The Skills Employers Really Evaluate
By Paula Santonocito
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
There’s no disputing that hard skills, often called technical skills, are essential to job success; they create a foundation for every professional field.
Needless to say, hard skills vary by occupation. If you’re a computer programmer, for example, a technology background, generally demonstrated by a degree and/or certification, is required. If you’re an accountant, on the other hand, facility with numbers and an understanding of financial reporting are necessary. An X-ray technician, meanwhile, must know how to use radiology equipment and also have knowledge of human anatomy.
Traditionally, these kinds of skills have been requirements for hiring. Likewise, ability to demonstrate knowledge and apply it in a given field has been the basis for raises and promotions.
Today, however, employers realize hard skills aren’t enough. Employers recognize that, unlike robots, people do more than perform tasks, even when doing so-called task-oriented jobs, such as those on an assembly line.
To some degree, all workers must prioritize and make judgment calls. And then there’s that all-important job skill: the ability to work well with others.
Are You Soft?
Companies are so into soft skills these days that they often try to determine if job seekers possess them by administering soft-skills assessment tests. Employers also try to hone in on personality through testing, with the thought that personality traits are indicative of certain skills.
As a job seeker or employee, however, you don’t have to rely on test results in order to identify your skills. Evidence of soft skills, as with hard skills, lies in end results.
With this in mind, why not take the time to assess your soft skills?
Perhaps you are good at seeing both sides of a conflict and finding resolution, for example.
A SMW blog post references a New York Times article, “After Attacks, Michelle Obama Looks for a New Introduction” by Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor. The article describes how, in her role as vice president of community affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center, Michelle Obama used her soft skills:
“Hospital brass had gathered to break ground for a children’s building when African-American protesters broke in with bullhorns, drowning out the proceedings with demands that the hospital award more contracts to minority firms.
“The executives froze. Mrs. Obama strolled over and offered to meet later, if only the protestors would pipe down. She revised the contracting system, sending so much business to firms owned by women and other minorities that the hospital won awards.”
Not So Hard
But how do you know what skills are considered hard and which are soft?
Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of the bestselling book “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It,” explores and explains soft skills in her new book, “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.”
Hard skills are the technical expertise required to do a job, and soft skills are basically everything else, according to Klaus. Soft skills include a whole range of interpersonal skills, including how to work as a team member, but also such things as risk-taking and adaptability.
Klaus offers a free quiz at the “better soft skills” website that can help you figure out where your strengths lie, as well as where you made need improvement.
By understanding that your soft skills are as important as your technical expertise, and emphasizing these skills when seeking employment, promotions, and salary increases, you will, ironically, come across as more of a hard-line professional.
And what about women having an advantage as far as soft skills?
Soft skills are sometimes referred to as feminine skills, while hard skills have traditionally been thought of as masculine. The theory is that growing up as a girl has factored into soft skill development. Although this is, of course, a generalization, many experts believe that, when it comes to the new emphasis on soft skills, women in the workplace may indeed have the edge–the softer edge, that is.
Klaus thinks soft skills are so important that her book’s website includes the slogan, “soft is the new hard.” In career matters, at least, that’s potentially good news for women.
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