When embarking on a career change, your priority is usually to learn the hard, technical skills that will help you to land your first job.
But hard skills aren’t the only skills employers look for. In fact, soft skills are in equally high demand, especially in the tech industry.
So what are soft skills—and why are they so important?
Soft skills form an essential part of your personal brand and set you apart from the competition. Contrary to the name, there’s nothing soft about soft skills.
They play a vital role in what makes someone a good leader, a strong decision-maker, and a respected team player, and employers are recognizing this.
In this blog post, we’ll explain what hard and soft skills are, how to develop them, and which soft skills stand out to tech employers.
- What are soft skills?
- The top in-demand soft skills in tech
- How to develop soft skills
- How to highlight soft skills on your resumé
- Final thoughts
1. What are soft skills?
Soft skills are behavioral traits that directly influence how you work and interact with others. As opposed to hard skills, soft skills aren’t role-specific: They’re universal characteristics that are applicable across industries.
Soft skills are often referred to as transferable skills, interpersonal skills, and non-technical skills.
So, why are soft skills important?
Employers don’t just want to know you can do the bare minimum of what the role requires; they want to know that you’ll positively impact the dynamic within the team—and, overall, the business.
Ever heard employers talk about “the right fit”? They’re usually referring to the soft skills and personality traits that will enable you to have a smooth transition into your new team with minimal friction.
If you look at a job description, you might see some soft skills listed in their nice-to-have section.
Some soft skills are generally expected. For example, in order to succeed on pretty much any tech team, you’ll need to be a good communicator.
Other soft skills are more role-specific; and, as such, are much more in demand with employers. These might be public speaking or leadership skills.
These soft skills lend themselves much more to long-term growth and career progression—which tells employers you could be a good potential candidate for a more senior position down the line. We’ll look more specifically at examples of soft skills in the next section.
The great thing about soft skills is that they’re transferable across industries. When embarking on a career change, you might worry that you don’t have the relevant skills to land your first job in your new field.
In reality, you’ve likely already got the soft skills employers are looking for. It’s not just work that teaches us in-demand soft skills; you can also pick them up from your personal life, education, volunteer work, trips, and so on.
Soft skills versus hard skills
So, how do soft skills actually differ from hard skills? And why do you need both?
Hard skills refer to the technical skills and abilities you need to perform basic tasks as part of a specific role. Hard skills can usually be clearly defined, measured, and assessed.
For a UX designer, hard skills might include wireframing, prototyping, and user flows.
One way to think about it is that hard skills are the technical skills you need to land a job, but soft skills are the interpersonal skills you need to succeed in the job long-term.
When hiring, employers look for both hard skills and soft skills in order to assess whether someone is right for the role.
To learn more, check out our guide to five ways to prepare for a major career change.
Examples of soft skills
There is a seemingly endless list of soft skills any one person can have simultaneously. For the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to be focusing on examples of soft skills which employers deem desirable workplace traits.
Generally speaking, soft skills tend to fall into three categories:
- Interpersonal skills come into play when you interact with colleagues, clients, or stakeholders. These include emotional intelligence, communication, empathy, active listening, networking skills, and feedback.
- Leadership skills are the characteristics a person needs in order to garner respect from their peers and effectively lead others. These include project management, public speaking, proactiveness, initiative, and self-awareness.
- Organizational skills help a person stay focused, organize their workload, and work efficiently towards their desired outcome. These include time management, goal setting, strategic thinking, delegation, and resourcefulness.
This is by no means an exhaustive list—or a guide to which soft skills you should have. Different soft skills are particularly useful for different roles, which brings us to the next section:
2. The top in-demand soft skills in tech
So now we know what soft skills are, and what they look like. You might be feeling chuffed knowing that you’re already a great communicator, or amazing at time management. But which soft skills are going to be the most useful in your new position?
Let’s look at which soft skills are currently in-demand across the tech industry.
Empathy refers to the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and consider their point of view.
An increasing number of employers are catching onto just how powerful of a tool empathy can be; both for improving user experience, and for developing team efficiency.
Empathy helps to cultivate an inclusive working culture, and as a result, practicing empathy—and understanding why it’s important—is bound to win you brownie points in the job market.
Public speaking isn’t easy, and that’s what makes it such an elusive and sought-after skill.
No matter the career path, most tech professionals will need to present their ideas or findings to a group at some point. But if you can confidently lead presentations, speak in webinars, or speak at events—that’s what takes you from tech professional to tech influencer.
The best part? You don’t have to be a leader in tech to start developing your public speaking skills.
Anyone can perform the basic tasks expected of them in a role, but that certainly won’t help you progress in your career or move up within the company.
Being proactive and taking initiative are highly-desired soft skills because they demonstrate your enthusiasm—and commitment—to the company.
If you’re able to identify areas for improvement and act on them without being told to, you won’t fly under the radar as a clear candidate for a promotion.
Effective communication is often taken for granted a highly valued skill in tech. Our words hold immense power, and great communication skills are a cornerstone of any company’s success.
Communication can be an umbrella term that encompasses giving and receiving feedback, active listening, tactfully disagreeing with people, and facilitating conversations to make sure every voice is heard.
Being a good communicator also means being able to adapt your communication style based on who you’re speaking to and the setting.
Businesses—especially startups—are constantly changing and evolving.
Sometimes, the change is intentional. Other times, it’s out of anyone’s control. Being able to adapt to change is a highly sought-after trait; especially if you’re able to maintain a positive outlook in the face of turbulence.
Change is inevitable, but if you can quickly re-strategize and find ways to thrive during uncertain periods—you’re likely to go far in tech.
Being able to think critically about a problem and solve it in real time is a skill that employers value extremely highly—especially for more technical roles like web development or data analytics.
Problem-solving can also involve collaboration; bringing key stakeholders together and unpacking a larger problem in order to find a long-term solution that mitigates future errors. If you’re able to clearly present the solution in detail, even better.
Collaboration comes more easily to some, whereas others prefer autonomous work.
The reality is that whether you’re in-house or freelancing, you’ll have to collaborate regularly. Collaboration refers to working alongside others towards a common goal and often involves taking a back seat—or doing less favorable tasks in order to get the job done.
Being a good collaborator, or a ‘team player,’ is what lets employers know you’ll add to the team dynamic (rather than taking away from it).
3. How to develop soft skills
Hard skills are much easier to learn in a structured bootcamp program or course. But that doesn’t mean soft skills can’t be learned or developed.
Like hard skills, you’ll want to continue “leveling up” on your soft skills as you progress throughout your career. But when soft skills are so much more conceptual, how do you improve your soft skills for the better?
Here are five actionable ways to develop your soft skills.
Have a reference point
First, it’s important to understand why you want to develop your soft skills. Is it because you want to be taken more seriously at work? Is it in order to secure a promotion? Is it to help you get more out of your job?
Choose one main driver behind your decision to improve your soft skills, and keep referring back to it.
It also helps if you have a friend or colleague who you feel models a soft skill you want, such as collaboration skills. What makes them such great collaborators? What can you learn from them?
Set specific goals
Setting small, actionable daily goals will help you solidify certain soft traits as habits, rather than conscious decisions.
For example, if you’re looking to be a better communicator, you could take 10 minutes every day to check in with your teammates and find out how they’re feeling or what they need.
Performance reviews and 1:1’s with your manager are a great way to understand which soft skills you need to improve on. You can also talk to your manager about the best ways to incorporate a more diverse array of soft skills into your daily working routine.
Take on more responsibility
Taking on more responsibility is a surefire way to improve your soft skills. More often than not, soft skills come from experience. It’s hard to understand what it takes to be a good manager if you’ve never had to manage, for example.
It’s also hard to sharpen your communication skills if you’re a one-person department that tends to work autonomously.
Volunteering to take on more responsibility at work shows proactiveness and initiative—two soft skills that are also in high demand.
Not only will you stand out for your efforts, but you’ll also gain more exposure to tasks that will help you develop your soft skills. Win-win!
Find a mentor
Having a mentor who understands what soft skills are needed to thrive in your chosen field is a great way to supercharge your personal and professional development.
Mentorship is a powerful tool for growth, and will also give you a reference point for what to strive towards as you work on both your hard and soft skills.
A mentor can help you contextualize why soft skills are so important and work with you on creating goals to improve them (and sticking to it!). To learn more, read our guide to the importance of having a mentor—and how to make the most out of yours.
When it comes to developing soft skills, there are a number of handy tutorials, books, and webinars to help you improve. Check out our guide to the 10 best books every UX designer should read.
Because of how in-demand soft skills are, an increasing number of tech bootcamps are finding ways to incorporate soft skills into their curriculums.
At CareerFoundry, for example, you’ll work with a dedicated career advisor to help you identify which soft skills to highlight—and how to market them on your remusé.
Remember, whatever your background or previous experience, you’ve probably developed valuable skills that can play a vital role in forging your new career path.
We spoke to some career-changers who are all working in tech to get their take on why soft skills are important and learn how they leveraged their skills for a job in tech. Check out what they had to say about soft skills in this video:
4. How to highlight soft skills on your resumé
Everyone has soft skills. But how you highlight them, and the skills you choose to highlight, hugely impact how you come across to recruiters.
Some soft skills are bound to shine through during your interviews, for example, a great communicator or critical thinker. But to get to that stage, it’s vital that you properly showcase your soft skills in your resumé.
First, think about your strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? What positive feedback have you gotten about your soft skills in previous roles?
It’s also good practice to start taking notes of repetitive language you see in the nice-to-have sections of the job descriptions you come across.
What are the most common soft skills that hiring managers for your desired job are looking for? Once you start seeing a pattern, you can include them in your resumé—and even anticipate the questions you’ll be asked about your soft skills in the interview stage.
You can include some soft skills in your executive summary. For example:
“John Smith, empathetic UX designer with a passion for problem-solving.”
You can also list a few soft skills in the ‘skills’ section of your resumé, as long as they’re relevant. Having a long list of more general soft skills won’t impress recruiters; instead, focus on mirroring the keywords in the job description.
You can expand on your soft skills in your cover letter and interview (when asked). Learn more in our guide to creating a winning UX design resumé.
5. Final thoughts
So that’s the complete answer to “what are soft skills?” along with an overview of how they apply to tech! You might feel confident with the knowledge that you’ve got it covered on the soft skill front.
But how you highlight your soft skills, and which ones you choose to highlight, make a considerable difference to how you come across to hiring managers.
Our advice? Don’t make any assumptions. Web development might be a highly technical role, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to highlight your collaboration or empathy skills.
UI design is a creative position, but the company you’re applying for might want you to be a keen problem-solver based on the challenges the design team is facing.
Tech is an incredibly versatile industry, with a lot of overlap. Stick to the soft skills outlined in this blog post, and you can’t go wrong!
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