Many people believe that if they just get that college degree or industry certification, they will have no trouble finding a job.
They also believe that once they get their foot in the door, then they will continue to climb the ladder if they work hard.
If you believe the same, you are wrong.
Today, employers are looking for more than someone to write code or deal with customers. They are looking for those employees who show a greater awareness of how their behavior and interactions with others also impacts the bottom line.
Often referred to as "soft skills," employers want workers who know how to interact well with others, who won't act like buttheads and who can empathize with customers and colleagues. The reason for this emphasis on soft skills isn't just about being a nicer person -- your behavior is seen as a direct impact on a company's success. If you can't collaborate with others or get along with vendors or customers, then you're going to adversely affect a company's ability to be more innovative and competitive.
I don't care where you are in your career -- trying to get your first professional job or a seasoned worker with two decades of experience -- soft skills are critical if you want to get a job, keep a job or rise in the ranks of your company. Without such skills, be prepared to earn less, get less interesting assignments and possibly be forced out the door in favor of someone who does have soft skills.
Soft skills don't just happen overnight. You have to work on them every day, and be committed to making them just as important as your other job skills. Some things to focus on:
- Seek out people who are different from you. It's easy to get along with people who work and act -- and even dress -- like you. But the only way to develop your interpersonal skills is to challenge yourself. Ask someone you don't know well -- or have clashed with in the past -- to have coffee or lunch. Spend time getting to know the person, and you will find yourself stretching your emotional boundaries in ways that will help you grow in your soft skills.
- Be more positive. Maybe you don't look at the world with rose-colored glasses, and may even look down upon those who do. But who do you think is getting along better with customers and colleagues? Would it be you -- who rarely smiles, who gets impatient quickly and doesn't even say "good morning" -- or the person who is always friendly and has a smile for others? Having a positive outlook not helps you get along better with your co-workers, but makes it easier for your boss to see you as having the right soft skills to take on big projects.
- Breathe. Work can be stressful, no matter your job or title. That's why you may fire off a terse email to a co-worker than makes you sound like a real a**hole. Or, you ignore an invitation to lunch with some colleagues because you've got too much to do. Maybe you don't tell a co-worker you're sorry her cat died because, well, you've got problems, too! OK, it's time to take a deep breath. Wait a a while before you write that email. Go to lunch with your teammates and share some chicken wings and a laugh. Show a co-worker who has lost a beloved pet that you're not so self-absorbed that you don't recognize sorrow. Simply by taking time to breath before you act like a jerk can help you develop better soft skills.
Finally, soft skills aren't just something that will pay off for your career. You will also reap the benefits personally by developing deeper, more meaningful relationships that will help you see that you're not just a cog in the wheel -- you're someone who makes a difference in the lives of others.