Soft Skills: what are they and why do they matter?

The key to interview success lies in effectively showcasing your personal skill set and demonstrating how it makes you perfect for the role. When doing this, it's easy to focus solely on qualifications, training and technical experience, but interviewers are equally interested in soft skills. Read on to learn more about soft skills and why they are so valued by employers.

The difference between 'soft' and 'hard' skills

It's easy to sum up hard skills (sometimes referred to as technical skills) when writing a CV or responding to an interviewer. They're the things you've learned, perhaps on the job, at school or university, or through external training schemes - that allow you to meet the basic criteria of a given position. Examples include:

Proficiency in a specific piece of software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop)

  • Typing speed
  • Fluency in a foreign language
  • Certification from a professional body

It's far harder to define and demonstrate soft skills (sometimes referred to as people skills, or interpersonal skills). They speak more to your personality and the way you behave toward other people. Examples include:

  • Empathy 
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Time management

Want to learn about the hard and soft skills that employers in your sector are looking for? Check out our Skills Checker.

How important are soft skills to employers?

It's easy to dismiss soft skills as less important than hard skills. After all, anyone can say that they're well organised and a good team player; far fewer can build a website from scratch or speak three languages.

But think of it another way. The vast majority of people applying for any given job will possess the basic hard skills to perform it effectively. If necessary, hard skills can be taught; it's simply a matter of time (and sometimes money). Candidates with the necessary soft skills to make them a perfect cultural fit are much harder to find.

Soft skills can therefore be a real game changer at the interview stage. They are highly valued by employers, because they demonstrate your ability to fit seamlessly into a different working environment and collaborate effectively with your new colleagues.

Which soft skills are most valuable?

Different employers will naturally favour different soft skills. However, research from US software company iCIMS suggests that some soft skills are more valuable than others.

Based on a survey of recruiting professionals, iCIMS found that the top three soft skills for a candidate to possess are:

  1. Problem-solving (sought by 62% of recruiters)
  2. Adaptability (49%)
  3. Time management (48%)

Furthermore, the study revealed that 58% of recruiting professionals believe soft skills are more important for senior positions than entry-level roles. In other words, the further you progress in your career, the more important your soft skills become.

How to demonstrate your soft skills at interview

While it's easy to run through a list of hard skills and produce evidence to back them up, it can be challenging to do the same with soft skills. Talk is cheap; interviewers want to hear you support your claims with real-life examples, instances in which you've clearly demonstrated the soft skill in question. 

Ahead of your interview, take the time to identify three or four scenarios in which your soft skills have helped you overcome challenges in your working life.

What’s next? 

Find out more about the skills and abilities that are most in-demand with today's employers. For more career tips, browse all of our insightful career advice or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to discuss your career options.

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