Soft skills. You’ve probably heard of the term, but what are “soft skills,” and how can people build them in the workplace, at school or even throughout childhood?
We spoke to The Coca-Cola Company’s Global Head of Talent Acquisition & Deployment, Susan McKoin, and Managing Director of Life & Workforce Readiness at Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Greg Wise. Both offered their insights into soft skills, how to build them in the workplace and beyond, demonstrate them on a resume, the top ones to possess, plus why soft skills alone aren’t enough to get the job done.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills can encompass many things, and as Greg said, “they’re universally transferable skills.” They’re things like critical thinking, teamwork, effective communication and resilience. Soft skills are intangible, while hard skills are typically job-specific — like the ability to use a computer program, construct a home or design a product, for example.
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are something that everyone can begin acquiring from an early age, from learning teamwork as part of a sports program to navigating the complexities of collaboration during a group project in school.
Yet, soft skills don’t come naturally to many people and can be difficult to convey — especially in this digital age, where many jobs are remote, and people (including our youth) have experienced extended periods of isolation due to the recent pandemic. As Susan explained, “The earlier we can help young people collaborate and work together to build soft skills for jobs, the better off they’ll be when they reach the workplace.”
What Are Some Practical Tips to Help People Build Soft Skills in the Workplace (And Beyond)?
When it comes to building soft skills in the workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all method. However, as Susan shared, “People can continuously build soft skills by stepping out of their comfort zone and working collaboratively with others to push the boundaries of what they know.”
Here are a few things people can try at work to build their soft skills (bonus: students can also apply these tips at school or in a Boys & Girls Club setting):
- Volunteer to lead a project — this helps build soft skills in communication, critical thinking, leadership, time management and empathy.
- Set up a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor or mentor — this allows you to engage in clear communication, take initiative, think critically, lead, practice empathy and give and receive feedback.
- Start an initiative or club — this requires you to exercise leadership, communication, empathy, socialization and time management.
How to Demonstrate Soft Skills For Your Resume
Susan explained that at The Coca-Cola Company, job candidates are encouraged to incorporate soft skills in their resumes and discuss them during the interview process. For example, a candidate might want to include information about leading a team or being a member of a successful team or project in the workplace. “This shows examples of work ethic and time-management skills. As applicants outline their accomplishments, they should think about how they can weave in the soft skills that led to that accomplishment,” said Susan.
And for those who may be entering the workforce and don’t yet have a lot of work experience, there are other ways to demonstrate soft skills for jobs. Young people, in particular, may want to consider listing school projects (including their role), volunteer activities, club/extracurricular experience (Club kids, we’re talking to you!), and part-time jobs or internships.
Five Necessary Soft Skills to Succeed in the Workforce
Soft skills can’t be underscored enough, but they’re learned long before a person enters the workforce. Soft skills for future jobs are learned during childhood.
“The social-emotional learning that happens before a job helps define successful people,” said Greg. “Can you self-regulate, plan ahead to ensure you wake up on time and have your work clothes ready to go, get to school, and work and show up with the right attitude?”
“All those skills have to be learned and practiced before you even punch in and start getting paid,” Greg continued. “We have an unprecedented opportunity at Boys & Girls Clubs of America and through our partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, among others, to help young people become successful in their community and workplace through our Life & Workforce Readiness program for kids and teens.”
Boys & Girls Clubs set young people up for success by infusing soft skill-building throughout the Club day, helping kids as young as age six start to develop their communication, teamwork and leadership. In addition, Clubs provide mentorship, career exploration, job shadowing, hard skill development, interview preparation and more — including helping connect teens to first jobs.
“With The Coca-Cola Company’s support, social-emotional skill development, as well as career exploration, continue to be integrated into programming for Club kids, and both have been and will continue to be a strategic focus of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Life & Workforce Readiness strategy,” said Greg.
And as young people grow up and enter the workforce, Susan explained the top five soft skills she thinks are key to employee success are:
- Ability to adapt
- Critical thinking
- Strong work ethic
“At The Coca-Cola Company, we have a mentorship program and a robust learning environment. We want to drive every employee across the globe to continuously learn throughout their career and build upon their soft skills. At the same time, it’s a two-way street; individuals must want to improve and have the drive to reach their full potential. We’re here to help everyone succeed,” said Susan.
It Takes Soft Skills & Hard Skills to Get the Job Done
The truth is, soft skills alone won’t get you everywhere you need to go, but they will continue to be nonnegotiable for employers. In fact, a LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report said 92% of hiring managers said soft skills are equally or more important than technical skills when it comes to hiring. Additionally, nearly 9 in 10 said when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s typically because they lack critical soft skills for jobs.
So whether you’re preparing to enter the workforce or already in it, it’s critical to continuously build upon your soft and hard skills. This approach of “lifelong learning” will ensure that the possibilities for your growth are truly limitless.
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