In today’s highly competitive job market, what skills do young professionals need to get their dream jobs? And what will ensure that when they do get them, they will get ahead and receive the recognition and rewards they desire?
What will differentiate someone from the rest of the pack, help him or her earn promotions and pay raises, or simply help him or her do a better job so that with every performance evaluation, his or her career advancement is assured?
Human resource managers and we from academe are quick to offer answers such as earning graduate business degrees and various certifications, demonstrating knowledge of legislation, standards, and compliance requirements, and keeping abreast with the latest technology. And indeed, all of these will definitely help.
But equally important to develop are soft skills, defined by Collins English Dictionary as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge. They are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.”
Unlike hard skills such as academic knowledge, IT and social media skills in web developing and graphic arts, artificial intelligence, data-mining, and financial analysis, all of which can be proven and measured, soft skills are intangible and therefore difficult to quantify. Soft skills include leadership skills, collaborative abilities, flexibility, creative and analytical thinking, and verbal and written communication skills. They are key to building relationships, gaining visibility, and creating more opportunities for advancement, as one founder of a career-coaching company said. They are also transferable to any job.
The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey done across 30 countries concluded that the strongest skills that workers of today and of the next generation (the GenZ, aged 18 and younger) should bring to the workplace are soft skills. In the survey, millennials were asked what advice they could give to the GenZ, who are their younger counterparts and are the workforce of the future. While the GenZ have strong IT skills and can think creatively, they also need flexibility, openness to try new things, and adaptability to change. And to counter the common notion that this generation lacks patience, maturity, and integrity, GenZ should also be open-minded and willing to learn from others.
According to the Backing Soft Skills report from the UK, “97% of UK employers believe soft skills are important to their current business success, and over half say skills like communication and teamwork are more important than traditional academic results.”
Another study, from the Society for Human Resource Management (US), found that employers care more about soft skills than they do technical abilities. One reason soft skills are so prized by employers is that they help facilitate human connections, enable one to articulate ideas and interact with bosses and colleagues, and deal with failure and other challenges at work. So the industry or pay grade doesn’t matter; soft skills will make a young professional a hot commodity in any field.
Although some jobs call for an endless combination of skills, the most sought-after employee traits are often universal whether the employee is a software engineer or a customer care officer. Young professionals would therefore do well to have soft skills firmly under their belts in an increasingly hi-tech workplace.
Beatriz K. Tschoepke is a lecturer at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She teaches Human Resource Management, Organizational Behavior, Management Principles, and International Business.