Hard Skills Have a Shelf Life. Soft Skills Are Forever.

The workplace is evolving. As social and technological advances march forward, these changes are affecting business. Companies are realizing that workers need to be safe at work. Everyone from women to minorities to the LGBTQ community performs better in a noncombative environment. And studies have shown that more diverse workplaces are actually more profitable. So what are businesses doing about it?  Many are changing their hiring practices for HR–companies are actively trying to bring in employees with more diverse backgrounds.

In addition to social changes, technological advancements are changing the daily operations of many companies. As automation and machine learning creep into nearly every industry, human workers are discovering that the hard skills they brought into the job aren’t necessarily the skills that will keep them there. It’s no longer enough to be a great programmer, or writer, or accountant. Today, employees also need soft skills to be successful at work.

Technology changes everything.

The world we lived in 15 years ago isn’t the same world of today. Can you imagine yourself 15 years ago making travel arrangements? Sure, you had the internet, so you could book a hotel online. But did you have the option to stay in a stranger’s house? To take a ride with a stranger to and from the airport? To have food from any location delivered to your home or office? Could you ask your friendly neighborhood Alexa or Siri to turn on the lights, tell you what’s happening in the news, or get an update on the weather?

We already know, as consumers, how vastly technology has changed our lives. But the change is coming for us as workers, too. Jobs are constantly changing, and the skills to do the labor–to crunch numbers, or work a register, or design a book–are continually evolving as well. Many workers are struggling to keep their skills as sharp as their jobs require.

But there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. Employers are beginning to realize that hard skills have a shelf life. They now understand that the “new hotness” of today will be tomorrow’s old news. So to make their dollars go further, savvy businesses are not just hiring workers with hard skills. They are looking for workers who can adapt. People who can communicate well. Individuals who are sensitive to the needs of others and can contribute in different ways.

In other words, soft skills are the new hotness.

So What Soft Skills Are Employers Looking For?

  1. Emotional intelligence: The ability to control your own emotions and to respond appropriately to the behavior of others.
  2. Drive: The desire to get things done efficiently, effectively, and to the highest quality
  3. Creativity: The ability to approach challenges from different angles, using both traditional and non-traditional ways of thinking and acting
  4. Adaptability: The ability to learn quickly, to change to the circumstances, to recognize when things aren’t working and try a different tack.

What Does This Mean for Employees?

It means that you are more likely to be valuable to your company if you can do more than the fundamental job requirements. You will still need to demonstrate an ability to perform the tasks of your job, but in today’s market, you also need to show that you’re a decent human being. Someone people want to work with. An individual who can learn and adapt. An employee the company can put into different roles as business needs change over time.

How You Can Demonstrate Soft Skills

Many job hunters overlook the importance of a good cover letter. This is a rookie mistake. In addition to providing useful information that doesn’t usually appear on a resume, a cover letter is an opportunity to tell a story. Your story could be about a challenge you solved creatively. Or an unexpected situation you handled deftly and intelligently. Many times, reflecting on funny, infuriating, or touching moments at work can elicit a great story for a cover letter.

In your interview, demonstrate soft skills with keen listening. Ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand. If your interviewer asks questions like, “Tell me about a time when…” you can steer this question into a demonstration of soft skills. You can tell a story about the time you realized a co-worker was struggling with a project even though she never spoke up about it. Have these stories at the ready, but don’t force it. If your interviewer is clearly only interested in hard skills, stick with that topic. After all–sticking with what your interviewer wants to talk about is also a show of emotional intelligence! Two birds! Score!