The Importance of Soft Skills

For many newcomers to Canada, writing a resume that fits Canadian standards is the first small step towards the search for employment. A lot of effort is put into making sure that technical skills are highlighted properly. These skills (also called hard skills) refer to the technical competence of a professional in their own field and are generally represented by education, training and professional accreditations. What many find challenging to understand are soft skills and the role they play in employment success.

Oxford English Dictionary identifies soft skills as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Soft skills relate more to your personal traits and less to your technical qualifications. They refer to your ability to interact with others effectively and are associated with emotional intelligence. These skills can be characterized into three types:

  • Communication skills:  writing, negotiating, presentation skills, collaboration, and conflict management
  • Management skills: strategic thinking, coaching, the ability to motivate others, project management
  • Productivity skills: time management, critical thinking, self-assessment, organization

An illustrative example of soft skills can be seen with educators. They are required to have an extensive set of technical skills like knowledge of teaching techniques, classroom management skills, and extensive knowledge of their subject matter. Without soft skills like leadership, creativity, time management, and problem-solving, however, they wouldn’t be effective in their jobs.

Personal traits play an important role in employment and job retention. It is easy to assume that employment can be found purely on the strength of a resume. There is some truth in that as most hiring managers focus on a candidate’s technical skills to determine if they will be chosen for an interview. Once selected for an interview, however, your success is determined by your soft skills. That is where it is important for you to demonstrate abilities in communication and negotiating.

Everyone has soft skills. Identifying which of them will complement certain jobs and workplace cultures, though, will require some self-observation. Friends and co-workers may offer their feedback and help you identify your strongest characteristics.

To improve these skills, it is important to step out of your comfort zone. Clubs like Toastmasters are very useful in improving public speaking and other communication skills. Networking events offer a great chance to practice small talk and active listening. Volunteering is another venue for improving soft skills as most of these opportunities involve working with other people.

You already have the skills to succeed, you only need to recognize and develop them. Good luck!

Prepared by: Elmira Alim, JSS Facilitator, Ontario