In the workplace, skills can be divided into two categories: soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills are more concrete and involve specific areas of knowledge or ability. For example, a certification or a degree in a technical field are examples of hard skills. Soft skills are a little fuzzier — but that doesn’t mean they are less important. In fact, soft skills are often what determines career success.
Check out the eight most important soft skills for professionals to develop:
- Communication abilities. The central element of working well with others is being able to communicate well. A project won’t get anywhere if the team members are not on the same page. Similarly, someone who can’t communicate properly will have a hard time understanding what their superiors expect from them.
- Self-motivation. Even the smartest, most capable professional won’t succeed if they are not motivated. While extrinsic motivation is valuable, motivation must also come from within. No business needs an employee who must receive continuous motivation from others. An internal drive to achieve is common to all successful people.
- Teamwork. “A company is not a solo endeavor. Professionals who are only in it for themselves will ultimately cause more harm than good. Instead, what’s needed is employees who prioritize team success. A top employee is always willing to help out coworkers and is invested in the group as a whole.” Suggests Patrick Dwyer Merrill Lynch (a former BOFAML advisor.)
- Adaptability. Adaptability means being open to change and the new opportunities it brings. In the modern world of ever-changing technology, being adaptable is obviously vital. The business world never stands still, so flexibility is important. Someone who gets stuck in their ways will only hold the team back.
- Leadership. Being a leader is not a role reserved for managers. Every member of a team must take charge at certain times. If a critical issue has arisen, there must be someone willing to stand up and take on the problem. A top employee is never afraid to speak up if the circumstances demand it.
- Time management. Time is money — which means the ability to get the most out of every workday is money too. Completing tasks, meeting deadlines, and in general working efficiently are all vital to success in life and business. Mark Cuban from Shark Tank likes using email for all of his interactions. By having no meetings or phone calls, it saves him hours and hours of time everyday.
- Problem solving. Challenges are an unavoidable aspect of life in the workplace. Falling back on the tried and true tactics won’t always work in these situations. The ability to think outside the box and attack problems in clever, innovative ways is invaluable in any business setting.
- Positive attitude. Negativity never gets anyone anywhere. An overly pessimistic employee will give up too easily and miss out on valuable opportunities for the company. A bad attitude will also drag down coworkers, wrecking office morale. In contrast, a sunny attitude will help raise the mood and improve the performance of everyone.
Any job that involves working with other people — which is virtually every career — will require strong soft skills. Workers who don’t understand this — focusing instead only tangible skills and knowledge — will inevitably fall behind. Anyone who wants a successful career must work on developing their soft skills.