What Are Soft Skills?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about soft skills, what they are, what skills employers seek in an employee, and the steps you can take to improve so you can add them to your resume.

[Featured Image]:   Two co-workers, sitting at a desk, discussing a project, an example of communication or workplace skills at the workplace.

Soft skills are the attributes and behaviours that describe how a person approaches their tasks. You likely use soft skills across all areas of your life—communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and other interpersonal skills are some examples of soft skills—but they’re particularly valued in the workplace.

In fact, soft skills are commonly referred to as workplace or human skills. These alternative names can be a bit more descriptive when you’re thinking about and discussing your skill set.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the high-value workplace skills employers look for and offer some tips for improving yours.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard skills describe what you do, while soft skills describe how you do it.

Your hard skills are your technical skills, relating to the types of tasks you know how to do. Some examples of technical skills are data analysis, computer programming, writing, and UX design. When you complete a task, you often use a combination of hard and soft skills—technical skills to guide your process and workplace skills to encourage effective outcomes.


What workplace skills are employers looking for?

Workplace skills can offer insight into a person’s approach to work beyond the technical aspects of their role. For many employers, how you do something is just as important as what you are doing—especially when it comes to long-term learning, growth, and success.

According to the Government of Canada, essential skills are becoming increasingly important for businesses to remain competitive. Workplace education and initiatives are important to close employee performance gaps [1].

Essential skills include:

  • Continuous learning

  • Oral communication

  • Effective communication

  • Teamwork and collaboration

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving

Employers may consider workplace skills to forecast a person’s future potential. This type of character analysis may come into play when choosing the leads for a new project or deciding whether an employee is ready for a promotion. Hiring managers also assess workplace skills to determine whether a job candidate will be a good fit for a specific team.

Soft skills examples

Different employers will value workplace skills differently. Here are some examples of desirable workplace skills:

  • Active listening

  • Adaptability

  • Communication

  • Creativity

  • Critical thinking

  • Empathy

  • Leadership

  • Organization

  • Problem-solving

  • Resourcefulness

  • Strategic thinking

  • Teamwork

  • Time management

Ways to improve your workplace skills 

Since workplace skills are largely tied to behaviour, improving them may involve shifting your regular patterns, approaches, or thought processes. This type of work tends to require practice and patience, but over time, you’ll likely notice more ease as you tap into your workplace skills.

Although they’ve traditionally been seen as harder to learn than technical skills, there are several ways to build upon your existing workplace skills. If you have a specific skill in mind that you’d like to improve, think about ways you can implement that skill into your daily life. You can also consult a life coach for help developing a personalised plan of action.

Here are some ideas for improving your workplace skills:

1. Practise different communication styles.

People tend to prefer different communication styles, whether that’s delivery methods—such as conversation, email, or text—or the manner of the delivery, like passive, aggressive, or assertive communication. In addition to your communication skills, considering how you might approach communicating in different situations can be an opportunity to practise adaptability, critical thinking, and strategic thinking.

To practise different communication styles, you might try to express the same idea in various ways, by writing it down, describing it aloud, and putting it into a presentation, or to various audiences.

2. Join a group project.

Beyond demonstrating your ability to take the initiative, joining a group project can offer opportunities to practise several workplace skills, such as teamwork, time management, and active listening. As a bonus, group projects can enable you to bring your technical skills into a collaborative environment.

To join a group project, take an interest in what colleagues are working on and offer your help where it may be beneficial, or look for opportunities within your local community.

3. Learn something new.

Learning something new can expand your typical way of thinking and encourage growth. There are strong links between learning and creativity, so whatever you decide to learn, you stand to gain technical knowledge and enhance your creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

To learn something new, check out the class offerings at your local college or art centre, or browse popular free courses on Coursera.

4. Socialize with teammates.

You use workplace skills in every interaction you have. Simply getting to know your teammates can be an effective way to practise your communication and active listening skills, and it can create opportunities for future collaboration.

If it feels appropriate, approach socializing with your teammates with an interest in their lives, as well as a willingness to share about your own.

5. Suggest improvements to processes.

As you build your technical and workplace skills, you may notice some opportunities to improve how things are done in your workplace. Thinking critically about processes, recognizing problems, and finding viable solutions are all valued workplace skills.

To suggest improvements to processes, you may want to ask your manager about their preferred process and what type of information they’ll need to assess your suggestions.

6. Ask for feedback.

Many workplace skills have an element of interactivity, and sometimes an outside perspective can help illuminate things you are doing well and areas you may want to focus on improving.

Similarly, offering feedback to others can be an opportunity to practise active listening, leadership, and teamwork.

To ask for feedback, turn to your manager, recent project collaborators, or other colleagues you’ve built relationships with.

How to include workplace skills on a resume

Including your workplace skills on your resume can be less intuitive than including your technical skills, but there are opportunities to do so within your summary, objective, or in a special skills section. Additionally, you can select action words that align with the skills you want to demonstrate within your work experience section. Then, you can use your cover letter to share further details.

Remember that workplace skills are reflected in how you approach your work, so when you discuss your successes, share what you did, how you did it, and your impact.

Keep learning

Continue working on your workplace skills with Coursera. Browse popular workplace skills courses from top institutions and industry leaders, or check out IBM’s People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success Specialization. Sign up for a free seven-day, all-access trial and start learning today.

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Article sources

  1. Government of Canada. "Building Essential Skills in the Workplace, https://www.canada.ca/en/services/jobs/training/initiatives/skills-success/tools/building.html." Accessed February 27, 2023.

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