person. Check out the following list if you’re looking for some insight into which soft skills are the most in-demand for recruiters today. At least a few of them will reflect your personality features and work style.

  1. Critical thinking. Critical thinking is one of the strongest skills you can bring to any workplace (and everyday life). It involves using logic and reason to decipher the root cause of an issue and creating a series of viable solutions.

    Critical thinking affects how effectively we deal with problems, both big and small. Having employees who use critical thinking skills can greatly impact the success of a business. Companies want employees who are going to carefully consider and successfully solve arising problems in the workplace.

  2. Leadership. Effective leadership is a valuable trait to employers regardless of the title you’re applying for.

    Having leadership skills means you know how to effectively delegate responsibilities to further the success of the company. It isn’t simply commanding others of what to do. It’s about being tactful, strategic, and personable in a way that gets the job done and keeps a team motivated.

    Successful leadership often includes:

    • Excellent written and verbal communication

    • Listening skills

    • Strategic thinking

    • Being goal-oriented

    • Empathy

    • Honesty

    • Team management

  3. Positive attitude. You want to work in a supportive and enthusiastic environment. Similarly, companies want their employees to bring a positive personality to the office and their clients.

    One negative-nelly can sour an entire team. It makes people excited to work with you knowing that they’re in for an uplifting and optimistic outlook. A positive attitude can impact productivity, teamwork, and overall work experience, making it a very desirable skill for hiring managers.

  4. Teamwork. Collaborating well with your supervisors and co-workers is necessary for a business to run smoothly. Good teamwork is the backbone of all successful projects.

    When hiring managers are looking for new staff, they want candidates who understand and can function cohesively on their team.

    A team player will often display:

    • Cooperation

    • Conflict resolution

    • Listening skills

    • Direct language

    • Negotiation skills

    • Open Mindedness

    • Patience

  5. Work ethic. Work ethic is a broad soft skill that addresses many important qualities a good employee should have. If you’re the type of person who is very focused and motivated when it comes to your work, you probably have an excellent work ethic.

    It refers to working hard, doing your job well, and completing tasks in a timely manner. This is more than just fulfilling the bare minimum of your job requirements. It’s dedication and follow-through in your position.

    Work ethic skills include:

    • Professionalism

    • Proper work attire

    • Discipline

    • Attention to detail

    • Motivation

    • Trustworthiness

    • Dependability

    • Adaptability

  6. Communication. Communication is the heart of many prosperous endeavors. Communication is how team leaders set expectations and associates articulate their ideas.

    It is a useful soft skill to have as both an entry-level associate and in managerial positions. Whether it be making connections within the workplace or with consumers, strong communication is the key to successful professional interactions.

    Communication skills go hand-in-hand with many other soft skills such as:

    • Effective Leadership

    • Conflict Resolution

    • Teamwork

    • Problem-solving

    While communication in the workplace can be verbal, this skill doesn’t just refer to in-person conversations.

    Communication skills can be:

    • Written

    • Body Language

    • Listening skills

    • Visual

  7. Dependability. A reliable employee is a supervisor’s favorite kind. It’s probably one of the most desired qualities by most human beings. Without it, employers can’t trust you.

    Being dependable is all about follow-through. You show up on time, complete your responsibilities before a deadline, and do the job you’re hired for. Supervisors know they can count on you to accomplish what you say you will.

  8. Adaptability. At its core, adaptability is a willingness to learn more and adjust when needed. An adaptable employee welcomes innovation and change in the workplace. New things can be frightening, but employers want to know you won’t crumble under the pressure of inevitable tweaks in the work system.

    Adaptability often involves:

    • A positive attitude

    • Critical thinking

    • Easygoing nature

    • Creativity

    • Initiative

    • Communication

    • Teamwork

  9. Conflict resolution. No matter how much you love your job and coworkers, you’re bound to encounter a conflict or two in your time working. Conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be a disruptive argument, though.

    Resolving conflict can even be productive if ideas are exchanged in open, respectful communication. Hiring managers want to know that you’re equipped to professionally deal with conflict in the workplace, and turn it into an experience that can end in some positive growth.

    Examples of conflict resolution skills include:

    • Stress management

    • Excellent communication

    • Active listening

    • Self awareness

  10. Flexibility. Being flexible in the workplace can be a crucial skill for employers. As we’ve all realized in 2020, unexpected things happen.

    The ability to adapt to change without losing your marbles and while maintaining confidence can make you a valuable asset. Flexibility can also mean openness towards new tasks or projects.

  11. Problem-solving. Problems are a big part of life, and eventually, you’ll have to face them at your job. Whether it’s a minor hassle or an earth-shattering catastrophe, companies want to hire employees who will handle difficult situations with patience and a plan.

    Hiring managers don’t want employees who will fall apart under stress or ignore the problems, but instead, fix them. Problem-solving boils down to handling the unexpected with professionalism and figuring out the best solution.

    Being a problem-solver involves:

  12. Research skills. A lot of positions today require some knowledge of internet research. Not to fear, though — you probably have better research skills than you may think. You scanned the internet for available positions in your field.

    Before applying for a job, you researched the requirements and company. Even reading this article, you’re researching more information about soft skills. Employers like to know that you feel confident with research being part of your job description.

  13. Creativity. Improvement and innovation are bred by creative thinkers. Considering that’s the trajectory most companies hope to take, it makes sense that creativity is a marketable skill for job-seekers.

    While you may not feel inherently creative, it’s a quality that can be found in all of us. We all see the world through our own lenses. In a job scenario, creativity means using your unique lens to bring out your best work.

    Out-of-the-box thinking helps employers with:

    • Generating new ideas

    • Brainstorming unique solutions to problems

    • Willingness to experiment

    • Improving workplace processes

  14. Integrity. Integrity is another one of those soft skills that’s useful for life outside work. At first glance, an employee with integrity means they are honest. However, integrity is more than that.

    Having integrity in the workplace refers to adhering to employee ethics, implementing good judgment, and always being dependable. These are qualities that companies need to run functionally, and having it as a soft skill will be looked on favorably by hiring managers.

    Examples of workplace integrity include:

    • Treating coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates with respect

    • Creating your best work possible

    • Honest communication

    • Performing all job responsibilities

    • Adhering to set deadlines

How to Improve Your Soft Skills

Because soft skills are somewhat innate, some people will tell you that you can’t really improve your soft skills. But, just like any skill set, with dedication and practice, you can certainly improve your soft skills.

  • Identify your skill levels. The first step to self-improvement is an honest accounting of your current skill set. This doesn’t mean you should just harp on your weaknesses, though. Identifying your strengths is equally important, as leaning into what you’re naturally good at can often be a better strategy than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

    Whatever the case, though, figure out where you’d like to see improvements in your life. Note that you don’t have to be strictly professional when considering these things. Soft skills bleed between our personal and professional lives far more than hard skills, and gains made in one area often translate to the other.

    If you’re unsure where your strengths and weaknesses lie, consult a friend or coworker — others often pick up on these things better than we ourselves can. Or, turn to your past feedback or performance reviews, and consider which soft skills served you well in your professional accomplishments.

  • Find a mentor. A professional or personal mentor is a truly invaluable asset in life. Your soft skills really only exist interpersonally, and having someone else act as a sounding board and provide insight at key moments is helpful, to say the least.

    If you’re struggling to find a mentor, you can simply observe those around you that always impress with soft skills you wish you had. Pay attention to what it is exactly about their approach that’s so well-liked and appreciated by others. This can be as simple as noticing an organizational hack your coworker has set up at their desk and applying it to your own workstation.

  • Take a course. Online learning has never been more accessible, and classes aren’t limited to just hard skills. Many have free options if you don’t care about getting certified (which isn’t really necessary for soft skills, anyway).

    You can also check out less formal options, like podcasts, YouTube channels, or blogs dedicated to honing a specific soft skill. Just be sure that as you learn, you start applying your lessons right away.

  • Practice. It’s hard to be deliberate about practicing some soft skills. Take communication — how exactly do you start practicing communication? Well, you start by taking more time with your emails, considering your word choice more carefully at meetings, and taking better notes as you listen to others.

    Apply whatever lessons you’ve learned from your mentor or online resource in your everyday life. You’ll find that some methods don’t really suit your style, and that’s just fine. Two people with completely different approaches can still both have excellent organizational skills — it’s about finding what works for you through trial and error.

  • Set goals. One of the best ways to keep yourself accountable while aiming to improve any facet of your life is to set specific goals. Whether it’s improving the results of your next performance review with regards to a certain soft skill or simply improving the quality of your relationships at work, being deliberate about what you’d like to achieve is essential.

    It can be tough to make these milestones measurable when it comes to soft skills since assessment tests for most of them are far from scientific. We recommend keeping a journal where you note how you’ve applied your soft skills today, or where you wish you’d done better. The entries don’t have to be long — the very act of jotting these things down will help keep you on track.

How to Highlight Your Soft Skills

When you’re looking for a job, there are three main ways to show off your soft skills:

  1. On your resume. There are a few ways to incorporate your soft skills into your resume. The most obvious one is also the least effective — writing your soft skills out in your resume’s skills section.

    While this section works great for hard skills, as applicant tracking systems will be screening for these valuable keywords, soft skills aren’t nearly as valuable here.

    The fact is, anyone can write down “Excellent organizational skills” — how the heck is the hiring manager supposed to know whether that’s true or not?

    It’s much more effective to weave your soft skills into your resume’s work experience section instead. By artfully working on action words like “organized,” “led,” “collaborated,” you’re showing how you actually leveraged your soft skills to achieve results. This brings us to our next point — focus on accomplishments rather than day-to-day responsibilities.

    Finally, incorporate numbers whenever possible. While this might be trickier for soft skill-related bullets, any numbers help a hiring manager or recruiter contextualize better. For example, simply saying “Led weekly product meeting for a team of 8” gives the recruiter an idea of scale and frequency that’s really helpful for considering your application.

  2. In your cover letter. Cover letters are slightly better than resumes for highlighting soft skills. Your resume answers the “who, what, where, when,” while your cover letter answers the “how” and “why.” Answering both of these questions gives ample opportunity to show off your soft skills.

    When discussing an achievement, weave in the soft skills that were essential for it. For example, if you provide an example of a time you saved the company money by reorganizing budgeting processes, you could bring up your attention to detail as key to that success.

    This makes a clear link for the hiring manager or recruiter — this soft skill has served me well in the past, and if you hire me, you’ll gain this asset. Like your resume, try to include numbers whenever possible.

    Additionally, research the company and learn about its mission statement, values, and public communication style. If you can naturally include a sentence or two on how your values align with the company’s, that’s also a win in the soft skill department of your application.

  3. During your job interview. The interview is the most significant test of your soft skills. Up until now, you’ve been coasting on written communication skills to sell yourself — now it’s time to impress the hiring manager in person.

    Your soft skills are on display with how you present yourself. Your confidence, body language, and demeanor are being judged from the moment you meet your interviewer. Teams want to bring on members that fit well within the existing structure and culture, so using that company research to inform your style in the interview is also key.

    Of course, don’t go too crazy trying to be someone you’re not for the interviewer. Simply give forthright answers that speak to your genuine capabilities.

    Most importantly, be prepared with several examples of times you’ve leveraged your soft skills for success. Behavioral interview questions are immensely popular. These are questions that ask for an example of your past professional behavior and start with phrases like “tell me about a time” or “give me an example of a time when.”

    There are plenty of behavioral interview questions, but they can all be answered using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and is a great way to organize brief yet coherent stories. Don’t try to memorize a script or anything — just be aware of common interview questions and have a story in mind that you can deliver naturally.

Final Thoughts

Some of the key soft skills listed here probably resonated with you. They sound like characteristics that are naturally part of your personality. Those are the qualities you should list on your resume for now.

Other skills you may not have mastered yet. That’s okay. Lots of resources about soft skills will mention that they’re qualities that come naturally and you don’t have to learn. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn them.

With a little effort and patience, you can get better at any of the skills on this list.

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Author

Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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