Resumes & Cover Letters

Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

September 16, 2019

Soft skills are personality traits and behaviours. Unlike technical or ‘hard’ skills, soft skills are not about the knowledge you possess but the behaviours you display in different situations.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills include any skill that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. Interpersonal skills and communication skills are more specific categories of soft skills that many employers look for in job candidates.

There are many soft skills that you could list on your resume or cover letter. Some of the most sought after soft skills include:

  • Effective communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Conflict resolution
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Creativity
  • Work ethic
  • Integrity

Broad types of soft skills, which you can read more about below, include:

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Adaptability
  • Work ethic
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Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills play an important role in resume writing, interviewing and finding success in communicating with people at work and in other areas of your life. For example, as you look for jobs, you may find that many employers list specific soft skills on their job posts in the ‘required’ or ‘desired’ sections. A job posting for a Human Resources associate may list ‘attention to detail’ as a desired trait, while a job for a Marketing Specialist could list ‘leadership’ and ‘great communication skills’.

Soft skills are often transferable across careers and industries. As a result, you may find that you possess many of the required traits even if you don’t match the exact profile in a job description. As you search for jobs, pay special attention to posts calling for candidates with soft skills or traits you possess. Even if the job title isn’t a great fit, you may find that the description makes sense for you. As you progress through the job search process, keep your resume updated to reflect soft skills most relevant to the jobs you’re applying for.

You may also find it helpful to consider how you might showcase your soft skills in an interview. While you can display some skills like good communication, you may consider weaving others into your answers to interview questions. For example, you might talk about your problem-solving skills when answering a question like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.” If the employer prompts you to provide references, think of those that can speak to examples that verify your soft skills and other strengths.

Soft skills list and examples

Because soft skills are often innate personality traits, you already possess several marketable soft skills that will help you get and be successful in a job. Though many are formed with your personality, soft skills can also be learned and developed with practice and experience. Here are few examples of key soft skills and how those skills can enhance your performance during and after the job search process.

Communication

Effective communication skills will be helpful through the interview process and in your career. The ability to communicate involves knowing how you should speak to others in different situations or settings. For example, when working with a team on a project, you may need to communicate when you believe that an idea or process is ineffective. Finding a way to tactfully and skillfully disagree with others on the job without creating conflict is an important skill that employers value.

Related communication skills:

  • Active listening
  • Confidence
  • Conflict resolution
  • Organisation

Problem-solving

Employers highly value people who can resolve issues quickly and effectively. That may involve calling on industry knowledge to fix an issue immediately, as it occurs, or taking time to research and consult with colleagues to find a scalable, long-term solution.

Related problem-solving skills:

  • Creativity
  • Research
  • Risk management
  • Teamwork

Creativity

Creativity is a broad ability incorporating many different skill sets including other soft skills and technical skills. Employees with creativity can find new ways to perform tasks, improve processes or even develop new and exciting avenues for the business to explore. Creativity can be used in any role at any level.

Related creativity skills:

  • Curiosity
  • Learning from others
  • Open-mindedness
  • Taking calculated risks

Adaptability

How easily do you adapt to changes? If you’re working in a technology-driven field or start-up, adaptability is especially important. Changes in processes, tools or clients you work with can happen quickly. Employees who are capable of adapting to new situations and ways of working are valuable in many jobs and industries.

Related adaptability skills:

  • Consistency
  • Organisation
  • Optimism
  • Flexibility

Work ethic

Work ethic is the ability to follow through on tasks and duties in a timely, quality manner. A strong work ethic will help ensure you develop a positive relationship with your employer and colleagues even when you are still developing technical skills in a new job. Many employers would rather work with someone who has a strong work ethic and is eager to learn than a skilled worker who seems unmotivated.

Related work ethic skills:

  • Attention to detail
  • Integrity
  • Persistence
  • Time management

How to improve your soft skills?

Many employers value strong soft skills over technical skills because they are often personality traits developed over a lifetime and can be difficult to teach. That being said, anyone can improve their soft skills with experience and practice. For example, you may find that an employer is seeking someone skilled in conflict resolution. While you may be naturally skilled at effective communication, it may help to practice working through conflicts with others.

There are several ways you can help improve your soft skills.

  1. Pick a soft skill you want to improve and practice it consistently.
    You can improve any soft skill if you make it a practice. Most soft skills are a matter of routine. For example, you can practice dependability, both on the job and at home, by improving punctuality (showing up to work or events on time or early) and starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule.
  2. Observe and mimic the positive soft skills you see in others.
    There are likely professionals you know or work with who have strengths in various soft skills. You may be able to develop integral soft skills by observing the practices of others and incorporating them into your own daily routine. You may find, for example, that effective communicators often write down notes when others are talking during meetings. This helps them organise their thoughts so they are prepared to ask and answer important questions. This is also an active listening practice that may be good to utilise as part of your own work.
  3. Set milestone goals to improve soft skills.
    Set specific, measurable goals by carefully reading your performance reviews at work or asking trusted friends and colleagues for constructive criticism. This can help you to identify key areas of improvement for goal setting and areas of strength to highlight on your resume and in interviews. You can prioritise which soft skills to work on based on those that you need to get a certain job or move up in a career you already have.
  4. Find resources to help you learn.
    You can find several resources to help you learn tactics for improving the soft skills you want to focus on like books, podcasts or online classes. While some require payment, many are free of cost and can be accessed at any time. You might try out few different types of resources to see which are best for your learning style.

How to highlight your soft skills?

Showcasing your soft skills can be useful when looking and applying for jobs, in an interview or in your daily work. If you are looking for work, you can highlight your soft skills on your resume and in your cover letter.

Soft skills for resumes

Your resume should include a section that lists your relevant hard and soft skills. When deciding which skills to put on a resume, consider what skills are called for in the job post and those you possess that can be verified by your references.

Here’s an example of what your resume skills section could look like.

Technical skills: Learning technology • Mac OS • Windows OS • Blackboard
Additional skills: Strong communication skills • Empathic • Passionate and motivated

Soft skills for cover letters

Your cover letter should include at least one well-developed and relevant soft skill that provides context as to why you’re a good fit for the job. You can do this by explaining how your soft skill aligns with the company’s goals, values and/or mission.

Your use of a soft skill in your cover letter may look similar to the following example.

In my previous role, I displayed both passion and creativity that were highly regarded by my colleagues and managers. For example, I successfully proposed and put together a team to work on a marketing campaign targeting a younger demographic for our product. From start to finish, my team members and managers praised my ability to positively work with my team to help establish a new interest in our company.

While hard skills are important for completing technical tasks, strong soft skills will make you the kind of worker employers want to hire, retain and promote. It’s important to highlight the soft skills you have at all stages of the job search process and continue developing those skills once you find the job you’re looking for.