Do the skills you list on your resume highlight your strongest talents? Do they reflect the hard and soft skills employers want to see if you’re competing for a new role? If not, this guide provides tips for taking control of your professional development, no matter where you are on your career path.
Get the Hard Facts on Soft Skills
In comparison to hard skills, soft skills can be elusive, and you may wonder what the words “excellent communication skills” or “strong team player” really mean. Read on to understand the meaning behind the words.
Communication skills: Effective communication is the cornerstone of a productive and successful workplace. Employers seek employees who can confidently and clearly articulate their thoughts and ideas. This includes active listening, clarity in written and verbal communication, and team collaboration. Many jobs also value public speaking and presentation skills.
Adaptability and flexibility: The pandemic taught us that change happens when we least expect it, and it’s important to be adaptable and flexible in the workplace. You’re adaptable and flexible if you can work under pressure, pivot quickly, and maintain a clear head in ever-changing environments. You’re willing to take on new challenges, are open to new ideas, and like to learn and grow.
Problem solving and critical thinking: Organizations are always looking for people who can analyze complex situations, identify potential issues, and implement effective solutions. Being able to overcome obstacles and navigate through challenges in a systematic and logical way is a highly coveted skill.
Leadership and teamwork: Leadership includes the ability to motivate, inspire, and guide others toward a common goal. Teamwork refers to a collaborative work style and ability to build relationships across departments, organizations, and cultures. Employers highly value team members who foster a positive work environment, are open to mentorship, and lead by example.
Emotional intelligence: This describes your ability to understand others' emotions and respond appropriately. Employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, as it enhances communication, collaboration, and productivity. A high level of emotional intelligence also helps employees navigate sensitive or difficult situations, build relationships with colleagues and clients, and lead more effectively.
It’s true that many employers provide job-specific training, and some even invest heavily in preparing teams to advance within the organization. But whether or not you receive on-the-job instruction, you can take charge of your own skill set so you’re positioned to achieve your professional goals.
But where do you start?
The first thing you need to do is make sure you can categorize your skills in a way that makes sense to employers. And at the highest level, you need to be clear on the difference between hard and soft skills.
Understanding Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
In the world of work, the talents needed for various job titles are generally categorized as being hard or soft skills. Even though both are equally important for professional success, it can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between the two.
Hard skills. These are the practical and professional abilities people acquire through formal education, training, or certifications. Hard skills are quantifiable, specific, and easy to measure. Examples include accounting methodologies, programming languages, data analysis, or proficiency with graphic design software. While hard skills are essential in every company, they vary widely from job to job. For instance, a software developer might need hard skills related to coding, software testing, or cloud computing. A marketing professional might need solid experience with SEO, social media, or copywriting.
Soft skills. Every job requires soft skills, which are often described as the social ability to enhance interpersonal relationships. Unlike technical skills, soft skills are harder to quantify and include talents related to communication, adaptability, leadership, or critical thinking. For instance, a customer support representative may need excellent communication and problem-solving skills to resolve a customer's query, while a human resources professional might need great listening skills, diplomacy, and a facility for conflict resolution.
The 5-Step Skills Assessment
Once you’re clear on the meaning of hard and soft skills, it’s time to move on to conducting your skills assessment.
1. Start with your goals
The first step in any skills assessment is to identify your goals. If you’ve embarked on a career planning journey, you may already have a roadmap for how you want your professional life to evolve. If not, think about what you want to achieve going forward or what skills are most important for you to succeed in your current role or to advance to your next role. Consider your short-term goals as well as your long-term career aspirations. With a professional roadmap, you can better gauge how your skills support or detract from your plan.
2. Evaluate your skills
This is the time for self-reflection and list-making. Review your own job description and look at those of similar job titles to develop a master list of required or high-in-demand hard and soft skills for your line of work. To be proactive, take a look at job descriptions and the skills required for jobs you aspire to hold. With your lists in hand, check the skills you currently possess. You might even rate them in terms of your proficiency, such as low, medium, high, or on a rating scale of 1-5.
3. Identify the gaps
However, you chose to categorize the items, you should end up with a list of your highest-level skills, your medium-level skills, and the skills you need to improve or simply don’t have.
Next, compare your categorized list against the skills you’ve pulled for your current or future roles. If your list aligns well with the most desired skills, consider adding new talents that might help you move forward. If you lack a few basic skills that are fundamental to your advancement, you’ll want to focus your energy on building up those areas before branching out to “nice-to-have” skills.
4. Develop a plan to close the gaps
Now it’s time to figure out how to shore up your weak spots. This may involve taking courses, attending workshops or conferences, or seeking out mentorship or coaching.
If the skills you lack are crucial for your current role, express your interest in learning more with your supervisor. Investigate if the company can support you in building your skills either by paying for courses or providing paid time for you to learn. Many software platforms offer free training to subscribers, so you might be able to gain training on a company account. If you need to attend classes outside of your work hours, talk with your organization about helping to fund the course or compensating you for your time.
And of course, there may be training, classes, or tutorials that you’ll simply need to do on your own. Outline your options and set achievable goals. Be realistic about your timeline, budget, and other life commitments.
5. Track your progress
Finally, it’s important to track your progress and measure your success. Keep a record of courses you take, skills you develop, and successes you achieve. Use this information to update your resume, revise your LinkedIn profile, and showcase your skills to your employer. Give yourself a high-five for your achievements and continue to set new goals that motivate and inspire you.
With a little preparation and intention, doing your own skills assessment can be a valuable exercise for your professional development. By identifying your goals, assessing your current skills, identifying gaps, developing a plan, and tracking your progress, you can take control of your career and set yourself up for success.
Remember, professional development is an ongoing process, and it’s up to you to take the reins and keep yourself relevant and competitive. Good luck!
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