Understanding Soft Skills for Your Career

Stonehedge RF SXU 250X96 2013Today, I want to discuss one of the personal sides of soft skills and how they can affect your career path. There are some careers where soft skills are not as important as hard skills so each person really needs to understand how they may be used in their chosen path. Many think soft skills are as mystical as Stonehenge but they are really quite practical.

Basically, there are 3 categories of soft skill application.  You need to analyze and define the category of your current and future career paths. The latter is very important.

1. Careers that need specific hard skills and few soft skills (example: Physicists, chemists, engineers, some programmers, electrician, plumbers); Many times you will see brilliant or creative people who may not easily work well with others in this category. If your chosen career is based on spending a lot of time doing independent research or isolated solo work environments, then you need fewer soft skills and still be very successful in your career. It is possible for someone from this group to be promoted to a more senior position where more soft skills are necessary so it behooves one to keep expanding the portfolio of soft skills.

2. Careers that need both hard and soft skills – many careers are in this category (example: Accountants, Lawyers, retail managers, factory supervisors, etc. – An accountant, for example, needs to know the rules of accounting but they also depend on selling and interacting with clients to build a successful career.  Dealing well with clients, suppliers, other managers etc. requires excellent soft skills like communication skills, relationship skills etc.

While the consensus of opinion is that the higher you rise in a company the more critical soft skills are for maintaining performance standards, I contend they are important at all levels for a company to have a highly engaged workforce.

3. Careers that need primarily soft skills and few hard skills (example: sales, customer service reps. – A car salesman, for example, doesn’t really need to know that much about cars, just a little more than the consumer.  His job is more dependent on his ability to read his customers, communicate his sales pitch, persuasion skills, and skills to close to deal.

A customer service agent, in a call center, must rely totally on their ability to understand the customer’s needs, articulate to others within the company and resolve the customer’s issues. These are all soft skills.

To determine how much soft skills are required for your career, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my ability to work well and communicate with others in my organization critical enough that they are discussed on my annual appraisal? Soft skills are examined when anyone is considered for a promotion.
  • Are my peers being considered for promotion before I am? We seem to be equal in terms of hard skills but they continue to get the promotion first.
  • Are attitude and temperament considered part of my annual appraisal?
  • Does my job require that I interact with customers, management, suppliers and peers on a daily basis?

If all four answers are “YES”, soft skills are very important to develop, if you want to advance in your career. Personally, if you answer any of them “NO” you’re are trying to hide. There are few careers that can be completely isolated and require no interaction with other people, so soft skills are always important.

I always suggest starting with understanding your communication style. This can be easily determined with a DiSC assessment. Check out the assessments on our website at tlg-rwme.us.  It can also give you insights into how others may communicate and how you can adapt your style to ensure effective communications. Like any soft skills, your willingness to become self-aware and engage in self-development is critical to your successful navigation of a career path.

Now, some will say there is a formula for making soft skills easier and to a degree I understand there be some specific steps you can practice, rehearse and deliver to achieve a fixed goal but soft skills all have a certain amount of fluidity, depending on who, when and what you are discussing with others. There are no silver bullets that make soft skills a 1, 2, 3 done scenario. Each of us is human, therefore we are unique in terms of values, vision, passions and compassion which makes soft skills an “art” more times than I care to count.

Too many people default to whatever happens to come about in their careers. Rather than having a career plan that allows them to expand their horizons and grow in terms of knowledge, influence and financially they settle for what comes. Take control of your career today. Call me to schedule a DiSC evaluation and discuss how you can become more proactive in your career with soft skills.