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Andrew Arkley|June 13, 2023

Soft Skills: What They Are And How To Highlight Them

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One of the most common questions we receive is: “What are soft skills?” And perhaps more importantly: “Can you give some examples of soft skills that look good on a CV?”

Sometimes, job applicants overlook the value of well-worded soft skills on their CVs. As you might expect, they prioritise writing about their hard skills, achievements, career experience and so on.

Many employers receive a very high number of applications for their open positions. As an example, the Institute of Student Employers reports that retail, FMCG and tourism roles get 182 CVs for each vacancy.

But when there’s lots of competition for a role and plenty of candidates have a similar pedigree, talking about your soft skills in the right way could make the difference.

So, what are soft skills? How do they differ from other ones? And what are good examples of soft skills?

Let’s take a look.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal skills referring to individual qualities, characteristics, abilities and traits. For example, good time management is a soft skill.

According to a recent survey from Indeed with 1,000 hiring managers, the most common soft skills among top performers are:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Self-direction
  • Drive
  • Flexibility / adaptability

Soft skills tend to be more informal than other skills. 

For example – there isn’t an official, high-profile, universally-recognised qualification to improve your time management. That said, there are courses available to help you improve your time management and some of these will be CPD certified.

Soft skills can be difficult to measure. However, we recommend that you try to – and we’ll cover that towards the end of this article.

Soft skills vs. hard skills

In contrast to soft skills, hard skills are often in the education section of a CV. They’re also known as professional or technical skills.

Another key difference is that hard skills are usually quantifiable and often necessary for the role you’re applying for.

Common examples include a university degree, professional qualifications or certifications and foreign language experience – such as a CEFR C2 level of French.

A hard skill can also include experience, or a high level of familiarity with, something specific. For example – if you know how to use Python software to a high standard, but you don’t have an official certificate to show for it, you can still add it to your CV.

Just make sure that you never include anything false on your CV whatsoever – it is illegal to lie on your CV and you will be caught out.

Soft skills and ATS software

Every job candidate needs to be wary of applicant tracking system (ATS) software when deciding which soft skills to put on a CV before sending it to a company. 

ATS software helps HR departments in their recruitment process by scanning CVs to identify which ones are suitable for the role – for example, by looking for specific keywords.

The CVs deemed to be the best fit for the position by the ATS will reach the next stage where a real person reviews them.

In most cases, the software will be programmed to look for the essential hard skills required for the job. However, if there are soft skills that are also crucial for the role or part of the company’s values, the ATS may well look for signs of these on your CV too.

So, when you’re applying for a role, always read the job advert carefully. Does the employer highlight any soft skills as particularly important – ‘excellent attention to detail’ for a data analyst, for example?

If so, try to dial up the soft skills mentioned in the job advert. And remember, tailor your CV to the job description – don’t send the same document to every employer and make tweaks based on what they’re looking for.

How to stand out with soft skills

The best way to catch employers’ attention with soft skills on your CV is to back them up with quantifiable evidence.

While hard skills are quantifiable by default, you need to think a little harder to describe your soft skill set with numbers.

Reflect on a time when you did something outstanding using one of your personal attributes. To convey this example to someone who doesn’t know you, first think about it in terms of the STAR method:

  • Situation: This should be clear from the company or your job role
  • Task: Specify the challenge
  • Action: Be precise about what you did using your soft skill
  • Result: Share the results of your actions, using statistics if possible

However, be concise on your CV. Something we’re asked time and again is how many pages a CV should be – in short, you’d need a very good reason to go over one page. 

Try to cover the key details about what you’ve achieved with a particular soft skill in a short sentence – we’ll show you how to do this next.

Examples of soft skills

Let’s take three of the most in-demand examples of soft skills and explore how to use data to back up your claims:

  • Communication: I pitch to prospective clients in meetings every week and have also presented at a conference in front of 200 people.
  • Leadership: I manage a team of six sales reps and last year we exceeded our sales target by 22%.
  • Multi-tasker: By focusing on website optimisations, content creation and social media simultaneously, I helped a client increase conversions by 215% in six months.

By using figures and statistics, you’re not just expecting an employer to take your word for it. Instead, you’re providing evidence to support your case and highlight your soft skills.

In contrast, simply writing ‘strong communication skills’ on a CV isn’t likely to do you any favours. Generalisations are one of the top 10 mistakes that make your CV look unprofessional.

Summary: What are soft skills?

In short, your soft skills are more informal than hard skills but harder to quantify. They are your individual characteristics, abilities, qualities and traits. 

If you can find strong, relevant examples of soft skills to include on your CV that your prospective employer is looking for, they may help you to stand out from other applicants.

If you need help writing up your soft skills, or any part of your CV, that’s where we come in!We have a range of services to support your job application and if you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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