It’s a challenging time to be entering the workforce for the first time. The traditional path of getting a college education or learning a skill, then taking a job and remaining in it for your entire career, is largely obsolete now. Today, most in the current workforce not only specialize in certain skills, but also upskill and move jobs throughout their careers.
However, there are certain skills that are as necessary now as they have always been. So-called “soft skills,” such as comprehensive listening, holding meaningful dialogues and having difficult conversations, can be learned, but are often not taught. Luckily, many can be acquired through experience. So, which soft skills should every professional focus on developing? Members of Forbes Coaches Council offer their views below.
While it’s certainly not the only soft skill necessary for success, empathy is arguably the most important soft skill anyone needs when entering the workforce (and quite frankly, at any point in your career). Without empathy, you won’t understand where someone is coming from. Empathy helps us read people and situations, adapt accordingly, build trust and connect more effectively with others. – Laurie Sudbrink, Unlimited Coaching Solutions, Inc.
2. Ability To Influence Peers
One of the biggest surprises newcomers face is matrixed work environments. Getting things done usually requires working through others to achieve results. The ability to influence peers to provide deliverables—even without direct authority—is a learned skill. Mastery is essential. – Scott Singer, Insider Career Strategies
3. Emotional Intelligence
The ability to assess and manage your own emotions as well as build meaningful professional relationships is one of the most important skills successful leaders possess. Leaders make an impact not just with their knowledge, skills and experience, but also by influencing and motivating, which makes it imperative that they are able to connect with others to foster trust and collaboration. – Tonya Echols, Vigere
4. Curiosity And Positivity
New employees are on a steep learning curve. You will need to learn about the job, the company and the industry. It is important to be curious and learn all you can so you can perform effectively and distinguish yourself. It is also critical to be positive. You are asking people to help you learn, and most people respond to an employee who is positive and easy to work with. – Maureen Metcalf, Innovative Leadership Institute
5. Active Listening
If a new employee wants to stand out, he or she can do so by listening actively when others speak. Put down the phone, turn away from the computer screen, make eye contact and try to focus on what is being said, as well as feelings and emotions that are not. You will find that, if you listen, you may learn something; when you talk, you are not learning. At least balance time spent listening with talking. – Bill Gardner, Noetic Outcomes Consulting, LLC
New grads get so caught up in making their mark at work that they don’t realize how essential humility is to getting ahead. Humility doesn’t mean being meek or that you are lower in stature. It’s having such high self-regard that you lead with a greater interest in others. Ask others’ opinions before you give yours. Find out how you can support their success first before thinking of your own. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC
7. Communication Skills
Professional communication skills include speaking thoughtfully and intelligently, listening intently, and being a team player with leadership potential. Recent reports also suggest that new graduates need to demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving skills. – Beverly Harvey, HarveyCareers, LLC
8. Creative Problem-Solving
Early careerists should demonstrate how you have adapted, solved small problems and collaborated with others to develop solutions to unexpected problems. Embrace this concept and talk to employers about how you have done this in your education, your internships and jobs. Employers who focus mostly on hard skills often overlook creative problem-solving. Show them you have it and you will stand out. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
When you’re new to the workforce it can be easy to second guess your decisions and be tempted to job hop. Set yourself up for success by being committed to your choices and then seeing them through. Don’t give up on yourself or your employer. There is always something to learn from every situation, and if you throw in the towel prematurely, you’ll miss out on valuable lessons. – Elizabeth Pearson, Elizabeth Pearson Executive Coaching
10. Observation Skills
Most would say listening is the most important soft skill, but in reality, observation is more critical than listening. Learning to “see” beyond the spoken word to notice behaviors and patterns that are inconsistent gives one the ability to see potential problems before they become critical and to hear, communicate and problem solve more effectively. – Linda Zander, Super Sized Success
11. Ability To Contextualize
Learning to place your decisions into the broader context of your organization’s strategy, your team’s processes and your supervisor’s priorities is huge! The more quickly you can learn to contextualize decisions, the better they will be and the more noticed you’ll be. You’ll see ways to create value that others don’t, and you’ll become a support to decision makers in the organization. – Kyle Brost, Spark Policy Institute & Choice Strategy Group
12. Willingness To Ask Questions
As an emerging professional, you do not have to figure things out on your own. We learn best from other people. Connect with experienced professionals, ask for a mentor and learn to engage others by asking for input on your ideas. Collaborating is not only smart, but effective! You can build excellent relationships by allowing others to help you while shortening your learning curve. – Erin Urban, UPPSolutions, LLC
13. Courage To Make Recommendations
No matter how junior the role, learn to make recommendations to your leader and team with justification for your recommendation. Accept that they may not take your recommendation, yet be brave in offering your opinion on next steps and decisions rather than looking to others to tell you what to do. Doing so will show your commitment and courage to be a problem solver and solution seeker. – Jenn Lofgren, Incito Executive & Leadership Development
14. Relationship Building
Too often recent graduates think they’ve learned, through their collegiate career, what they need to know to be successful in the professional world. From a book-knowledge standpoint that may be true. To be truly successful, though, one must learn to build relationships. The key to success is getting things done through, and with, other people. Lone wolves typically have a short shelf life. – Ed Krow, Ed Krow, LLC
If you can only focus on one soft skill early in your career, it should be developing a deeper self-awareness. Pay attention to how you show up in different situations. What can you learn from the feedback of others? Ask for feedback and listen carefully. Even if you don’t immediately understand the feedback you’re receiving, ask for clarification and keep watching yourself. – Marcy Schwab, Inspired Leadership