What Are Soft Skills?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Whereas hard skills describe what you do, soft skills describe how you do it.

[Featured image] A man smiles at his colleague while listening to him speak. In the background, another woman sits at the table listening and smiling at the story. All three colleagues are using their soft skills to communicate, listen, engage, and relate to one another.

Soft skills are the attributes and behaviours describing how a person approaches 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.

Soft skills are commonly referred to as workplace or transferable skills. These alternative names can be more descriptive when thinking about and discussing your skill set.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the high-value soft skills employers look for and offer 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 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 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 their role's technical or context-specific aspects. For many employers, how you do something is as important as what you do—especially regarding long-term learning, growth, and success.

A Yale University study found that managers with soft skills relating to their emotional intelligence had happier, more creative staff than those without those soft skills [1]. According to a Skill Survey, 77 percent of employers said soft skills were just as important in choosing a candidate as hard skills [2]. 

In particular, employers are broadly looking for:

  • Work ethic

  • Effective communication

  • Teamwork and collaboration

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving

Employers may consider workplace skills to forecast a person’s future potential. This 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

  • Organisation

  • Problem-solving

  • Resourcefulness

  • Strategic thinking

  • Teamwork

  • Time management

Ways to improve your workplace skills

Since workplace skills are primarily tied to behaviour, improving them may involve shifting your regular patterns, approaches, or thought processes. This type of work requires 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 more complex 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 to help develop a personalised action plan.

Here are some ideas for improving your workplace skills:

1. Practice 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 practice adaptability, critical thinking, and strategic thinking.

To practice different communication styles, you can express the same idea in various ways by writing it down, describing it aloud, putting it into a presentation, or delivering it to multiple audiences.

2. Join a group project.

Beyond demonstrating your ability to take the initiative, joining a group project can offer opportunities to practice 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, you'll be interested 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 know, you may 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 community centre, college or art centre, or browse popular free courses on Coursera.

4. Socialise with teammates.

You use workplace skills in every interaction you have. Simply getting to know your teammates, if you are part of a team or workmates and colleagues, can be an effective way to practice your communication and active listening skills and create opportunities for future collaboration.

If appropriate, you can approach socialising with your teammates or colleagues with an interest in their lives and 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. Thinking critically about processes, recognising problems, and finding viable solutions are all valued workplace skills.

To suggest process improvements, you may ask your manager about their preferred method 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 practice 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 CV

Including your workplace skills on your CV can be less intuitive than including your technical skills, but there are opportunities to do so within your summary or profile or in a special skills section. Also, you'll be able to 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 Specialisation. Sign up for a free seven-day, all-access trial and start learning today.

Give your team access to a catalogue of 8,000+ engaging courses and hands-on Guided Projects to help them develop impactful skills. Learn more about Coursera for Business.


Article sources

1. The Journal of Creative Behavior. Supervisor Emotionally Intelligent Behavior and Employee Creativity, https://doi.org/10.1002/jocb.436." Accessed April 2, 2024.

2. SkillSurvey. “The Rise of Soft Skills and Why They Matter Now,https://www.skillsurvey.com/resource/rise-of-soft-skills-infographic/.” Accessed April 2, 2024.

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