Basic Soft Skills to Build for Your Professional Career
Putting yourself into a position to have an enriching career can be challenging. Often, there’s a lot of focus on taking targeted courses to engage with specific career paths. However, these are far from the be-all and end-all of basic professional development. Employers are going to look at more than your qualifications when deciding to offer job opportunities.
Having a solid set of basic professional skills alongside your educational achievements can show you to be a capable and adaptable contributor. Indeed, there is a range of key hard and soft skills that are valuable no matter what profession or industry you’re pursuing. You’ll find this unique balance of quantifiable technical abilities like digital literacy and personal attributes can make you a marketable candidate. Indeed, the universality of these skills can mean you will still function as a professional if you choose to shift your career focus.
We’re going to home in on the basic soft skills you should be developing as you build your professional career. What traits are most valuable and how can you hone them?
Top 7 Elemental Soft Skills to Shape Your Career
There are few professional careers in which you’ll be working entirely on your own. Even if you plan to freelance or operate remotely, you will still be a component contributor to a larger strategy. How you recognize your place in this chain and work with others is vital to the success of any project. This is why collaboration is one of the main soft skills employers value in candidates.
Collaborative ability isn’t just about being open to engaging in group projects. Rather, your basic collaborative soft skills should revolve around how you effectively function in any team scenario. You need to be able to provide your own contributions while also recognizing and appreciating those of your colleagues. Moreover, you need to be able to keep your ego in check and accept that your solutions may not be the best for the situation. In essence, it’s about understanding how to facilitate group success rather than being self-focused.
As such, it’s important to get as much experience in collaboration as possible. Get involved with professional, recreational, and volunteer group projects. Make mistakes and missteps and learn from more experienced collaborators. Importantly, keep track of the details of these experiences so you can effectively represent your skills in this area to employers.
Effective communicators are considered important by the majority of employers, no matter what sector you’re targeting. This is especially relevant if you have your sights set on leadership positions. But a strong set of communications skills will improve your efficacy at entry-level and throughout your progression.
This doesn’t mean to say you have to be a social butterfly. That isn’t in everyone’s wheelhouse, and it’s important to cultivate skills within the authentic boundaries of your personality. But you should focus on abilities such as:
- Active Listening
- Body Language
- Public Speaking
- Verbal and Written Communication
- Digital Etiquette
Intellect is something prized in most professions. But this isn’t just a measure of your technical or cognitive functions. Your emotional intelligence (EQ) is also increasingly considered a valuable basic soft skill among employees. This is particularly present in the private sector where workers with high EQ have been linked to positive company culture, productivity, and both employee and customer retention.
In essence, EQ tends to come down to a couple of core attributes. How you manage your own emotions and the level of empathy you experience. The former attribute is essential in making certain you’re able to function productively when things get stressful or you find certain work or home experiences frustrating. The latter is key to forging strong colleague bonds, making genuine connections with customers, and operating in an ethical capacity.
This can feel like a difficult skillset to develop, as it is so closely linked to innate parts of your personality. But you can make improvements here in a practical way. Much of this comes down to performing self-assessments and observing your own behavior in your interactions with other people. Indeed, self-awareness is a key tool in effective EQ. You should also spend time examining your actions and the effect these have on other people’s emotional, psychological, and social experiences. Even just taking time to talk to people about how they feel in difficult situations can give you insights. This is not a quick process, but it’s worth taking the time to grow in this regard.
Any business is the sum of multiple moving parts. Even within any role you take on, you are likely to be expected to perform various types of tasks. Many of these will have competing or conflicting priorities. To be productive and responsible in any role, you have to adopt strong organizational skills.
This isn’t just a route to getting your tasks completed on time and to a high standard of quality. It supports ethical behavior by making certain your activities are transparent and traceable. You will also discover clear organizational protocols can have a positive impact on workplace safety. This is because good standards of organization can reduce confusion about how activities should be performed. This, in turn, mitigates the potential for dangerous errors to occur.
Organization is not everybody’s strong suit. Nevertheless, it’s worth implementing habits and methodologies to help you make improvements here. Commit to creating schedules for your tasks, even every day. Make lists of each activity to be completed, assess these by priority, and arrange them accordingly. Even the simple acts of regularly keeping your work and home spaces clean and uncluttered help to bolster your organizational skills.
The ability to be creative is often overlooked by professionals who aren’t focused on artistic fields. But creativity is a basic soft skill a variety of industries and employers consider to be valuable. This is because the creative mindset allows you to think differently and navigate difficult scenarios. It’s one of the reasons it happens to be a highly transferable skill.
From a problem-solving perspective, creativity gives you more cognitive tools to work around the hurdles of a task. It stops you from being stuck in the ruts of cyclical behavior or relying on tired and ineffective approaches. You can also find your creativity can make you more effective and agile in other areas, such as communication and pitch meetings. Not to mention it is an essential component to boosting innovation.
Developing your creative soft skills doesn’t require you to be an artistic person. Rather, it’s about feeding physical and psychological muscles to strengthen the creative mindset. Stay curious and keep learning, even about subjects not directly aren’t related to your main professional expertise. Take risks in your problem solving; you’re not always going to be right, but it provides chances to explore alternative options. From a practical level, get used to actively brainstorming and engaging in freeform ideation activities.
It would be nice if you had the freedom to complete tasks on your schedule. However, so much of professional life is dependent on performing within strict timeframes. Whether you’re a medical researcher submitting a report for review or a freelancer on a deadline, time is always of the essence. As such, time management is an essential soft skill in all professions.
The first step here is to appreciate why time can be a factor in any task you take on. Too often, when people aren’t great with time management it’s because they don’t have a full understanding of what the potential knock-on effects might be. While meeting a client 10 minutes late may not seem like the end of the world to you, this may make them late for another appointment, which can throw off someone else’s project. The consequences are rarely limited to you alone.
There are factors you can work on to improve your time management. The first is to note your productivity patterns. Get to know how long it tends to take you to complete certain tasks so you can plan ahead better. Wherever possible, commit to starting tasks early rather than putting them off. It’s also important not to overload yourself. Limit what activities you say yes to on any given day so you can set realistic expectations. Even taking regular breaks can make for a more structured day to aid your time management.
In any given profession, there is the potential for the unexpected to occur. Employees who are rigid in their behavior and attitudes aren’t especially suited to manage and overcome the unexpected. This is why agility is a basic soft skill that can highlight you as a valuable candidate in any professional field.
This tends to come from exposure to the unknown. As such, you should seek out opportunities to embrace the unfamiliar. Step outside of your comfort zone into tasks you find difficult or are even scary to you. This can be helpful to cope with the discomfort of new situations and then shift your perspective to address them effectively. You should also adopt the habit of not relying on the first solution that presents itself to you. Consider alternative skills you can apply.
Often, the most important element in developing your agility is the ability to reflect after an experience. Be open to examining your thoughts and actions in the circumstances you face. Ask what worked, what didn’t, and how you might respond better in the future. By internalizing these experiences you gain the potential to be more agile in other scenarios.
While technical skills may be essential for some roles, you’ll find there are basic soft skills in demand across all professions. Some of these are rooted in practical tasks; organization and collaboration are essential to day-to-day success. Others — such as emotional intelligence and creativity — are personality or cognitive traits you should hone. It can take time and dedication to cultivate these elements effectively. But you’ll find your efficacy and attractiveness as a professional will gain significantly.
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About the Author
Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.