What are soft skills and why should you include them on your CV?

It is important highlight your soft skills on your CV. Photo: Getty Images

It can be tricky to know exactly what to include on your CV, but some things are more obvious than others. Most of us prioritise our “hard skills” — skills gained through education, training programmes and other qualifications — but these aren’t the only ones you should be highlighting on your resume.

“Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, personality traits, attitudes, social and emotional intelligence and are also known as transferable skills,” says Sarah Taylor, founder of Career Voyage. “They are talents and abilities that are relevant and helpful across different areas of life: socially, professionally and at school.”

Everyone has soft skills, developed throughout life at school, in previous jobs, at home, in voluntary work, in sport and in hobbies and interests, as well as in the workplace.

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“Soft skills include leadership skills, teamwork, communication skills, problem solving skills, work ethic, using your initiative and being self-motivated, working under pressure and to deadlines, organisational skills, negotiation skills, valuing diversity and difference, flexibility and adaptability and interpersonal skills,” Taylor explains.

Typically, technical or “hard skills” are more about what you know — they might be backed up by a qualification and are easily quantifiable.

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In comparison, soft skills relate to behaviours and the way we approach work. Although they aren’t technical skills specific to the workplace, they are still highly valued by employers.

Which soft skills are sought after by employers?

“Totaljobs research shows that 40% of hiring managers in the UK are seeing a shortage in essential professional and soft business skills, which is why drawing attention to these is increasingly important when applying for a job,” says Ellie Green, jobs expert at Totaljobs.

“Highlighting your soft skills shows how you approach your work and gives an employer an idea of the kind of employee you’d be,” she adds. “One of the key things all employers want to see is strong communication skills. Being able to work alongside your colleagues, listen to others and share your own ideas in an articulate way is essential in any workplace.”

While soft skills like critical thinking and creativity have always been sought after by employers, in recent years greater emphasis has been placed on qualities like emotional intelligence. This is all about empathy, self-awareness and the ability to deal with emotionally charged situations.

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“Employers know that candidates with these qualities can adapt quickly and work well with a range of people,” Green says.

How to recognise your soft skills

It’s important to recognise, define and articulate the transferable, soft skills that you have developed. “Even if you have taken time out of the work-place, you are still building your transferable skills,” Taylor says, adding that elements of parenting can mean you’re good at project managing, organising events, multi-tasking and communicating.

“When it comes to our transferable skills and strengths, we have blind spots — so it is worth talking to previous colleagues, friends and family to understand your strengths,” she says. You might not be aware of your greatest skill, particularly if you assume everyone has it in spades.

“Ask four friends or colleagues what they think your strengths are and where they have seen you make a difference, and you will have evidence and language to articulate your strengths,” Taylor says.

When bringing up your soft skills with a potential employer, it’s also crucial to give concrete examples so you really stand out.

“You need to communicate how you are different and how you can add value to the role and articulating your soft skills is a good way of doing this,” she adds. “If two candidates have similar work experience, attended great universities and have outstanding degree results it is their soft skills that will differentiate them.”