Date posted: 10/01/2018

Soft skills don’t need to be hard

Earn the respect of your peers by brushing up on your communication and teamwork skills.

Become a Student Affiliate

Start a conversation with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand by signing up as a Student Affiliate and you’ll be kick-starting your future career in business and finance.

Sign Up NowAbout Become a Student Affiliate

Even though you use these skills every day in your personal life, they need to be polished to best serve your professional life.

While both hard skills and soft skills are important, only hard skills are typically taught at school and university. These may include mathematics, finance, the law and computer programing. Hard skills are clear in definition and are easily measured against specific criteria.

Soft skills however, pertain to the tools a person needs in order to communicate, socialise and work well with others both personally and professionally. They're the attributes you've been learning subconsciously your whole life by observing the people around you.

For graduates, it can be helpful to think of soft skills as the potential difference between being an employer's ideal candidate, and one who's merely adequate.

Employees in the workforce lack the essential soft skills required to succeed, according to a study released in 20161. It was found that hopeful applicants focus more on demonstrating that they possess the hard skills listed in the job ad - however, these are often skills that an employer can easily provide training for if required.

A recent Deloitte Access Economics' report commissioned by DeakinCo2 asserts soft skills 'are just as important to success' as technical skills.

A Kent State University paper3 found that business executives were looking for employees who possessed the following soft skills: communication, courtesy and respect for others, teamwork, conflict resolution, and adaptability.

Why are soft skills so important?

Soft skills are key to conducting good business, according to Linda Chander, Director of Enskills Learning and Development.

"When you enter the professional sphere, you have to step up to assume a professional profile, and this will not only include the business suit," Linda says.

"This means speaking and writing clearly, using appropriate language, and showing respect to others even if you disagree with them."

Communication is the key

"Communication is the core soft skill," Linda says. "We can't operate efficiently without it."

She explains that good communication is about being clear and thorough in what we say to others and being willing to listen to what is said to us.

Considering the potential consequences of mistakes within accounting and finance, good communication is crucial, Linda says. Your work may be excellent, but you often need to make yourself understood to minimise potential errors.

"We owe it to ourselves as professionals and to the wider business community to make what we write and say easily understood."

Respect your team

"In the workplace, we need to persuade and encourage others to listen to us or to adopt our ideas. Nobody likes arrogance, and in the modern workplace, bullying is being called out more and more," Linda says.

Linda advises that being willing to work together and collaborate with those around you is paramount. It's all important to encourage others in their work and recognise when someone else may know more than you. While it all sounds like common sense, it can take practice to respect someone else's position and effectively communicate when you disagree.

Ultimately, she cautions against blaming others for your mistake. "You earn respect when you can admit you've made a wrong move."

Be open to change

"Remember, none of us was born into a professional environment. Our behaviours and habits were formed in response to getting our needs met as we grew up. It worked for us then," Linda says. "Now however, we are entering a different world and we need to be able to navigate it."

That different world is the workplace. When you're just starting out, it can be a scary and exciting place.

You may have been building your soft skills since you were born, but suddenly, there's another level to rise up to. Change can be uncomfortable at first, but it's necessary to improve.

According to Linda, the best way to make the changes you'll need to in order to have a thriving career is by starting out with a real desire to become a competent and respected professional.

Observe and ask for feedback

"You can have all the technical knowledge you like, but if you can't apply it and you can't let people see that you have it, then you will be ineffective," Linda says.

One of the best ways to improve your soft skills is by watching those around you in the office. Notice how they interact with other people and listen to what they say. You can learn a lot about professionalism – good and bad approaches – by observing how others conduct themselves.

Another tactic is to ask for regular feedback. Instead of waiting for someone to tell you where to improve, be proactive and ask your supervisors. Ask specific questions and find out what you could've done better on a recent assignment. Next time, make a point of implementing their feedback. Linda says this shows your managers that you are willing to learn.

"Remember this is the start of your professional journey. If you want to get to a good destination, plan the journey well. Find out the best way to get there, remember to bring others along with you, and be prepared to change your ways."