Having the right technical skills for the job is great but soft skills are the abilities that will take you from an excellent employee to a fantastic one. But what are soft skills? And why are they so important?
Our in-depth guide teaches you everything you need to know about soft skills, so you can write a resume that captures who you are. We also include a list of soft skills examples to consider when building your resume.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are personality traits and work habits that describe who you are as a professional and how you approach work. Popular soft skills in the workplace include communication, organization and teamwork. These skills are so crucial that 75% of U.S. employers are more likely to hire someone with the right soft skills and no hard skills than the other way around, while 91% believe that soft skills are essential.
But why? It's simple. When employers look at your resume, they're looking for certain qualities and personality traits that assure them that you will thrive in their workplace. Soft skills show them that you will get along with your co-workers, managers, customers, clients, vendors, anyone you interact with and that you can get your job done correctly.
Soft skills also play a huge role if you're changing careers or have no work experience. They're easily transferable and universal, so the same soft skills list might work for a job in marketing and a job in child care.
Soft skills vs. hard skills
The general rule of thumb is to feature six to eight hard and soft skills in a resume but what's the difference between them? Here's a quick guide:
Hard skills for resume
- Abilities learned on the job (e.g., data analytics)
- Skills specific to the job (e.g., knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator for a graphic design job)
- Abilities learned through education and training (e.g., forklift certification)
Soft skills for resume
- Traits that show how you approach work (e.g., great time management)
- Interpersonal or intangible abilities (e.g., communication)
- Personal skills that come naturally or can be learned over time (e.g., leadership)
For a list of top hard skills, check out our Top Skills for a Resume page.
Top soft skills examples
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, these are the most in-demand soft skills. We have also included a related soft skills list for each of them, so you can tailor them to the job you're applying for and include them in your resume and cover letter.
If you want to see hard and soft skills in action, explore our library of resume examples with over 1,000 examples for different jobs and industries. We also have resume templates you can use as a base to write yours.
Employers want to know that they can trust you to finish the job on time. They can't have eyes on you all the time, so knowing that they can ask you to do something and that you'll do it makes dependability a crucial soft skill in any job.
Being dependable means that you have built a level of trust with your manager or team members, that you hold yourself accountable and that the people around you can rely on you. What are soft skills examples for dependability? Here are some other ways to show you can be trusted:
- Time management
- Following directions
- Strategic planning
- Working well under pressure
Great candidates can lead but they can also fall in line, take direction and support their teammates when they need to – even if you're working remotely. This can be a tricky soft skill to prove on a resume but you'll stand out if you can use your past accomplishments to highlight how you've worked alongside others and successfully finished projects together.
Here are some soft skills related to teamwork you can consider for your resume:
- Team building
- Conflict management
- Diversity awareness
Having the ability to solve problems quickly, effectively and creatively is a soft skill that many employers highly value. You might have shown problem-solving skills when you had to use your industry knowledge to find a quick solution to an issue or when you were tasked with something that required research.
Related problem-solving soft skills include:
- Risk management
- Good judgment
- Quick thinking
Do you handle stress well? Can you easily pivot from one task to another? Flexibility is a great soft skill to have under your belt, as it shows you can adapt to sudden changes without getting too overwhelmed. A great way to include this soft skill in your job application is by providing an example of when you handled a sudden change of plans.
Here are some related flexibility soft skills examples to consider:
- Positive attitude
- Calm under pressure
- Positive work ethic
- Stress management
5. Critical thinking
Not many people can analyze a situation, identify the issue and make an informed decision, making this soft skill highly sought out by employers. Whether you're working in IT or the food service industry, hiring managers want to know that you can understand a problem, think critically and come up with a solution – they won't always be there.
Related critical thinking soft skills include:
- Logical thinking
- Thinking outside the box
- Critical observation
- Analytical thinking
- Desire to learn
Effective communication is a key component of any job. For many recruiters and hiring managers, communication remains the most critical soft skill for a resume and with good reason – it's how we share ideas, connect and learn from each other. This soft skill goes beyond speaking clearly. It's also about listening to others, being empathetic and understanding nonverbal cues.
Some related communication soft skills include:
- Clarity and concision
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
- Cultural awareness
- Public speaking
- Conflict resolution
- Nonverbal communication
Being a creative thinker goes beyond having an imagination. This valuable soft skill is an excellent tool for thinking of different strategies to solve problems, developing new ideas and even paving the way to develop technical and hard skills that fall under the creative arts (like copywriting or painting). A creative person looks at things from a different perspective – and it might just be what an employer needs.
Some related creativity soft skills examples to consider:
- Lateral thinking
- Mind mapping
- Visual reading
- Out-of-the-box thinking
- Conceptual thinking
- Inspirational thinking
How to include soft skills in a resume and cover letter
There are different ways to highlight your soft skills when applying for a job beyond just listing your skills on your resume.
Soft skills for resume
How you include soft skills in your resume will depend on the resume format. The chronological and combination formats feature the traditional bulleted list for a skills section but the functional format – also known as the skills-based resume – divides your skills into different sections, such as "Summary of Qualifications" and "Professional Skills."
The correct format for you will depend on your years of experience.
- Use the chronological format if you're an experienced professional
- Go for the combination format if you're a midlevel candidate
- Consider the functional format if you don't have a lot of work experience or have employment gaps
Here's an example of an accountants' hard and soft skills list:
- Analytical thinking
- Invoice coding
- Calculating abilities
- Great communication skills
- Data trending knowledge
Here's an example of professional skills and skills list together:
- Identified errors and performed two to three analyses to determine core issues.
- Reviewed files, records and other documents to obtain information and key data.
- Mapped activities to find shortfalls and identify options to rectify inefficiencies.
- Analyzed and resolved issues impacting business operations and goal achievement.
- Audited more than 35 documents and wrote reports outlining findings.
- Developed metrics derived from raw company data to track improvements.
- Maintained spreadsheets and account reconciliations for clients.
- Processed and reconciled company credit card statements on a monthly basis.
- Tracked expenses, budget, taxes, receipts and other financial dealings.
- Data entry
- Calm under pressure
- Great time management
Another way to highlight your soft skills is by including them in your work experience section and providing examples of how you used them to achieve a goal.
Soft skills for cover letter
Writing a cover letter is a great way to expand your hard and soft skills. A cover letter is a blank canvas where you can further explain your qualifications and why you're a good fit for the job. It's meant to complement the information on your resume, so you can choose one or two soft skills that you think are important to the employer and talk more about them.
Your soft skills in your cover letter might look like this accountant cover letter example:
"Being a team leader in the accounting department for the past three years of my career has allowed me to hone my leadership skills. I have mentored a group of seven new employees, provided positive reinforcement to meet monthly deadlines and resolved discrepancies promptly. This approach and collaborative environment have awarded my team a yearly recognition award from our supervisors at Smith & Sons."
Not sure how to get started with your cover letter? Use our Cover Letter Builder! We do the heavy lifting for you by guiding you step-by-step through your cover letter writing. Just select a cover letter template to get started.
Key soft skills take-aways
To wrap up, let's quickly go over what we covered in this article:
- Soft skills are intangible traits that describe who you are as a professional and how you approach work.
- Unlike hard skills, soft skills are not job-specific. So a soft skills list for one job might work for another.
- Your resume skills section should include a mix of six to eight hard and soft skills.
- The way you highlight skills on a resume will depend on your resume format.
- A cover letter is a great space to further talk about your soft skills and how they can be of value to the potential employer.