The importance of soft skills in the workplace
Soft skills in the workplace are important at every level and everyone can benefit from working on them, from students to newcomers to well-placed professionals. When applying for a job or a promotion, your soft skills are as important as the hard skills i.e., the skill you need to achieve success on the job.
As a newcomer to Canada, you will eventually land a job but getting the position you want or progressing in your career may be an uphill task without the necessary soft skills. Despite having years of work experience at established organizations, in addition to a high level of education and quality references, many immigrants find it challenging to advance in their careers. According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “Immigrants may have made progress reaching the first rung on their career ladder in Canada, but they are getting nowhere near the C-suites.” In the workplace, there is need for both the hard i.e., technical skills needed to perform and the soft skills to fit into and progress within the Canadian workplace culture.
These include skills like communication, the ability to work in a team, adaptability, self-awareness, time management, leadership skills and overall, doing things in a culturally appropriate way. In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report, 92 per cent of talent acquisition professionals admit that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills.
In my two decades of experience as a Career Coach, I have interacted with everyone from newcomers looking for their first job in Canada to those looking to transition to a job more appropriate to their skill set from that first ‘entry-level job’, to mid-level career professionals aiming to climb up the career ladder.
Having worked with everyone from management consultants, occupational therapists, software engineers, CPAs, aerospace engineers and more, I see a higher demand for soft skills in BHASE sectors (Business, Humanities, Health, Arts, Social Science and Education) over the STEM sectors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The Client Services Manager definitely needs more soft skills compared to the Lab Technician. But in the long run for career progression, it is wise to brush up on your people skills at every given opportunity.
Six important soft skills you need to be effective in the workplace
1. Communication: It goes without saying that effective communication – both written and verbal skills – is paramount to any job. It involves articulating oneself well, being a good listener and using appropriate body language. Good communication enhances your chances of building relationships with co-workers.
2. Teamwork: A company’s success is the result of many people working toward a common goal. Employers look to team players to help build a friendly office culture, which helps retain employees and in turn, attracts top talent.
3. Flexibility: The speed of change in The speed of change in workplaces can be very rapid. Consequently, employers need workers who can adapt to industry shifts and changes. Adaptability is an extremely valuable asset to employers.
4. Problem solving: Companies rely on problem solvers to navigate unexpected challenges. Problem solving also includes EQ (Emotional Intelligence) – the ability to control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships.
5. Creativity: Creative thinking means being resourceful and finding ways to solve problems with limited resources. Your ability to come up with unique solutions or alternatives can drive innovation and increase efficiency.
6. Leadership: Displaying leadership skills helps you gain visibility which can lead to more opportunities for new jobs, promotions or salary raises. One way to do this is to seek opportunities to take on more responsibility and serve teams as much as possible.
Getting a job is only the first step. Once you get that start, beyond making a living, you need to focus on how to fit in and progress to senior level positions. Make it a conscious effort to break current communication barriers, increase job satisfaction, add value to your organization and advance to more fulfilling roles. You can consciously develop soft skills that will help you begin to understand some of these differences and apply your new knowledge.
It’s important to understand how your performance will be measured in a Canadian workplace. I believe that these four key actions can hugely help in your advancement at work.
1. Making an effort to fit in: To get ahead in your career, you must be perceived as being able to fit into the company culture. Fitting in includes having the soft skills to blend in with your colleagues. Sometimes this could also mean being able to socialize after office hours and discuss the latest Leafs game – this is as important as your ability to multitask and deliver the projects on time. Get out from behind your desk — especially if you’re new to your role. Make it a priority to show up on time for meetings, prioritize time management on team projects; but at the same time, set up lunch dates with colleagues, attend special events and so on with equal adroitness.
2. Focusing on interpersonal skills: Whether you’re at a board meeting or at a social event, your interactions with colleagues and key influencers will establish a foundation for your future success in your organization. Make it a point to be engaging and genuinely interested in the person you are talking to.
• Become comfortable with small talk. Canadians love to talk about subjects including the weather, the weekend getaway, last night’s game before getting to the main topic. • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. And do it sincerely. This makes the other person feel important.
3. Learning to be assertive: Many people shy away from being assertive at work for fear of offending someone, but that may be an incorrect perception. Assertiveness is often confused with being aggressive. While aggressive behaviour takes the ‘my way or the highway’ approach, assertive behaviour means expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs in a direct, clear, honest and respectful way to others. Assertiveness requires a combination of hard and soft skills, which is highly valued in the workplace. Aim to be assertive. No matter how new or settled, no matter how big or small your job profile is — interacting in this manner will make your employers see you as a valuable team player.
According to Anna Zhang, a rising PR professional and marketing manger for financial projects who interacts with diverse individuals, and one of the people I had the opportunity to coach, focusing on soft skills helped her be more persuasive. “I learned to accept that asserting my point of view in a cordial, but firm way will help me further my career. Assertiveness is a necessary soft skill and if done properly, there is nothing unseemly about it.”
4. Executive presence: How do you get promoted into a senior management role? Executive presence requires this combination of soft skills in addition to your hard skills. To be promoted into leadership positions, being perceived as leadership material is essential. Some of the key elements of executive presence include the ability to project confidence, read an audience or situation well and develop a sense of others’ perspectives. In addition, the ability to speak with authority, make presentations and poise under pressure, and appearance, all contribute to your executive presence.