We often hear and read about the technical résumé-writing and interviewing skills we need to land this job or that internship. But the truth is that soft skills are also hugely important to career advancement, even if they aren’t mentioned as much. Take my most recent internship at Dana Inc, a global Fortune 500 company, as an example: I got the gig through a connection I made at a church event, and while I of course had the qualifications needed to land the opportunity, it was actually my soft skills that put me in a position to even be considered.
So, what are soft skills exactly? They’re the non-technical traits or characteristics that allow a person to effectively engage with others. We’re often taught that the more technical skills we have under our belt, the more competitive we’ll be. Translation: I’m more likely to say “I’m proficient in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator” than “I have high awareness of emotional intelligence and superb interpersonal skills” when vying for a job. But the emphasis on technical skills over soft skills is misguided. You really do need both.
Studies have shown how much more productive employees are when they can effectively work with their colleagues. If you can demonstrate your interpersonal prowess alongside your professional competence, you’re much better positioned to impress. After all, how valuable are your fancy degrees and vast technical skills if you’re an unpleasant person to be around? That in mind, here are three steps to hone your soft skills.
No one succeeds solely on their own efforts, so it’s necessary to create and maintain meaningful relationships. When I’m networking, I strive to “make a friend” versus “make an opportunity.” This has helped me tremendouslyl in the early stages of my career. When engaging with others at an event or even through LinkedIn, I never lead with my ask. Instead, I ask questions about the individual relating to his or her career path, education, skills, and interests, which then opens the door to a more extensive conversation. This isn’t about being calculating. I’m focused on the relationship from which opportunities can naturally unfold. By putting effort into developing strong connections, I’ve gained new mentors and a host of other career opportunities.
The biggest misconception about soft skills is that they’re not as important as technical skills. Both types of skills are absolutely necessary. In my own experiences, my ability to work efficiently with a diverse group of individuals has opened up many opportunities for me. As an intern, I’ve found ways to prove that I can handle sensitive data, complete important projects, and collaborate effectively with others. For example, I was able to successfully design new marketing materials for my company’s university relations program through a combination of cross-functional meetings with individuals and departments. We brainstormed ideas, changed design concepts, sought feedback, and shared information on what we wanted the materials to portray. I can proudly say after all those months of meeting and edits, our new marketing materials are complete and ready to use and that I’m still in touch with the people I worked with. Now I’m regularly asked to join in on projects outside of my department, allowing me to gain more experience than I had expected.
When developing your personal brand, you must consider what it is that you want to be known for. I want to be known as the person who makes someone feel good, the person who is always willing to help, and the person who makes a positive impact on others. Many times we may feel anxious and unsure of how to approach and engage with those who are different than us. However, I believe it's effortless and universally okay to simply be nice. Be the one to initiate engagement with a "How are you?" or "It looks like you're having a hard time with that – let me assist you." If you’re good to people and good with people, you’re setting yourself up for a successful brand and a successful future.