Susan Shor

Susan Shor

How to impress employers with your soft skills

Finding a job

How to impress employers with your soft skills

Artwork by: Anastasia Kraynyuk

  • What are soft skills?
  • The top seven essential soft skills 
  • Which soft skills will impress potential employers?
  • How do I list soft skills on my resume?
  • Key takeaways

The best resumes impress employers with a combination of skills, attributes, and experiences that fit the job. You know what learned skills your career requires, now let us show you how soft skills can make all the difference.

To make it into the hands of the hiring manager, a resume must contain the skills mentioned in the job listing. So how do you craft an application that stands out from others who have similar abilities? Soft skills are one way to differentiate yourself.

Job requirements can be broken into two main categories: hard skills and soft skills. In this blog, we will discuss the following topics that will help you write a resume that gets you that interview:

  • What are soft skills?

  • The top seven essential soft skills

  • Which soft skills will impress potential employers?

  • How do I list soft skills on my resume outside my skills section?

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are often called interpersonal skills, but they encompass more than your ability to relate to others. The personal characteristics you exhibit on the job, including your work habits, your communication style, and your behaviors can all be described as soft skills.

Why soft skills? 

Soft skills are much more frequently requested as part of job listings than hard skills. In fact, an analysis of 80 million job listings by America Succeeds found that 70 percent of skills mentioned were soft skills. These abilities are also known as durable skills because they last throughout your work life and are necessary for any career.

Other findings from the study:

  • The top five soft skills are requested by employers almost four times as frequently as the top hard skills.

  • Job advertisements for careers expecting growth contain high percentages of required soft skills. Those include 91 percent in management careers, 86 percent in business operations, and 81 percent in engineering roles.

  • At the opposite end, jobs that are likely to be automated in the future require lower levels of soft skills.

To think about the broad range of soft skills it is helpful to break them down. Here are the three main categories of soft skills:

  1. Personal: The traits that define you. 

  2. Social: How you interact with others.

  3. Methodological:  How you approach problems and learning.

There are no clearly defined lines between these categories. For instance, your resilience may also make you great at negotiating conflict with a co-worker. Your presentation skills may help define your methodology for managing projects and your methodological approach can play strongly into learning hard skills such as data analysis.

The way you choose to define and list your soft skills also tells hiring personnel something about you and what you think is important. 

The top seven essential soft skills 

Hiring personnel look for an essential set of soft skills when vetting potential employees. These are the basics that you will jump off of to target the specific needs of your prospective employer.

Here are the top seven essential soft skills:

  1. Communication

  2. Cooperation (aka teamwork or collaboration)

  3. Organization

  4. Motivation

  5. Flexibility

  6. Problem-solving

  7. Reliability

Each of these broad categories comprises several skills. One method of thinking about your own skills is to brainstorm a “master list” of all the qualities you use. You may put them in the three broad buckets listed above, and then further organize them as belonging to one or more of these essential skills.

This master list will help you find the perfect blend of attributes for each position. It will also give you a starting point for describing how you use these skills within the profile and employment history sections of your resume as well as in your cover letter.

Breaking it down

Here are subsets of skills that you can consider listing instead of resorting to clichés such as “excellent communication.”

Essential skill

Breakdown

Communication

Listening comprehension

Persuasiveness

Ability to explain and understand complex ideas

Cooperation aka teamwork or collaboration

Ability to accept team decisions

Understanding different perspectives

Recognizing constraints

Consensus building

Organization

Scheduling expertise

Prioritizing

Effective planning

Motivation

Goal-oriented

Overcoming obstacles

Initiative

Flexibility

Adopts new technology

Adapts to shifting goals

Takes on new tasks or learns new skills

Problem-solving

Creative thinking

Active listening

Analysis

Reliability

Completes work within deadlines

Honors commitments to others

Time management

This list is far from complete. Creativity, ability to work independently, and customer service skills also rank high with employers looking for excellent employees.

Personal skills to add to this list include inquisitiveness, confidence, and self-reflection. Why are these important? Inquisitive people ask questions that can lead to innovative solutions or to ferreting out small problems before they become insurmountable. To express ideas and ask those questions, you need to have the confidence that your thoughts are valuable. Finally, a self-reflective worker is one who examines failures and shortcomings and looks to find ways to do better in the future.

One determining factor in career success measured by satisfaction and salary is your level of emotional intelligence or EQ. Why? Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand and manage your emotions as well as those of others. 

The five main characteristics of emotional intelligence as defined by psychologist Daniel Goleman are self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills. Note that these overlap with the soft skills most desired by employers. To include more information in your skills section, which contains only 4-7 abilities, use emotional intelligence as a shorthand to cover all these soft skills.

Which soft skills will impress potential employers?

So how do you determine which of your many skills will be most impressive? Soft skills are important to your prospective employer insofar as they describe how you will function in the workplace, so the best way to start is by reviewing the job listing. There you will find explicitly what the employer wants. 

You want to make sure that you come close to listing the highest level of your skills that match the job listing. This skills match will serve to get you past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which uses algorithms to rank resumes based on keywords and phrases. If your resume doesn’t pass the ATS test, it won’t get into the hands of a person. It will also show recruiters that you have read the listing and are interested in the specific job. A generic resume (or cover letter) that doesn’t directly address the needs of each employer is unlikely to get you that interview.

Just like hard skills, some soft skills are more valuable in different careers. While reliability is important no matter what job you seek, you are trying to impress your prospective employer by showing that you have the skills that will allow you to not only fill the open slot, but excel. 

If you are looking for a customer service position, focus on your interpersonal communications. Grace under pressure, problem-solving, friendliess, and excellent listening and explaining are key components of an excellent customer service representative.

Salespeople, on the other hand, may choose to list soft skills such as assertiveness, problem-solving, confidence, and persuasiveness.

Are you looking to move into a leadership role? According to the book “The Job Is Easy, the People Are Hard,” by Loredana Padurean, here are the top 10 soft skills for managers:

  1. Adaptability

  2. Cognitive readiness

  3. Emotional maturity

  4. Followership, or a willingness to take on the mission and values of the organization

  5. Humility

  6. Listening

  7. Managing up

  8. Multiple perspectives

  9. Productive inclusion

  10. Validation

How do I list soft skills on my resume?

The simplest method for including soft skills on your resume is, of course, your skills section. Look through your master list and choose the top 4-7 skills that match your desired position. However, you’ll still need to go beyond this list of phrases.

Within your resume, you need to highlight not just your soft skills, but how you will use them to excel at your new position. You have two main opportunities to include soft skills in the body of your resume: the employment history section and the profile section.

The profile section

First, your profile section. Because you have three to four freeform sentences, you have the opportunity to expand upon your soft skills section and, in fact, you should grab this chance with enthusiasm. You need to give hiring personnel a picture of how you incorporate “excellent communication” since those words, without an example to back them up, don’t offer much information.

Here are a couple of examples of profile sections that includes several soft skills:

Profile for an elementary school teacher


Empathetic elementary school teacher with six years experience working in a high-risk district. While teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic are the basics of my profession, I spend much time problem-solving with parents and guardians who are working two jobs while trying to raise model students. I create structure through scheduling, but allow for flexibility in learning through group projects and individual choice activities.

Profile for a project manager


Project manager with expertise in scheduling 100+ IT consulting projects at a given time. Experience organizing personnel and shepherding software installations to completion within deadline. Responsible for listening to customer needs and ensuring satisfaction as well as relaying customer information to salespeople.

The employment history section

This is the meat of your resume. It is here that you illustrate your career successes to date. It is also another opportunity to insert soft skills in a meaningful and illustrative manner into your resume. 

This section is organized in bulleted items, each one describing a career challenge or success. How did you achieve those successes? You used both hard and soft skills and the experience section should explain how. Note that many soft skills can be communicated as actions. Strong action words should begin each bullet item, so review your master list once again and employ those soft skills to start off some of your achievements.

Here are a few examples:

- Persuaded a competitor’s client to switch to our product for a 10 percent increase in quarterly sales

- Took the initiative in choosing new scheduling software for multiple-doctor practice resulting in improved patient satisfaction with appointment process

- Analyzed business process and developed streamlined system

- Listened to feedback from team members and delegated tasks accordingly

- Validated the excellent ideas of subordinate and invited her to present to the board.

The key to any great resume is thoughtfulness (another soft skill). Take your time to craft each bullet item so that it conveys the story of your career development in terms of the skills you used to achieve. Be mindful that every word adds to the picture of what value you will add in your new position and insert soft skills wherever they naturally fit.

Key takeaways

  1. Studies show that soft skills are the key to success, and employers seek them out – especially for leadership positions

  2. Soft skills fall into three main categories: personal, social, and methodological.

  3. The most impressive soft skills may depend on the job you want: You have dozens of soft skills, but you need to ask yourself which of those will help you the most in the job you desire.

  4. Your skills section is only one place to show off your attributes – use your profile and employment history sections to build your case.

Susan Shor

Susan Shor

Susan is an experienced writer and editor with expertise in education, business, technology, and human resources. She specializes in explaining complex topics in clear, concise language. Susan is a digital nomad who maintains a travel blog of her adventures with her husband. She loves taking photos, yoga and new adventures. Of course, as a writer, she has an incomplete novel in the cloud.

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