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What Are Soft Skills?

Justin was a brilliant student in college, achieving a 3.9 GPA upon graduation. His chosen field was information technology and he was offered a job with a major corporation before finishing school.

His boss was impressed with his knowledge and technical skills and asked him to work on an important project for a long-term client. Justin thought he was meeting all the requirements and producing very good work. But as his 90-day probationary period came to an end, Justin was shocked to learn that he would be let go.

What happened? While Justin was technically proficient, he lacked the necessary "soft skills" his employer expected in the business world.

For example:

  • Justin was frequently late, and his boss concluded he was unreliable.
  • He missed a significant deadline, which was seen as a poor work ethic.
  • When a mistake he had made was discovered by the client, Justin denied his involvement and blamed a co-worker for not proofing the document carefully.
  • He also did not pitch in when co-workers needed help, saying that he had to work exclusively on the client’s project.
  • When meeting the client, Justin came dressed in jeans with his shirt untucked.

There are many definitions for the term "soft skills" but all involve qualities or traits a person possesses. It is the ability to get along with others, to communicate well and to have a good attitude. It is being reliable, exceeding expectations and having integrity.

Justin did not demonstrate the soft skills employers want. There was no doubt he was technically competent, had extensive knowledge, and had excelled in academics throughout his college years. These competencies, called "hard skills," are critically important, but few - if any - bosses will tolerate the type of behaviors Justin displayed, no matter how technically brilliant an employee may be.

While hard skills may help you get an interview and ultimately the job, you must demonstrate to employers the behaviors they expect to keep a job and move ahead in your career.

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