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“Our society teaches us to spend a lot of time looking out there for success, but the ability to drive yourself to your full potential starts internally with personal mastery.” – Rapelang Rabana, founder and CEO of Rekindle Learning.

They say hard skills get you the interview but soft skills lands you the job. So what are soft skills – and how can you make them work for you?

While hard skills refer to your skills set and ability to carry out work-related tasks – from typing up memos to drawing up plans for your architecture firm – soft skills are personal attributes that impact how you go about handling everyday challenges and tasks. These habits or traits also affect your relationships and interactions with clients, colleagues or your boss.

According to Liz Cowell, recruitment specialist and owner of Vega Recruitment, good examples of soft skills include: “being able to listen to others’ point of view and understanding their position – listening properly to what is being said and understanding and interpreting things at the correct level are vital to any job; knowing when you are wrong and to admit it; and to take ownership of your job and your role, and to be responsible for your actions.”

Showcasing your soft skills

Also known as transferable skills because you can often use them in various situations or jobs, it’s important to highlight your soft skills early in the job-hunting process. You can integrate them into your CV or cover letter by giving specific examples of when you demonstrated soft skills such problem-solving, team work, flexibility, negotiation or motivating others, etc. in past jobs or internships.

Joanne Wood of Achieve Careers (www.achievecareers.co.za) says:
“Key transferable skills that all employers look for are interpersonal and communication skills. These soft skills are particularly important if the position involves any interaction with customers as employers would like to see that the applicant would portray an appropriate image of the company when interacting with clients.”

When it comes to showcasing your soft skills during an interview, Woods recommends arriving with specific examples to draw on – it’s one thing writing down skills for your resume; it’s another trying to unpack them in a stressful job interview. Think of how you have developed interpersonal skills at your last job or while you were at college or university. Perhaps you led a team and had to interact effectively with people from different backgrounds. Examples like these show an employer that you will be able to implement this skill in their work setting.”

Adds Woods: “With regards to communication skills, your CV will already be an illustration of your written communication ability (it’s also evidence that you can be concise and stick to two pages!); the interview gives an employer insight into how clearly you communicate. Again, preparation is key and you’re likely to be calmer and more confident if you have specific examples ready to draw on.”

To illustrate you have developed communication skills, Woods suggests using examples such a having conducted presentations, facilitated workshops or written newsletters.

Identifying and improving your soft skills

While it may be tempting to cram in as many soft skills as possible into your CV or at your next interview, don’t go overboard! Start by doing a self-evaluation: jot down what you do well and how you approach various tasks and situations, from always meeting a deadline to resolving conflicts in a team. Next, remember to include only those soft skills that you have concrete examples to show how you used these skills.

Finally, use your soft skill self-evaluation to not only identify strengths, but to also find out your weaknesses. Like hard skills, you can spend time improving soft skills such as poor time management, not being able to perform under pressure, or always taking work criticism personally. Ask a co-worker or mentor who demonstrates these skills you need to work on for tips and advice – and remember, practice make perfect!

By Joanne Wood

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