Careers

The 5 soft skills that will get you hired — and how to learn them

Jim Halpert, fictional character on NBC's "The Office" played by John Krasinski, gets ahead in his career because of his great people skills.
NBC/Getty Images
Jim Halpert, fictional character on NBC's "The Office" played by John Krasinski, gets ahead in his career because of his great people skills.

Landing a great job isn't just about having the technical abilities a role requires. If it did, there'd be little reason for employers to interview job candidates.

Research shows that so-called "soft skills" — your ability to work well with others, communicate clearly and solve problems — matter much more than many may think.

A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that bosses prefer candidates who they find likable and friendly over those who are self-promotional, though they note that a combination of the two is probably best. Research published in the Journal of Education for Business shows that managers pay special attention to communication skills and analytical skills when reviewing an employee.

So how can you improve your soft skills? And which ones matter the most to employers today?

Jobs platform Monster aggregated 943,008 market-wide job postings from a variety of sources and found that certain skills appeared thousands of times in jobs listings across several industries.

Here are five soft skills to consider investing more time developing:

5. Problem solving

Employers want professionals who know how and when to solve issues on their own, and when to ask for help. According to Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, there's a simple strategy you can practice to improve in this area.

"Take a step back," she suggests, "evaluate the situation and devise solutions that make the most sense."

If you're preparing for a job interview, jot down a time you helped solved a problem at work. Then you'll be better prepared to discuss it.

"You can gain problem-solving skills by thinking clearly, methodically and pausing," Salemi says, "then researching viable solutions and, if need be, running it by your current boss."

4. Attention to detail

More than 40 percent of hiring managers spend less than 60 seconds looking at a resume, according to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey of 2,100 HR professionals.

So if you have a typo on your resume, it may mean that you've just disqualified yourself.

"Instead of rushing it," Salemi says, "take time to review every word, punctuation mark, run spell-check, the works. Breathe. Pause."

While you may have tight deadlines, give yourself time to make sure your work is the best it can be. If you're having trouble with this, have a conversation with your boss about what is expected of you. Or give yourself more breathing room by arriving to work earlier.

"Get into the habit of slowing down to notice more details in the long run," she adds.

"Get into the habit of slowing down." -Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster

3. Proficiency in Microsoft Office

"You don't really need to include this on your resume," Salemi says, "because it's assumed that everyone has developed this skill set."

However, if you're not totally comfortable with Microsoft Office, take a course at your local library or watch a tutorial on YouTube. In addition to Microsoft Office, familiarize yourself with other programs many employers use such as Google Drive, Slack and Skype.

2. Marketing

In today's job market, more employers expect their employees to know how to promote ideas, services and products. To develop your marketing skills, get into the habit of promoting your work on social media and sharing interesting articles about your industry, Salemi suggests.

Doing this regularly shows that you know how to use social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which many companies now use widely. It also shows that you are actively interested in an industry, which will help you stand out to recruiters and employers.

"Follow marketing and branding influencers, individuals and companies, on social media," the expert says. "Learn more about the industry as well as from their voice, their style and how they present themselves to the world."

In an interview, give a few examples of industry leaders you follow on social media and what you've learned or gained as a result.

1. Oral and written communication

Success in business, as tech-focused as it's become, can still come down to people's interactions with each other. And according to the data Monster compiled, being able to communicate well is the most common soft skill employers are looking for.

In your interactions, both in-person and online, you want to be clear, kind and professional. When speaking, be sure to make eye contact, speak up and use body language that conveys confidence.

"Go on mock interviews," Salemi says. "Many colleges and universities offer career counseling services to alumni, or attend Toastmaster's International meetings to practice speaking in public."

In emails, you want to pay attention to how clearly and concisely you present an idea. The CEO of a $16 billion company, Julie Sweet of Accenture North America, says that how you write emails can help you get ahead or hold you back professionally.

"Practice," she says, "makes perfect."

Check out the advice the CEO of a $16 billion business gives on how to write great emails