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Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, August 24 2022

Ultimate Soft Skills Guide: How To Accelerate Your Career Progression

So what are soft skills anyway?

Soft skills are a combination of personal qualities and behaviours that each of us exhibit in every day life. We use the word "soft" because behaviours are often more difficult identify and define than "hard" skills. Soft skills are a bit more intangible.

Hard skills by comparison are easy to define and very specific, often vocational skills. For example, knowing how to speak another language is a hard skill, but knowing how to then influence someone in that language is a soft skill. The language is the hard skill and "influencing" is the soft skill.

In this guide, we will discuss what soft skills are in more depth and how they can help you in your career. We will also provide tips for improving your soft skills.

Finally we will also include our list of soft skills so that you can pick the ones that you do best, and the ones you can improve to make yourself stand out.

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Comparing Soft Skills and Hard Skills

One way to understand soft skills is by looking at the contrast with hard skills. As we briefly mentioned, hard skills are usually much more specific and tangible than soft skills. They are also often easier to learn and measure.

Some examples of hard skills include:

As you can see, these are all very specific things that can be learned and measured relatively easily. In contrast, soft skills tend to be more intangible qualities that are difficult to pin down. Examples of soft skills include:

These skills are often more difficult to learn and quantify. For example, it is difficult to say how much "communication" someone has or how good they are at it. We will discuss soft skills in more depth later on. But first, let's look at some of the ways soft skills can benefit you in your career.

The Benefits of Having Strong Soft Skills

There are many benefits to having strong soft skills. Here are some examples:

Soft skills can help you stand out from other job candidates who may have similar hard skills but lack soft skills. In today's competitive job market, employers are increasingly looking for well-rounded candidates who have both strong hard and soft skills.

Certain soft skills in particular can help you advance in your career. For example, if you are able to effectively communicate and work well with others, you may be more likely to be promoted than someone with similar hard skills but weaker soft skills.

Soft skills can make you more efficient and productive at work. For example, time management and organization skills can help you get your work done more quickly and efficiently.

Soft skills can help you build stronger relationships with co-workers, clients, or customers. If you have strong interpersonal skills, you will be better able to build rapport and establish trust with others. This is important in any job where teamwork is required.

How soft skills accelerate your career progression

In addition to all those benefits, there is one major factor that makes soft skills an accelerant for your career. Soft skills are almost always entirely transferable between both job roles and industries.

This means that if you have strong soft skills, you will be able to take those skills with you no matter where your career takes you. In contrast, hard skills are often specific to a particular job or industry and are not as easily transferable.

For example, let's say you're a web developer who wants to switch to a career in app development. You will likely need to learn new hard skills specific to app development, such as how to code for different operating systems. However, your soft skills will be just as applicable in your new career as they were in your old one. Your strong communication and problem-solving skills will still be valuable, even though the technical details of your job have changed.

This is one of the major reasons why soft skills are so important. No matter where your career takes you, soft skills will always be useful. So if you want to accelerate your career progression, focus on improving your soft skills!

Which Soft Skills Do Employers Look for?

The best way to understand this is by reviewing the details of job specs that a company posts online. Once you have a good understanding of what skills are actually being asked for in specific roles, it will be easier to focus your efforts on the soft skills that will make the biggest impact.

Check out our comprehensive list below so that you know what skills are most commonly mentioned, and then try to spot them in job listings that interest you.

You will start to see key ones being mentioned regularly that you can then also incorporate into your CV / resume and cover letter. It's likely the in-demand soft skills will vary slightly based on industry and role, so doing research here can payoff big time.

Improving Your Soft Skills

Here are some tips for improving your soft skills:

- Identify which soft skills you need to work on. This will be different for everyone depending on your job and career goals. Ask yourself, what soft skills do I need to succeed in my chosen field? You can also ask friends, family, or colleagues for their opinions.

- Work with a career coach to get professional guidance on developing these skills, similar to how you would use a personal trainer.

- Attend workshops or take online courses to learn new soft skills. There are many resources available online and in person that can help you improve your soft skills.

- Practice using your soft skills in everyday life. For example, if you want to improve your communication skills, try practicing active listening or having difficult conversations with friends or family.

- Get feedback and continue to strive for improvement. After attending workshops or taking courses, ask for feedback from others on your progress. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help when needed.

By following these tips, you can start to improve your soft skills and accelerate your career progression. Remember, soft skills are important not only in getting a job but also in advancing in your career. So make sure to invest time in developing and honing your soft skills!

The Comprehensive List of Soft Skills

In order to improve your skills, your first have to identify them, figure out which ones you have and the prioritise which ones you need to improve or learn.

But how can you do that without knowing what they are in the first place? That's why we're including this comprehensive list of 67 soft skills that most employers are looking for.

This list is famously known as the Lominger Competencies originally developed by Lominger International (a subsidiary of Korn Ferry):

1) Action Oriented Is hardworking and enjoys taking action. Acts quickly without fear of making a mistake. Seizes opportunities whenever possible.

2) Dealing With Ambiguity People who are adaptable can handle change well. They can also shift gears easily and don't need to have the total picture before they decide and take action. They aren't upset when things are uncertain and they don't feel the need to finish everything before moving on. These people are also comfortable with risk.

3) Approachable Is easy to talk to and makes others feel comfortable. Can be warm, pleasant, and gracious. Is patient with the anxieties of others and is good at building rapport. Listens well and gets informal information quickly so that something can be done about it.

4) Boss Relationships Responds and relates well to bosses; would work harder for a good boss; is open to learning from bosses who are good coaches and who provide latitude; likes to learn from those who have been there before; easy to challenge and develop; is comfortably coachable.

5) Business Acumen Understands how businesses work; understands the current and possible future policies, practices, trends, and information affecting his/her business and organization; knows what the competition is doing; understands how strategies and tactics work in the marketplace

6) Career Ambition Knows what he/she wants from a career and is actively working towards it. Knows about different careers and what it takes to be successful in them. Goes out and gets opportunities for themselves, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them.

7) Caring About Direct Reports The manager is interested in their employees' work and personal lives. They ask about their plans, problems, and desires. The manager knows about their concerns and questions. They are available for listening to personal problems and appreciate extra effort.

8) Comfort With Senior Management Can work comfortably with more senior managers; can present to more senior managers without feeling too anxious or nervous; understands how senior managers think and work; can find a way to get things done with them by speaking their language and understanding their needs; knows how to approach them in a way that is likely to be seen as positive.

9) Leadership She is a leader who takes unpopular stands if necessary. She encourages direct and tough debate but isn't afraid to end and move on. In a crisis, she is looked to for direction. When faced with adversity, she faces it head on. She is energized by tough challenges.

10) Compassion Genuinely cares about people; is concerned about their work and non-work problems; is available and ready to help; is sympathetic to the plight of others not as fortunate.

11) Composure This person is able to stay calm under pressure. They don't get defensive or irritated when things are tough. This person is mature and can be counted on to hold things together during tough times. They can handle stress and are not knocked off balance by the unexpected. This person doesn't show frustration when they are resisted or blocked. This person is a settling influence in a crisis.

12) Conflict Management Conflicts can be seen as opportunities. They can help you understand a situation quickly. You are good at listening and understanding what people are saying. You can also work out tough agreements and settle disputes fairly. You are able to find common ground and get cooperation without making a lot of noise.

13) Confronting Direct Reports If there are any problems with direct reports, the manager deals with them in a timely manner. The manager doesn't let any problems get worse. The manager reviews performance and has discussions regularly. If everything else fails, the manager can make tough decisions. Lastly, the manager deals effectively with troublemakers.

14) Creativity She is very creative and comes up with new ideas. She also connects ideas that don't seem related. This makes her valuable in brainstorming settings because she can think of more possibilities.

15) Customer Focus They work to meet the needs of both internal and external customers. They get feedback directly from customers to improve their products and services. They also think about what the customer wants, and they build good relationships with them. This earns trust and respect from customers.

16) Timely Decision Making Makes decisions quickly, sometimes without all the information, and under pressure.

17) Decision Quality Makes good decisions by analyzing the situation and using wisdom, experience, and judgment. Most solutions and suggestions turn out to be correct when judged over time. People go to this person for advice and solutions.

18) Delegation She trusts people to do their jobs and is OK with them making their own decisions. She also delegates tasks and is open to new ideas.

19) Developing Direct Reports This manager provides challenging and stretching tasks and assignments. He also has frequent development discussions with each employee to make sure they are aware of their career goals. Furthermore, the manager constructs compelling development plans and executes them. Additionally, he pushes employees to accept developmental moves. Lastly, this manager is a people builder.

20) Directing Others She is good at giving clear instructions; establishing stretching objectives; dividing the workload appropriately; planning and organizing work well; communicating effectively with others.

21) Managing Diversity Manages all kinds and classes of people fairly and equally. Deals with people of different races, nationalities, cultures, abilities, ages and both sexes without discrimination. Supports equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all.

22) Ethics and Values Adheres to an appropriate set of values and beliefs during both good and bad times; acts in line with those values; rewards the right values and disapproves of others.

23) Fairness to Direct Reports Treats people the same; is fair; has open, honest conversations; doesn't have hidden plans; doesn't give preferential treatment.

24) Functional/Technical Skills Has the functional and technical knowledge and skills to do the job at a high level of accomplishment.

25) Hiring and Staffing Is good at finding talented people; hires the best people available, whether they are from inside or outside the company; is not afraid of selecting strong employees; assembles a talented staff. 

26) Humour Is able to laugh at themselves and with others in a way that is positive and constructive. Can use humour to ease tension.

27) Informing This information is important for people to do their jobs and feel good about being a part of the team or organization. This information helps individuals make accurate decisions. This information is timely so that people have the most recent information possible.

28) Innovation Management Is good at bringing creative ideas to market; knows which creative ideas and suggestions will work; knows how to manage the creative process of others; can facilitate effective brainstorming; can project how potential ideas may play out in the marketplace.

29) Integrity and Trust People trust this person because they are seen as someone who tells the truth, is helpful, and keeps secrets. This person also admits when they make a mistake and doesn't try to take advantage of people. 

30) Intellectual Horsepower Bright and intelligent; deals with concepts and complexity comfortably; described as intellectually sharp, capable, and agile.

31) Interpersonal Savvy This person is able to get along with all kinds of people, both inside and outside the company. They are able to build positive relationships, and use diplomacy and tact to diffuse any situation.

32) Learning on the Fly This person is very quick to learn when faced with new problems. They are relentless and versatile learners who are open to change. They analyze both successes and failures in order to improve. They enjoy experimenting and trying new things in order to find solutions. This person quickly grasps the essentials of anything they encounter.

33) Listening Practices attentive and active listening; has the patience to hear people out; can accurately restate the opinions of others, even when he/she disagrees.

34) Managerial Courage is not holding back anything that needs to be said. It provides feedback to others that is current, direct, and complete. Courage also lets people know where they stand. It faces up to people problems quickly and directly. And finally, courage is not afraid to take negative action when necessary.

35) Managing and Measuring Work This person is good at assigning tasks and decisions to people, setting clear objectives and measures, and monitoring progress, results, and feedback.

36) Motivating Others This leader creates a climate in which people want to do their best. They can motivate many kinds of direct reports and team or project members. This leader can assess each person's hot button and use it to get the best out of them. They push tasks and decisions down, empowering others. They invite input from each person and share ownership and visibility. This leader makes each individual feel his/her work is important. Finally, this leader is someone people like working for and with.

37) Negotiating Can handle difficult negotiations with both internal and external groups. Can settle differences without causing too much noise or damaging relationships. Can be direct and forceful as well as diplomatic. Wins trust of other parties quickly. Knows when to act.

38) Organizational Agility This person knows how organizations work. They know how to get things done by using both the formal channels and the informal network. They understand why different policies, practices, and procedures are in place and also understand the cultures of different organizations.

39) Organizing Can get things done by marshaling resources (people, funding, material, support). Can orchestrate multiple activities to accomplish a goal. Uses resources effectively and efficiently. Arranges information and files in a useful manner. 

40) Dealing With Paradox Can seem to be acting in contradictory ways; is very flexible and adaptable when it comes to tough choices; can combine seeming opposites, like being both compassionate and tough, standing up for self without trampling others, setting strong but flexible standards; can act differently depending on the situation; is seen as balanced despite the conflicting demands of the situation.

41) Patience Is patient with people and takes the time to listen and understand them before making decisions; waits for others to catch up before taking any action; sensitive to due process and proper pacing; follows established processes.

42) Peer Relationships Is able to find common ground and solve problems for the good of all; can represent his/her own interests while also being fair to other groups; can solve problems with peers peacefully and without a lot of noise; is seen as a team player and cooperative; easily gains trust and support of peers; encourages collaboration; can be candid with peers.

43) Perseverance Pursues everything with a lot of energy. Drives hard to finish what they start, even when things go wrong.

44) Personal Disclosure Admits personal strengths, weaknesses, and limitations; is open about personal beliefs and feelings; is easy to get to know for those who interact with him/her regularly.

45) Personal Learning This person can change their personal, interpersonal, and managerial behavior quickly when needed. They watch how others react to their attempts to influence and perform, and adjust based on that feedback. This person is also sensitive to changing personal demands and requirements.

46) Perspective Thinks about things from different points of view; is interested in many different things; can see how things might play out in the future; understands that there are many different sides to an issue; can think about what might happen if a change occurs.

47) Planning Accurately estimates how long tasks will take and how difficult they will be; sets objectives and goals; breaks down work into the process steps; develops schedules and task/people assignments; anticipates and adjusts for problems and roadblocks; measures performance against goals; evaluates results.

48) Political Savvy This person can handle complex political situations well. They know how people and organizations work and they can predict where the problems will be. They understand that corporate politics are a part of life and they work to adjust to that.

49) Presentation Skills The speaker is effective when giving presentations to different groups of people. They can talk comfortably to individuals, as well as in front of large groups. They are also able to handle difficult conversations and switch tactics if needed. 

50) Priority Setting Can focus on what is important and quickly ignore the things that are not. Can tell what will help them achieve a goal and what will stop them from achieving it. Gets rid of roadblocks so they can stay focused.

51) Problem Solving Can solve difficult problems using logic and methods; looks for answers from all possible sources; can see hidden problems; does honest analysis; looks beyond the obvious.

52) Process Management She is good at figuring out what needs to be done to get things done. She knows how to organize people and activities. She understands how to separate and combine tasks into efficient work flow. She knows what to measure and how to measure it. She can see opportunities for synergy and integration where others can't. And she can simplify complex processes. This makes her an excellent resource manager who can get more out of fewer resources

53) Drive For Results This person is successful in exceeding goals; they are always one of the top performers; they focus on the bottom line and getting results; they push themselves and others for success.

54) Self-Development Is always trying to improve themselves; knows that they need different skills for different situations; tries to use their strengths and works on making up for their weaknesses.

55) Self-Knowledge You know your personal strengths and weaknesses. You also know your opportunities and limits. When you make a mistake, you learn from it. You are open to feedback and criticism. You look forward to getting a balanced view of your performance in reviews and career decisions.

56) Sizing Up People After reasonable exposure, a good judge of talent can articulate the strengths and limitations of people inside or outside the organization. They can accurately project what people are likely to do across a variety of situations.

57) Standing Alone Is willing to take a stand and be counted; does not shy away from personal responsibility; can be counted on when times are tough; is willing to be the only champion for an idea or position; is comfortable working alone on a tough assignment.

58) Strategic Agility Sees things in the future; can anticipate what will happen and understand trends; knows a lot of things and has a broad perspective; is interested in the future; can describe possibilities and likelihoods in a clear way; can create strategies that are both competitive and innovative.

59) Managing Through Systems Design practices, processes, and procedures which allow managing from a distance can help you make things work without needing to be there. This is done by setting up things so that they can manage themselves and you can still have an impact on people and results even when you're not around.

60) Building Effective Teams He/She leads people when needed and creates a strong morale in the team. He/She shares wins and successes with the team. He/She lets people finish their work and be responsible for it. He/She defines success in terms of the whole team. This makes everyone feel like they belong in the team.

61) Technical Learning Can quickly learn new technical skills and knowledge; excels in technical courses and seminars; is knowledgeable about various industries, companies, products, and technologies.

62) Time Management He/She uses his/her time well and efficiently. He/She values time and concentrates on the most important priorities. He/She gets more done in less time than others. He/She can attend to a wider range of activities.

63) TQM/Re-Engineering We work hard to provide our customers with the best products and services possible. We are always looking for ways to improve, and we are willing to experiment with new ideas. We want our employees to be able to learn and grow, so that we can continue to improve our work processes

64) Understanding Others Can understand why groups do what they do and how they work together. Picks up on the group's intentions and needs, as well as what they value. Knows how to motivate them, and can predict their behavior in a range of different situations

65) Managing Vision and Purpose A compelling and inspired vision or sense of core purpose can help rally support behind your idea. It is important to talk about possibilities and be optimistic when sharing your vision. Creating mileposts and symbols that represent your vision can help make it more understandable and shareable by everyone. Being able to inspire and motivate people is essential for achieving success.

66) Work/Life Balance Maintaining a balance between work and personal life is important so that neither one dominates the other. It's also important to be well-rounded and know how to attend to both aspects of your life. Being able to get what you want from both work and personal life is a valuable skill.

67) Written Communications Is able to write clearly and succinctly in a variety of communication settings and styles; can get messages across that have the desired effect.

Written by

Naomi Rothwell-Boyd

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