Soft skills are the abilities that will take you from an excellent employee to a fantastic one. But, why are they so important? How can you acquire them? How can you prove them on your resume and a cover letter?
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.
Let’s talk about:
- What are soft skills?
- Top soft skills examples
- Soft skills vs. hard skills
- How to develop soft skills
- How to include soft skills in a resume and cover letter
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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.
Why are soft skills important?
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 coworkers, managers, customers, clients, vendors and anyone you interact with. This will also show the employer that you can get your job done correctly.
Yet, the scope of these skills goes beyond your interactions. Soft skills can also:
- Be transferable — You can use your soft skills across any industry, unlike hard skills, which have a limited scope. For example, the customer service skills from your days as a server can help you perform during client meetings as an architect.
- Improve your performance —Your technical skills can be on an expert level, but soft skills, like adaptability and innovation, can take your work to the next level.
- Impact your productivity — Soft skills can help you be a better worker — and coworker! Knowing how to collaborate, follow instructions and resolve conflicts can make a difference in your work environment.
- Help prepare for the future of work — A.I. technology, like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and more, will continue to take over the workplace. In a work environment where machines know how to perform jobs, your humanly soft skills, like emotional intelligence and conceptual thinking, will help you stand out.
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:
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:
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
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)
How to develop soft skills
You can develop soft skills through diverse channels. Don’t limit yourself to just one approach. Variety will help you find out the best way to learn and improve. Taking this step will positively impact your career.
- Work on your habits — Soft skills can start as habits you’ve nurtured throughout your life, not just your career. Improving them can help you make better choices in your job. For example, improving your morning routine can help you create a better list of tasks and priorities for the day; working on your manners can improve rapport with your colleagues. Practice your new and improved habits everyday.
- Self-evaluate your performance— Write down the soft skills you know you have to work on. Create a plan with a timeframe to improve them. Not sure how to self-evaluate? You can research online for a self-assessment tool to help.
- Ask for feedback — Your coworkers will know other soft skills you must learn. Ask them where they see potential for improvement and examples of how you haven’t done as well in the past. Use this information to create a betterment plan.
- Reach out to a mentor— if you have a mentor in the workplace or from your studies, ask their opinions on your work, if you’ve met expectations, where they see room for improvement, and how to achieve it. No mentor? You can reach out to a membership organization from your industry, to a previous manager, or ask if your workplace offers a mentorship program.
- Use traditional learning resources — Whether through your employer or on your own, seek learning resources to build your weakest soft skills and improve your strongest soft skills. A few examples of resources to use are courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and higher learning extension schools, training and workshops. Another tool on the rise in soft skills learning is gamification, which is the approach Duolingo uses to help its user learn a new language.
Be flexible and consistent in learning soft skills. Unlike the traditional education and experience approach to hard skills, learning soft skills is not as clear-cut. You can reevaluate your improvement by:
- Self-evaluating your progress after a reasonable amount of time; think three months or six months.
- Reconvening with a mentor to discuss your previous plans, the results and the next steps to continue improving.
- Requesting feedback from managers and colleagues every so often to determine if your effort is working as intended.
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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.
For example, here you would showcase your collaboration and leadership skills.
- Team leader for an eight people group in a social media marketing campaign with a conversion rate of 12%.
In this example, your creativity and project management are highlighted.
- Granted artistic freedom as a window display designer, increasing store foot traffic by 28%.
Here, an employer will see your relationship-building, persuasion and networking.
- Built relationships with local businesses to facilitate event organization for holiday sales.
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:
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 takeaways
- 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.
- Soft skills can help you perform better, improve your productivity and prepare you for the future of work.
- 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.
- Learning soft skills is possible through traditional learning resources, working on your habits, self-evaluation and seeking feedback and guidance.
Soft skills FAQ
Why are soft skills important in the workplace?
Soft skills are important qualities that help us work effectively and work with others. Our productivity, ethics and communication, among other soft skills, help us stand out in a room full of candidates with the same hard skills.
How can I improve my soft skills?
Soft skills can be improved with practice. Reassess your habits and relationships every so often to evaluate what needs improvement. Seek help from your peers or a mentor and check in with them to reassess your progress.
How can I show my soft skills during a job interview?
In your resume and cover letter, you showed soft skills through examples of your work accomplishments. During a job interview, you would have the chance to expand on how you achieved your accomplishments. Your answer will include your soft skills, like time management, relationship building, adaptability and more. Our Career Center’s Interview Prep guide has plenty of examples for these types of questions
How we reviewed this article
Since 2013, we have helped more than 15 million job seekers. We want to make your career journey accessible and manageable through our services and Career Center’s how-to guides and tips. In our commitment to bring you a transparent process, we present our Editorial Process.
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