Soft Skills Aren’t So Hard to Master

I recently interviewed a college sophomore for a summer internship. She had already been seated in the room where I planned to interview her, and as I walked in- she stood up to greet me, look me in the eye and shake my hand. After meeting with another colleague, the sophomore sought me out to thank me for the opportunity. We hired her.

She has little experience with communications, but what college student does? It’s what internships are for, to gain knowledge and skill. What I was most impressed with was her soft skills; her ability to engage with confidence and offer content for an intelligent conversation.

While Wikipedia defines soft skills as a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communications skills – my parents would have referred to these skills as manners.  It was such a pleasure to meet with someone from a younger generation who practiced manners.

I’m not saying that soft skills are a lost art, but they have gone, well, soft. I have spent years interviewing candidates who are nervous, fidget, look at their phone, provide one word responses as if they are in a lightening round of speed dating.

So, what exactly are soft skills? What do employers look for in a prospective employee?

Following is a list of soft skills compiled by Eastern Kentucky University:

  1. Communication – oral, speaking capability, written, presenting, listening.
  2. Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
  3. Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
  4. Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
  5. Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
  6. Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
  7. Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
  8. Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
  9. Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
  10. Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

The list is long, and at times, redundant. If you are starting your post-college career, bringing these skills to an interview will go a long way to impress prospective employers, and alleviate the pressure of not having the hard skills that might be needed to secure your first job.

If your career is well underway, have the pressures of work and technology moved you away from your work ethic, professionalism, or chipped away at your positive attitude? At any stage of your career, it is a good idea to check the list and evaluate whether some of these need fine tuning. Most times, it is as simple as taking a deep breath, a moment for perspective to redefine your priorities, and minding your manners.

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