Really – what are the odds of losing your job to a robot? Remarkably low, especially if you’re in a specialized or highly skilled industry. Yet new studies, which maintain 15% of the global workforce will be disrupted by automation by 2030, have skilled and unskilled workers alike fearing for the loss of their livelihoods.
So how do you compete with robots and algorithms? The answer lies in embracing that which has long been overlooked in the corporate workplace: empathy, creative thinking, and humanity. 57% of top leaders – including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt – report that soft skills are more important to hiring than their technical counterparts.
The more technical your profession, the easier it is to brush off soft skills as unnecessary. Yet even the most technical jobs are benefited by a complementary set of soft skills. Trust us: the more you build up your soft skills and learn how to strategically leverage them, the more indispensable you’ll become to your company.
Building your soft skill repertoire.
Soft skills are defined as the collection of features and personality traits that enhance and underlie your social interactions in the workplace and beyond. They include everything from communication and conflict resolution to critical thinking and punctuality.
The good news is that the development of these skills is completely within the realm of your control. While technical skills usually require formal education and years of dedication, soft skills can be learned in just a few steps.
1. Create a list.
Check out this super detailed, alphabetized inventory of the most in-demand soft skills. Narrow the list to those skills you think are most relevant to your experience and workplace goals.
2. Focus your efforts.
Select three skills, the improvement of which will have an immediate positive impact on your performance. Start with the most obvious gaps in your repertoire; are you exceptionally forward-thinking, but terrible at explaining your ideas? Maybe communication should be a top priority.
Unfortunately, behaviors don’t change through sheer force of will – they require concerted, regular practice.
This stage in the process can be painful and sometimes disheartening; you’ll need to pay special attention to your behaviors in order to modify them. Do your best to remain positive and motivated as your newly developed soft skills become increasingly automatic.
4. Include a friend.
The best way to stay on track? Share your path to self-improvement with your co-workers. Commiserate together while compiling your respective lists; complain to one another as you both struggle through the “practice phase”. A shared misery can sometimes spawn a great friendship.
Moreover, take this opportunity to position yourself as a go-getter and problem-solver at your company. Any manager will be pleased to see you putting time and effort into improving your skills, honing your craft, and supporting your peers.
Pull out your list, find three more soft skills to work on, and practice, practice, practice.
Start small and work your way up – while being punctual can be immediately improved upon, “creativity” is a harder box to check. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and work your way through accordingly.
Leveraging your soft skills.
Even in the most technical fields, soft skills can make the difference between landing that dream job and receiving a rejection email. New studies report that “67% of HR professionals say they withheld a job offer from a talented IT candidate due to a lack of soft skills.”
If you think as a programmer, accountant, or engineer, you’re in the clear – think again. Soft skills – and your ability to demonstrate their value – form an essential part of the interview and hiring process, not to mention the fact that they can drastically improve your overall career trajectory. The problem becomes, in this emerging skills gap, how can you leverage something that is not necessarily quantifiable?
When applying to a new job:
The key is in building a framework of examples; as with any skillset, your soft skills should be presented in terms of how they specifically served to improve the outcomes of a given project or task. The last thing you want is to undermine your newly developed skills by having them appear abstract or pointless.
With that in mind, try explaining how your organizational skills and careful time management allowed you to finish a campaign ahead of schedule and with few missteps. Or when describing yourself as a leader, point to how you use feedback and communication to motivate your employees. These types of examples will make your soft skills immediately relevant to hiring managers and recruiters.
At your current job:
Impress your boss by presenting at your company-wide meeting, despite your well-known fear of public speaking. Arrive on time – or early – every day for a month, and enjoy the recognition from your superior, who had previously noted your tardiness.
If you’ve been practicing your skills regularly, you’ll probably have already experienced some of these small triumphs.
Beyond practicing your soft skills, you can try actively advocating for training programs and continued learning opportunities to share and cultivate what you’ve learned. Since these skills are applicable across all industries and occupations, every member of your workforce can profit from such programs.
There are two ways to look at automation – you can either bemoan the potential loss of jobs, or you can celebrate this time of job creation. PwC’s 2017 CEO Survey reports that, when asked about their company’s future, 77% of CEOs were “concerned that a shortage of key skills could impair their company’s growth.”
These CEOs know that they can’t innovate using technology alone – they’ll need mindful leaders with strong communication skills and a knack for critical thinking. Take advantage of the gifts humanity has bestowed upon you by using your positivity, compassion, and leadership skills to your benefit.