Developing Soft Skills for Career Success

In a world that is rapidly moving towards automation and artificial intelligence, the nature of work is sure to be transformed. Machines will be able to perform many human tasks in a consistent and standardized manner, eliminating most errors. However, there are some abilities machines cannot currently master, among them are social skills, emotional intelligence (EI), and interpersonal skills. The best way to advance your career now, and insulate yourself from automation redundancy down the road, is to develop these non-AI-capable skills.

These proficiencies are often known as soft skills. Unfortunately, and incorrectly, the term “soft skills” invokes a lower importance, with many assuming that either they are already “naturally” good at these skills, or that they are easy enough to learn quickly; moreover, many consistently prioritize hard skills when they consider enhancing their qualifications. After a certain level of technical competence, soft skills are often the driving force between an average career and a stellar one, between promotion or stagnation. You may want to advance your career, yet the people around you have similar qualifications, similar experience, and similar institutional knowledge; often they seek similar opportunities for advancement. How can you stand out? It’s a given that a minimum level of technical ability and work ethic are required, beyond that, what is sought is the capability to interact with other people productively, to deal with challenging situations effectively, to communicate with clarity, to empathetically relate to the human priorities and needs of the team. These are some of the personal attributes which are crucial for career/team success.

Not convinced? Back in 2013, Google launched its Oxygen Project aiming to test their hiring, firing, and promoting process to understand the most important qualities of top employees. The result showed that most of the top characteristics of success among Google’s finest, could be classified as soft skills. Some of those skills included coaching, communication, listening, empathy, critical thinking, and problem solving. In 1918 a research study conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Centre, showed that “85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge”. These findings have been out there for more than 100 years! The question is, if for more than 100 years organizations have known this, why has their energy, almost exclusively, gone to hard skills? Forward thinking companies are reversing this trend.

You can test this research with a small thought experiment of your own. Think of a larger professional organization. Is the head of that law firm the best lawyer, is the head of that engineering firm the best technical engineer, is the head of the hospital, the best doctor, is the tech firm CEO the best coder…? After mentally reviewing many companies, you will quickly see that leaders are seldom the best technically within their organization; in that case what is the key differentiator of leaders? What would be the key building blocks to effective leadership? In most cases, this foundation would be built with attributes considered “soft skills”.

Mastering soft skills involves a lengthy guided journey of hard work, deep introspection, and the courage to be self-aware. Some likely rewards are increased productivity and reduced stress, giving you more time to get to those things on the “I wish I had time for” list. Additionally, when your productivity goes up, your job satisfaction and happiness also increase. This not only benefits you, but also your colleagues, your family, and your organization. Clearly, the journey of introspection and self-improvement are well worth the rewards.

Taking the next step in your career can be intimidating, not to mention that time is always a scarce resource. Excellent Learning offers a small series of micro-courses to get you started on this journey. These micro-courses will get you thinking about how you interact with others, whether you are truly listening to others or just hearing them; are you managing your time efficiently or are you busy being inefficient; are you aware and empathetic to the different needs and experiences of different groups among us, can you be part of an efficient team, especially in a virtual setting? These are some of the qualities your soft skills journey will explore on the road to heightened EI, better time management, better communication, better group problem solving, better teamwork, and a better empathetic understanding of your team and your stakeholders.

These courses are available as a package for your organization. (Click here to learn more about work skills courses)

They are also available separately to individuals directly. (Click here to pre-register)

1) The Soft Skills Disconnect, 2015.