The Importance of Soft Skills

By - June 10, 2020

In her report “Emotional Intelligence is No Soft Skill,” Laura Wilcox, director of management programs at Harvard Extension School, argues that emotional intelligence (being self-aware, understanding your effect on others) "accounts for nearly 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder.” Her report argues that it has nothing to do with resumes, test scores, or any other merit-based measurement we often first think to highlight when applying for a job. Ms. Wilcox isn’t an outlier either. Many workforce leaders agree that it's soft skills that set individuals up for professional success.

What Are Soft Skills?

A skill is defined as "a particular ability or expertise." Hard skills are specific skills that can be taught. They include general skills like painting, writing, and math, as well as more industry specific skills like blogging, plumbing, account management, welding, baking, or cloud computing. Soft skills have more to do with behavior and the way you conduct yourself. A report on soft skills by The Urban Alliance defines them as "the uniquely human set of skills that allow for success in school, the workplace, and beyond. Soft skills facilitate various educational, professional, and personal interactions and environments. Depending on the source, soft skills may be referred to as social and emotional skills, employability skills, 21st century skills, or interpersonal skills, but for the purposes of this paper, ‘soft skills’ refers to all the above."

Why Soft Skills Are Important

Soft skills are important because as the world, and thus work, changes at a rapid speed, it's these skills that will allow professionals to adapt, pivot, and remain successful as their job(s) adapt, pivot, and change in turn. Soft skills are vital for students and job seekers because:

  • They’re transferable across jobs- Soft skills are transferable across positions, careers, and industries. Skills like persuasion, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and empathy are ones you can take with from job to job and will be just as valuable if you change careers. This is especially important for today's job seekers; the positions or markets they've prepared for may not be the positions or markets they end up working in. 
  • Soft skills are an actual indicator of student success- Students spend so much time preparing for standardized tests which aim to predict their achievements, a claim that's largely been debunked. A study found that schools that build social-emotional qualities such as the ability to resolve conflicts see students doing better post-secondary than schools that only boost test scores.  
  • The way we work is changing- We’ve talked about this in previous posts. COVID-19 is changing the work landscape as we know it, although the way we see it, the pandemic is merely fast tracking what’s already been afoot. An article on recruiting site agrees, stating, “the new normal was already taking shape as many companies were already focusing on soft skills. Today’s pandemic merely brought the future into the present more quickly. As employers struggle to redefine existing job responsibilities to preserve those jobs and remain competitive, and as other companies seek to hire recently unemployed people from other fields, transferable soft skills have become extremely important hiring criteria.” As this Forbes article further explains, “Being in a pandemic has altered the way employers are now choosing potential candidates and the skills they look for. Required skills are constantly changing under different circumstances.”
  • Soft skills can help with redeployment or "upskilling"- “Redeployment” is what happens when employees are assigned a new position within their company. Again, jobs are being changed, positions eliminated, and there are employers switching employee roles in order to keep them on the payroll. While this pandemic may be unprecedented, it won't be the last crisis, natural, social, political, or otherwise that causes a shift in the workplace.
  • The rise of remote work is dependent upon soft skills-There was a 159% increase in remote work in the US between 2005-2017, and while it’s too soon for stats, that’s had to have increased exponentially in the past few months. Adapting (a soft skill in itself!) to working remotely requires a vast soft skill set including strong communication, patience, etc. This Fast Company article breaks down what those skills are here. has always placed an emphasis on soft skills. With the current work climate thrusting soft skills into the limelight, and our own insights into the worlds of education, work, and technology, we wanted to further underscore their vitality. Soft skills are vital for workplace success and should play a prominent role in career readiness. 


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