Three Essential “Soft” Job Skills

When asked about what job skills to improve, most people respond with “hard” job skills. You know, the stuff that gets you in the door from your resume. It’s the certifications you have, the awards you’ve achieved, the proof that you really know how to program 15,000 languages starting with the abacus.

You know the interesting thing about all those hard job skills? They will get you in the door. But they won’t get you the job. Too many people have the same hard job skills that you do. Pounding on the desk that your certification is better than someone else’s certification won’t endear you to the hiring manager to get you hired.

No, the differentiator is how well you do with the “soft” skills. What soft skills?

How you work with a team

No one works in isolation. We work with teams. Whether it is a matrix-managed project team or our coworkers working for a common manager, we work with other people. As soon as you enter in another human in the discourse, there will be conflict that needs resolving, priorities that need planning and work where people on the team can count on you to deliver your part.

Business is social. That means it is messy because we humans are messy.

How well you can navigate the different styles of people and still get things done is paramount for success in the job. You can be certified in ten fields and still get fired because you can’t figure out how to work with people in a team environment.

How to work with a manager

In my consulting gig, I’m now working with my fifth manager in just over a year. And in eighteen years at one company, I never had the same manager two years in a row do my performance review.

Do all managers have the same management style? No. Do they all work the same way? No. Do they have the same priorities? No.

But your manager is your most important customer; customers matter less than what your manager wants from your work. Harsh, but true. Who else, after all, signs your paycheck, determines your goal attainment and gives you your review?

How well you code matters. But not as much if you can’t get along with your manager and adjust your work habits to match up with what your manager wants. And, yes, I know that managers have flaws — just like we all do — and you’ll never please all managers all the time. But, they write the reviews and make the hiring decisions. End game.

How to show your business results

In our jobs, we support the business. We are not sales people, selling to customers and bringing in revenue. We’re not customer support people helping external customers with their problems. We’re not product people, determining what the market needs and defining services to help fill that need.

No, what we do is put structure around what the business wants done to move their goals forward. Our work, with business support, defines how the business process works. Our work shows what in the business process is profitable. Our work reports how the business is doing so the business can make decisions around what works and what doesn’t.

Most of us, though, have a hard time talking about our business results. About how our work supported the business. We can talk about the great UI screen we did, but not how that screen made it easier for customers to order from us and thereby generated revenue.

We can talk about the great process flow we implemented through decisions in our work flow, but not how that work flow reduced costs for the business and enabled analysis of what in the work flow could get improvement with changes.

It’s that next step — not what we did, but how what we did improved the business — that most of us have a hard time talking about. But hiring managers want people who can produce business results.

Improve your soft job skills

While most talk about improving job skills and cite examples of hard skills, work just as hard at improving your teamwork and managerial compatibility skills. Plus, figure out how what you do produces business results.

Remember, hard skills will get you the interview, but soft skills will get you the job.

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