by Dave Walter

The skills we bring to the workplace or include on a job application mean everything for being offered and keeping a position.

teamworkHard skills, or occupational skills, refer to the technical expertise an employee has gained through training or experience. Machining skills, accounting or software certification, heavy equipment operator experience or a nursing degree indicate a technical ability to be productive in a specific role. For most jobs, it’s a given that an employee needs to bring the right hard skills to the workplace.

Soft skills, or employability skills, are just as important and tend to center on the ability to work with other people. While there isn’t a single definition or list of soft skills, the Department of Labor lists six types of soft skills that are important: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem-solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. How an employee interacts with colleagues can add to or detract from the overall workplace atmosphere. Individuals can positively or negatively affect their team, employer, or business brand.

Like the technical skills each of us works to maintain and improve throughout our careers, soft skills can be improved with attention and practice. Seminars and training programs are offered by career counselors. There are articles online and books to read, on-the-job training may be available, and simply being aware of how each of us interacts with others is instructive.

And soft skills are just as important in helping you land a job. Strong soft skills can lead to more opportunities to connect with others—an indispensable activity when you’re job-hunting. When networking and during informational interviews, your enthusiasm and a positive attitude will show. Always remember that an employer will evaluate you on the influence you’ll have on the work team, as well as your technical ability to perform a set of tasks.

In a competitive job market where there are many candidates with similar hard skills, an applicant with exemplary soft skills will stand out. If someone expresses positive energy toward work, is willing to learn and be trained, if they show flexibility, can work with constructive criticism, and have a team spirit, they can distinguish themselves from the crowd.


Dave Walter is a graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He researches economics and public policy from his home in Minneapolis.