How to build up soft skills that employers value

Hiring decisions are often made based on such skills, especially in final rounds of interviews. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - If you want to be a coder or accountant, you can usually follow a set course of study and training to pick up the technical skills, but what is the path to becoming an expert communicator or creative thinker?

Soft skills like these are becoming increasingly important to employers as jobs change more quickly with the digitalisation of the economy.

"While technical skills display your competencies in a certain field and could vary based on the role that you are in, soft skills indicate how competent you will be in any and every job," says Mr David Blasco, senior director in sales and marketing and accounting at recruitment firm Randstad Singapore.

He adds that hiring decisions are frequently made based on soft skills, especially in the final rounds of the interview process where it is down to a small handful of outstanding candidates. Hiring managers use the time to determine whether the candidate can work well with others and whether he or she is a good fit for the organisation's culture.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo says that employers want staff with soft skills because it is harder to train people in such capabilities than technical ones, as they are usually developed through experience and practice.

Here are some tips on how to grow soft skills to help your career.

1. Know what employers want

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) has listed 16 "critical core skills" that are the most essential transferable ones in the workplace.

These are grouped into three categories:

• Thinking critically: Creative thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, sense-making, trans-disciplinary thinking.

• Interacting with others: Collaboration, communication, people development, being customer-oriented, ability to build inclusivity, ability to influence others.

• Staying relevant: Adaptability, digital fluency, learning agility (being able to learn what to do in new situations), self-management, having a global perspective.

A survey report released by NTUC LearningHub last week says that the top three critical core skills employers want are adaptability, people development and collaboration.

Adaptability, for instance, is important because employees must be able to embrace and manage change and disruption in the workplace in order to ensure business continuity and success, says Mr Anthony Chew, director of NTUC LearningHub's Institute of Business Excellence.

Another way to discover what skills are in demand is to look at where you want to go next in your career and find out the soft skills required from the job descriptions for that role, says Ms Teo.

2. Identify your existing skills

There are two main ways you can do this - self-reflection and through feedback.

Ask yourself behavioural questions that employers commonly ask during interviews, suggests Workforce Singapore senior career coach Thomas Tang.

These include:

• Reflect on a time when you solved a challenging problem or conflict at work.

• Reflect on a situation where you did not get a response that you expected or where someone seemed to take you the wrong way.

• Reflect on how you handled a mistake and were asked to make corrections.

There are online assessment tools available such as CliftonStrengths or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

There are also documents on the SSG website that describe what it means to have a basic, intermediate and advanced level of each of the 16 critical core skills, which you can use to benchmark yourself.

Also, ask trusted friends or mentors for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Step outside your comfort zone

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem recommends volunteering to be part of cross-department projects or task forces, or rotating to another job role, which builds adaptability, risk-taking, willingness to try, versatility, flexibility and networks, for example.

Mr Tang notes that taking on a leadership role can develop skills like effective negotiation and building morale with different groups of people.

Soft skills are becoming increasingly important to employers as jobs change more quickly. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

4. Take on activities outside of work or school

Join an interest group or professional network where your passion lies, as networking can be a powerful tool in helping you to learn and grow your skills, suggests Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh.

Adecco Singapore country manager Betul Genc says temporary jobs, group projects, school clubs or community work provide opportunities for students and people in the early stages of a career to meet and learn from others, while also developing themselves through experiencing real-life situations.

5. Take courses targeting specific skills

There are courses available at institutes of higher learning for each of the 16 critical core skills. The list can be found on the SSG website at

Some of the areas covered by courses are managing change, which targets the skill of adaptability, intergenerational communication, which grows the ability to build inclusivity, and business negotiation, which builds communication skills and the ability to influence others.

6. Include relevant soft skills in your resume

Mr Blasco says you can list the size of the team or the number of stakeholders you have managed, or how your negotiation skills have helped save the company some costs - and by how much.

Interviewers will likely ask you to walk them through a few scenarios and explain where and how you have applied your soft skills.

But the extent to which you should highlight your soft skills in your resume depends on the job you are applying for, he adds.

For example, if you are in project management or public relations, stakeholder management or conflict resolution skills are as important as technical skills. However, for an app developer, competency in the job is predominantly based on technical skills.

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