LinkedIn’s 2018 Emerging Jobs Report revealed something that every professional should find interesting. In addition to the top 15 Emerging Jobs and the top 10 Jobs with the Largest Hiring Growth, they highlighted the Top 10 Skills with the Biggest Skills Gaps, which represent the skills employers are having the most trouble finding.
- Oral Communication
- People Management
- Development Tools
- Social Media
- Business Management
- Time Management
- Graphic Design
- Data Science
- Web Development
As the list shows, employers are certainly looking for technical skills, but four out of the ten, including the top two, are considered soft skills. It’s a reminder that in today’s technologically competitive environment, it’s tempting to focus exclusively on technical skills, or worry if you’re not proficient in Java or Python. It’s normal to consider whether you should invest in a certificate program or advanced degree. However, forgetting about the importance of basic skills like communicating clearly or being able to manage multiple projects is a mistake.
LinkedIn’s data shows that employers care about these skills and that people with these skills are hired faster. Depending on the position and its responsibilities, having these skills can be even more important. For example, if you aspire to be a CIO or want to be promoted into any management position, leadership and good communication skills will be as critical as technical knowledge and experience.
“While hard skills are important, it remains imperative for professionals to maintain their arsenal of soft skills in this rapidly changing jobs landscape because those that have them, have a leg up.” LinkedIn 2018 Emerging Jobs Report
What are soft skills?
Start by understanding what soft skills are. One way to think of it? A soft skill is one that cannot be easily measured or tested like programming knowledge, coding, or mathematical ability can be. It encompasses communication, time, and project management abilities, as well as interpersonal attributes like emotional IQ, problem solving, and flexibility. Those traits include what might be considered basic things like reliability, attitude, and work ethic. These are just a few examples. A quick Internet search reveals lists from 5 to 25! This underscores the nature of soft skills. It’s a broad category and they are sometimes hard to define and measure.
Here are 10 categories that are a good description.
- Problem Solving
- Ability to Work Under Pressure and Time Management
- Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
How do you improve your soft skills?
First, honestly assess your level of proficiency. Either be honest with yourself or ask a trusted mentor, colleague, or friend. Or perhaps you’ve gotten feedback in a performance evaluation or annual review that will guide you as to where you need to improve. You should also consider what your desired career path is, and which skills will be most helpful. All of this will help you prioritize what to work on first, likely a combination of where you need improvement and what employers want most in your field.
Anything that has been pointed out to you as an area for improvement – for example, you are chronically late to work or meetings – YOU SHOULD WORK ON FIRST! Period. On a more positive note, perhaps you’ve been told that you could improve your speaking and presentation skills because you are looking to be promoted into a more client-facing role. Well then, focus on these first. Anyone that wants a management role should know how to coach people, give feedback, and motivate a team. You get the idea. Train for what you want to do.
How? Well for some of the skills there are classes you can take, and many ways to do so, from a full semester’s class to an afternoon seminar, on campus or online. You can find opportunities to suit your schedule and needs. There are formal programs like a PMP certificate for project management or even an MBA. Often organizations, especially larger, Global 1000 companies, have training programs that rival any external offerings. Make sure you’re taking advantage of what your company offers. There are also online options like webinars, some free, some at a cost, and don’t forget about YouTube. You can find some really useful information amidst all the cat videos! It’s free and you can study at your own pace!
Many soft skills will improve with simple effort on your part. Set your alarms and reminders earlier so you don’t arrive late. Listen more than you speak in meetings and conversations. Be respectful of others. Don’t lose your temper, keep your emotions under control. Breathe deeply, meditate, or go for a quick walk if you can to cool down. These kinds of things will improve if you try, and keep trying, until you get it right.
Other skills will improve with practice too; take communication for example. This includes speaking in front of groups, presentation skills, and business writing. The more you do, the better you will get at it. Look for opportunities to practice these skills. Volunteer for those jobs at work if you can. Offer to be the note taker at a meeting or offer to work on the RFP team or help prepare the client presentation. You’ll learn by doing and working with others who have more advanced skills.
If you feel more comfortable practicing outside of your company, find places to do so. Can you volunteer to speak at a club or organization you belong to? The point is to find opportunities to practice. To improve your writing, take a business writing class, or really any writing class. Maybe you need to brush up on your grammar, punctuation and other basic skills. Most colleges offer classes designed to give someone a solid base to work with. Again, look around and you’ll find good options to practice and improve.
The key takeaway is to keep both hard and soft skills in mind as you look to learn and improve throughout your career. As the study shows, employers care deeply about this and are having difficulty finding people with both. This can be an advantage for anyone willing to cultivate both kinds of skills. More money, more interesting jobs, at the best companies; it all awaits. Good luck!
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