Soft Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 17 September 2022 | Published 25 August 2020

Updated 17 September 2022

Published 25 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Soft skills are personal qualities that help you collaborate, lead and function effectively in the workplace. Having the soft skills that employers desire in their employees can help you stand out from other candidates with similar qualifications. It is essential to know about the most important personality traits that can help you impress hiring managers and how to present them on your CV for maximum effect. In this article, we discuss soft skills and their importance, explore some examples and explain how to improve them and use them during the job application process.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are abilities or qualities that are a part of your personality. They are different from hard skills, which you gain through formal training, education and professional courses. Employers value candidates who have soft skills that can be an asset to the company. Soft skills such as communication, collaboration, leadership, adaptability and problem-solving are qualities that hiring managers look for while interviewing job applicants.

Related: Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills are extremely important when it comes to working with other people effectively. Some positions even require candidates to have certain personality traits, like strong communication skills for a customer service job, in order to get better workplace results. In job descriptions, employers often include a list of the soft skills they want applicants to have, including communication skills, critical thinking, leadership and teamwork as desirable qualities.

Besides inherent soft skills, you can gain others through conscious and consistent learning and practice. These skills are also transferable across diverse industries. However, it is vital to demonstrate how these skills will translate to tangible results in your workplace. You can indicate this in your CV and during an interview.

Soft skills employers look for in candidates

Here are 10 desirable soft skills that employers seek:

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Adaptability

  • Leadership

  • Creativity

  • Work ethics

  • Time management

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Conflict resolution

  • Critical thinking

Communication

Effective communication is one of the most sought-after soft skills. If you mention this skill in your CV, hiring managers will test and judge your communication skills during the interview. Being able to communicate your ideas clearly and accurately, both when writing and speaking, is a skill that employers seek foremost among job applicants.

Read more: 10 Helpful Tips for Communication Skills in the Workplace

Problem-solving

The ability to solve problems is another quality that employers look for. Problem-solving involves several other soft and hard skills. To help your company solve complex problems, you need to gain in-depth insights into its operations, understand how to do research and come up with actionable feedback. Problem-solving also requires you to take initiative, consider risks and collaborate with others to deliver results.

Adaptability

In the age of disruptive technologies, organisations need employees who can adapt quickly in a dynamic industry. This requires flexibility, a good understanding of industry trends, risk-taking, openness to new ideas and optimism. Being able to use limited resources to achieve results in a rapidly changing industry or market is an excellent personal quality to have as an employee.

Leadership

The ability to lead is a sought-after skill in most organisations. Employees who can lead, motivate and influence other people and help channel the collective energy to achieve goals are assets to any company. Leadership gives you the confidence to take responsibility for large projects, settle workplace disputes and maintain cordial relations among teams. Even if you are not a natural leader, you can become one with consistent practice and experience.

Related: Leadership Skills vs. Leadership Traits: With Examples

Creativity

Creative employees can solve problems, take initiative, improve processes and come up with new ways to help their organisations increase productivity and efficiency. This trait is mostly innate, but it can be nurtured as well, and it is essential for jobs like designers, architects and content writers. Individuals with strong creative skills are good at thinking outside of the box to solve complex problems.

Read more: Creative Skills in the Workplace

Work ethic

Work ethic or professionalism is the ability to meet your job responsibilities effectively. Employees with a strong work ethic are able to accomplish their tasks in a timely manner, and, in doing so, develop positive relationships with colleagues and management. If you have a strong work ethic, you are likely punctual, persistent, dependable, hardworking and attentive.

Related: How To Demonstrate a Strong Work Ethic to Your Employer

Time management

Time management is an essential attribute for employees in a fast-moving workplace. People with this quality have no problem meeting deadlines or achieving high levels of productivity. The ability to manage your time effectively requires immense self-discipline, which is another good soft skill to have.

Conflict resolution

If you are applying for a customer service job or a management role, part of your responsibility will entail resolving problems with employees, clients or customers. Conflict resolution requires excellent interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and listening abilities.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an interpersonal skill that gives you insight into the personality of coworkers, superiors or customers, which you can use to do your job more effectively. Emotional intelligence requires empathy, good communication skills and a genuine desire to understand other viewpoints. This trait can help you bond with coworkers, resolve issues with customers and boost your career prospects.

Related: Emotional Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is necessary for jobs that involve solving complex problems. Many employers in technology, research and other related industries seek employees who can innovate to give them an edge over competitors.

Read more: 9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How To Develop Them

How to improve your soft skills

Soft skills are challenging to teach, but with persistence and training, you should be able to develop them over time. Here are some ways to enhance your soft skills and improve your employability:

1. Identify the skills you want to improve

Since most soft skills are a matter of routine, you can usually pick them up with time. For example, you can improve your work ethic by practising punctuality (showing up to work or events on time or early, for example) and starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule.

2. Emulate people with desirable soft traits

An effective way to acquire soft skills is to observe and model yourself after people who have the attributes you desire. You can ask them about how they organise their days, prepare for meetings, deliver projects and communicate with others. You can incorporate the insights you learn into your routine to improve your skills and become a better worker.

3. Measure your progress

When working toward improving specific soft skills, set milestones to measure your progress. An easy way to know how well you are doing is to ask friends and coworkers for feedback. This can help you identify areas that need further improvement.

Self-reflection is also an excellent technique to help you find ways to improve the desired soft skills. You can start a journal where you record your daily activities. Revisiting your daily journal entries is a good way to better understand your behavioural patterns and assess the progress you make in acquiring new traits to improve your professionalism.

How to highlight soft skills on your CV and cover letter

Including job-specific soft skills on your CV and cover letter can help position you as a good fit for a job in an employer's mind. Here are ways you can showcase your soft skills in your job application:

Soft skills for CVs

Study job descriptions to identify the soft skills employers are looking for in candidates. Create a skills section on your CV and list core qualities that qualify you for the role.

For example, if you are applying to be a customer service representative, you might include soft skills like:

  • Problem-solving

  • Active listening

  • Communication

  • Customer service

  • Conflict resolution

Soft skills for cover letters

To demonstrate your soft skills to employers in your cover letter, include at least one scenario where you used a personal quality to achieve results in a previous role. Emphasise your suitability for the position by describing how your soft skills can help you fit into the organisation and deliver high-quality results.

For example, you might include something like this in your cover letter:

'At my previous company, I worked in a leadership role where management relied on me to motivate my team, maintain a good office atmosphere and deliver projects on schedule. During my time in this position, I started a new performance evaluation process that allowed junior staff to provide feedback on their managers anonymously. This improved the conduct of team leaders, resulted in a 45% reduction in workplace conflict and increased productivity by 35% in the first year after implementation.'

Explore more articles