6 soft skills every professional needs

Soft skills

It's become more important than ever for young professionals to display strong interpersonal skills when looking for work.

Faced with rampant unemployment and stiff competition for the jobs that are available, many job seekers are struggling to find a way to make professional inroads. However, there are still those who manage to get hired or promoted not because of their degree or technical expertise, but because of their communication and interpersonal skills, often referred to as "soft skills."

According to the National Careers Service, soft skills are personal qualities and attitudes that help employees work well with others and encourage productivity within the workplace. And these types of skills may be more important than people realize. A recent study conducted by Millennial Branding and American Express showed that 61 percent of managers surveyed felt that soft skills were more important in new hires than hard skills, or even technical skills. In fact, the same study showed that the top three characteristics managers looked for when promoting millennials were the ability to prioritize work (87 percent), a positive attitude (86 percent) and teamwork skills (86 percent).

The fact that managers are prioritizing soft skills higher than other job-related skills makes sense. As an article from Mind Tools recently pointed out, most people don't choose their dentist based solely on his or her technical skills and expertise; they go with dentists who treat patients well and take time to answer their questions. The same thing goes for other professions, whether we're talking about doctors, accountants, social workers or secretaries. Despite this growing emphasis on soft skills in the workplace, they aren't traditionally taught in school, or even on the job. Workers often have to learn them on their own, either by observing and mimicking exceptional professionals who display these traits or practicing them like they would any other skill.

The soft skills employers look for

It's become more important than ever for young professionals to display strong interpersonal skills when looking for work. Here are six areas every job hunter should focus on:

1. Communication - As author Lauren Stiller recently pointed out in an interview with Fox Business, advances in technology have, in many cases, robbed young people of their ability to communicate effectively by encouraging the use of abbreviated emails and text messages. Stiller advises young professionals to demonstrate that they can communicate without technology by engaging co-workers and clients in face-to-face conversation and sending professional emails.

2. Teamwork - Being able to work as part of a team displays one's ability to get along with, and complete work-related tasks with, many different types of personalities. Team players also show their ability to cooperate and compromise with others, which is a trait often sought after by employers and hiring managers. Professionals who want to be seen as team players should take special care to mention situations when they worked effectively with others on their resume and be willing to describe those situations in-depth.

3. Flexibility - Employees who are flexible with their schedule and responsibilities don't just say they're a team player, they show it. That kind of can-do attitude is essential in the workplace, and can easily make an employee stand out when it comes to promotions, raises, and more. To ensure that this soft skill is on display, describe instances when you've been flexible that have benefited you and the company you worked for.

4. Positivity - Nobody wants to work with a grouch. To avoid being a negative nelly, don't criticize and don't complain, says author Laura Vanderkam in a recent article in Fast Company. Instead of harping on others' mistakes, show them the right way to do things and praise their improvements. The easiest way to give off a positive demeanor is to be receptive to others -- and smiling never hurts.

5. Time management - According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, time management skills are crucial for new hires since they're often juggling a variety of roles and responsibilities, especially in startups. To help your potential employer understand how well you manage your time, be prepared to explain the way you prioritize your daily tasks, and most importantly, "why."

6. Confidence - Confidence is key when it comes to winning over both clients and co-workers. However, displaying confidence in person, as opposed to on a resume, can be a difficult soft skill to master. Chloe Isabel, whose direct-sales jewelry company targets millennials for hiring, told Fox Business that she is often let down when meeting an interviewee in person, after discovering that their personality doesn't live up to the confidence they display on paper. "I find many recent college students and grads don't make eye contact, don't carry themselves well and don't speak with authority, which can be a little disheartening to the interviewer," she says.

Honing your soft skill set

Whether it's practicing effective verbal communication, being purposefully positive at work, or learning to work in teams or groups, any time invested into honing soft skills is likely a good investment. Even better news is that, unlike specific technical skills, soft skills are almost always transferable among jobs and even industries. So, take a look around at the most successful people you know and study the soft skills they have on display. There's a good chance those personality traits have helped them get where they are today -- and that the same skills could help you advance in your field as well.

Holly Johnson writes for OnlineDegrees.com. This article was originally published on OnlineDegrees.com